13 September 2018
As we continue to develop on rural land and as developments become denser and more urbanised, it becomes even more important to protect and enhance the ecology of sites to deliver a wide range of benefits.
Ecology has all too often been seen as a hurdle to overcome when looking at the development of a site but this shouldn’t be the case. New developments should consider how ecology can be used to improve a project as the presence of wildlife and natural habitats have been shown to have a positive effect on wellbeing.
Delivering buildings, developments and infrastructure projects which conserve and enhance the natural ecological benefits of their sites can enhance our communities and improve the health and wellbeing of building users. By helping to protect existing natural flora and fauna including protected species, and improving or conserving a project’s natural surroundings, schemes can produce additional benefits across a wide range of sustainability criteria.
Ecology is a complex discipline and something that should be delivered alongside other disciplines. Much like CABE representing a cross-section of the industry including design, construction, evaluation and maintenance of buildings, ecology impacts many aspects of a project, from initial concept right through to occupation. Considering ecology is an essential element of a planning application and ecological assessment for a project can typically cover a number of areas including habitat, plant and protected species surveys, mitigation and habitat creation, protected species licensing and relocations, and Ecological Impact Assessments and input into Environmental Statements.
A key part of the development process, the benefits of ecology are often overlooked with many regarding it as an obstacle to construction. However, this isn’t the case. Ecology should be embraced and embedded as a core element of every project as it can help to deliver long-term gains.
Studies have shown that wildlife and natural habitats can improve occupier and user wellbeing. For example, a study team of researchers at the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) spent a year reviewing more than 200 academic studies. The outcome was a wide-ranging report into the dynamics of health, nature and wellbeing. The report explains that trees and green spaces are unrecognised healers offering benefits from increases in mental wellbeing to allergy reductions. It also claims that people living close to trees and green spaces are less likely to be obese, inactive, or dependent on anti-depressants. Pregnant women also received a health boost from a greener environment, recording lower blood pressures and giving birth to larger babies. US research has also found that those hospital patients with tree views from their windows were discharged a day earlier than those whose rooms faced walls.
There are many really good reasons for natural habitats to be included within development schemes and many examples of how people living or working in these areas are happier and healthier. The presence of habitat features within a development can be an attraction for the development.
Green spaces need to be included within developments and if appropriately designed can be beneficial for biodiversity and well as a resource for the users of the development. It is good to see that more and more Councils are requesting that larger schemes include green spaces within their developments and have policies in place to support this. These are often playgrounds and sports pitches but can be designed to be more natural and interesting and so include habitats such as longer grassland and trees which will provide habitat for wildlife. These areas can then be used for any ecological mitigation required for the scheme and provide space for people.
But a habitat feature shouldn’t be confused with green space. For example, a lot of people - myself included - would rather be close to something more interesting, such as a wildflower garden, than a mown playing field.
You also don’t need acres of space to make a difference. For example, when creating their new team headquarters and visitors centre, Land Rover BAR utilised a small strip of land on the brownfield site in Portsmouth to create a garden. Featuring bee hotels, bird boxes and green walls the result has been the reintroduction of 9 native species. Using this principle there is no reason why features like this can’t be a selling point for a development and provide attractive views from new houses or plots which can be a real selling point.
Green spaces need to be included within developments and if appropriately designed can be beneficial to not only protect and reintroduce native species but to also improve the lives of those people living in that community. We all need nature in our lives. Nature gives us freedom and helps us to live a healthy life. It also shouldn’t be seen as an obstacle to development but a way in which to enhance and enrich a scheme by providing users with health and wellbeing benefits that bricks and blocks can’t deliver. It’s part of a building.
Senior Ecologist at MLM Group