Dr Phoebe Carter discusses the importance of nature and biodiversity in future building and development projects.
“There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter” (Rachel Carson)
Over the last few months the daily affirmation that nature remains unswervingly fixed on its normal course has been so stabilising and reassuring. While nature has always been a huge part of my life, I have watched it trickle wonderfully into the lives of people who don’t normally have the time to appreciate the natural world. For them listening to bird song, watching the myriad of butterflies and bees emerge, and spotting a hedgehog ambling across their gardens has brought new experiences and untold joy.
We know that a connection to nature significantly benefits wellbeing, and, that this connection fosters in people a desire to protect the natural world. Nature should be accessible to everyone but this requires a big change in how we view the developed environment. For too long nature has been regarded as the enemy of development: something that gets in the way and delays the build process; something that is given recognition at completion with a street named after a species once present, but is now long gone. With so many more people recognising what nature has to offer, we must take this opportunity to become nature-inclusive and create places that are better for both people and wildlife.
Building biodiversity and climate resilience into a scheme doesn’t have to be onerous but it does have to be well planned and deeply embedded into the Masterplanning process. A good team of architects, landscape professionals, ecologists and planners can create incredible schemes that focus on green infrastructure, sustainability and biodiversity and there are many people now doing this using the Building with Nature Standards. This approach goes beyond box-ticking and puts people, wildlife and climate at the heart of development.
Why have we had such a slow approach to incorporating biodiversity and nature into development? Perhaps the use of the term ‘Green Infrastructure’ (GI) is too sterile and doesn’t allow for consideration of the phenomenal capacity these features have to make a difference to the natural world. If we only think of these features as infrastructure, are we making it more difficult for everyone to visualise their value to wildlife?
We need fresh eyes to see that sustainable drainage systems (SuDs) can be created fit for purpose with both aesthetic and biodiversity value. Rain gardens and swales can catch groundwater runoff and be wildlife-friendly if they are planted with native, pollinator-friendly plants and managed sensitively for their lifetime. Ponds can be permanent or ephemeral and used as part of rainwater harvesting. Small wetland areas can help retain water and become a focal point and a place for wildlife-spotting within a development. All these can be rich habitats for invertebrates, amphibians, reptiles, birds and more and help connect people more closely to their natural environment.
Bird boxes can be a quick and easy win for wildlife and even more so if the boxes put up are targeted at species of conservation concern and /or species that were known to be using the site prior to development. Hedgehog Highways are simple to create. Trees can be beautiful natural street features, providing habitat for bats, birds and bugs and helping to reduce the ‘urban heat island effect’. Orchards and allotments allow for food production, whilst bringing people of all ages together outdoors, and making wildlife-rich green spaces.
Native wildflower areas are colour-rich and vibrant, and host to a whole range of species. In the right places these areas offer so much more to people and wildlife than amenity lawn and their annual maintenance costs are considerably lower than areas of constantly mown lawn. These areas don’t have to be vast, even small pockets of them can act as stepping-stones for animals to move into and around a development.
With nature featuring more prominently for many people now, perhaps we all need to rethink our relationship with the natural world and push nature up the agenda. Building with Nature is pioneering in its all-encompassing approach to look after people’s wellbeing, address the climate emergency, and contribute to nature’s recovery. We can no longer afford to side-line nature for our own gains.
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