Working to make housing developments places where wildlife can live too
PUBLISHED: 07:00 20 July 2019 | UPDATED: 07:20 20 July 2019
An event held in Suffolk this week sought to encourage house builders and construction firms to factor nature into their plans from the start.
For a long time conservationists have pointed to urban sprawl as a key reason why wildlife is in decline.
Often, new housing is built on the edges of towns and villages, destroying valuable fringe habitats, hedges, scrub and copses - replacing it with concrete and tarmac.
And while developers are obliged to conduct ecological surveys and transfer endangered species to other sites, few new developments make any concessions to the insects, birds and reptiles whose space they have taken in terms of leaving green areas or nest boxes for them to use.
But there are signs that politicians and businesses are finally looking at ways to make housing developments more nature friendly.
Biodiversity net gain
In March, Chancellor Philip Hammond used his Spring Statement to confirm that government will use the forthcoming Environment Bill to mandate 'biodiversity net gain' - meaning the delivery of much-needed infrastructure and housing should not be at the expense of vital biodiversity.
Expect to hear more of the term 'biodiversity net gain' in future months - a phrase that requires developers to ensure habitats for wildlife are enhanced and left in a measurably better state than they were pre-development.
According the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), going forward developers will be required to assess the type of habitat and its condition before submitting plans, and then demonstrate how they are improving biodiversity, such as through the creation of green corridors, planting more trees, or forming local nature spaces.
If this approach is applied with conviction in Suffolk, it could make a big difference.
More than 62,000 new homes will be needed in the county in the next 20 years to keep up with demand, according to The State of Suffolk 2019 report produced by public health body Healthy Suffolk earlier this year. And it's not just the houses and apartments that will have an impact - green space will also go under the digger to build the accompanying roads, shops, schools and community buildings required to service this substantial heft of bricks and mortar.
Someone who wants to soften the impact of all this built environment is Joannah Metcalfe, founder of Greener Growth, a community interest company, based near Bury St Edmunds, which uses conservation and gardening projects to teach school children about nature and give prison inmates a sense of purpose and wellbeing.
Latterly, Ms Metcalfe and her team have turned their attention to developers and builders who they want to work with to make housing projects as nature friendly as they can be.
With this in mind, the Greener Growth team hosted an information event at Riduna Park business park in Melton near Woodbridge earlier this week and invited landowners and representatives from councils and construction businesses along to hear their rallying cry and to demonstrate how they can work together to improve conditions for wildlife.
"Traditionally wildlife conservation and the construction industries have been typically juxtaposed and disconnected," says Ms Metcalfe.
"If certain forms of wildlife are found on a site, such as great crested newts or species of bat, building can be delayed or halted."
Greener Growth's proposition has a number of strands. One service they are offering is managing land that developers have purchased for housing but that may then sit untouched for years before the heavy plant moves in.
Often, during this time nature takes over but Greener Growth offers to look after this process, so that natural areas have already been designated before building starts.
This, they say, will smooth the planning process.
Ms Metcalfe said much of this cost can be paid for with savings elsewhere. Earth and waste material removal costs - which are not insignificant at £230 per skip - can be much reduced by recycling, using off-cuts of wood and pallets to make bird boxes and bug hotels, and keeping earth on site for nature zones.
Greener Growth also promotes the planting of wild flowers across developments, as seen at Riduna Park where pollinator-friendly verbena and ox-eye daises have been retro-planted in place of architectural grasses "that do virtually nothing for wildlife" said Ms Metcalfe.
One building firm that has already linked up with Greener Growth is Mixbrow Construction from Needham Market. Operations director Stuart Leech said he hoped to " set the company apart" from other building firms by offering a greener proposition when it comes to tendering for contracts.
But, he added: "To really have an impact, we need to get in early with the architects and designers, [who design developments] as getting anything changed after planning permission has been given can be an issue."