Forest Friends

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Biodiversity should be considered at the earliest stages of planning to help reverse habitat decline, says the National House Building Council 

Climate change and the decline of wildlife are the great challenges of our time. Combined with government demands for greatly increased housing supply, this creates a balancing act that housebuilders and developers must consider in all its aspects. Sustainability and the adoption of nature-based solutions to ensure a positive impact on wildlife must, therefore, be key considerations in housing developments.

Much of the focus on sustainable housing in recent years has been in reducing carbon emissions, but the Covid-19 pandemic has placed emphasis on caring for local wildlife and highlighted the need for more nature-rich green space. However, 58% of UK species have declined over the past 50 years and urbanisation is considered one of the key reasons why. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently said he will make “tackling climate change and biodiversity loss” the government’s “number one international priority”.

The National House Building Council (NHBC) Foundation partnered with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and Barratt Developments to produce guidance on how the housebuilding industry can incorporate green infrastructure into new-build homes and enhance and protect biodiversity within developments to help deliver wider public health benefits. The report, titled Biodiversity in new housing developments: creating wildlife-friendly communities, provides guidance on a wide range of issues. These include: managing a development’s impact on existing wildlife and its habitat; the creation of wildlife-friendly boundaries; implementing sustainable drainage and urban water catchment; adapting existing structures for plants and animals, as well as creating new ones; and planting for wildlife and for climate resistance.  

Building in biodiversity

Simple measures can have a lasting effect. An example is sustainable drainage systems, which mimic natural processes by managing rainfall through the use of landscape form and vegetation. Others include installing roost bricks for bats and designing bat-friendly lighting plans; putting in bird nest bricks that provide permanent nest features for declining species such as swifts; and ensuring boundaries enable hedgehogs to move freely through a housing development.

Beccy Speight, Chief Executive of the RSPB, comments: “The housebuilding industry is uniquely placed in having an opportunity to create not just sustainable houses, but new, sustainable communities, where people thrive alongside wildlife. This guide is a great introduction to the principles and practicalities of creating wildlife-friendly communities and a great addition to the sustainable housing toolkit. I hope that the industry will embrace it and help to drive positive change. We all have our part to play as we seek to revive our world.”

Richard Smith, NHBC’s Head of Standards, Innovation and Research, and CABE Vice President, agrees: “In a year so focused on health, this report is a timely reminder of the many benefits nature can provide when successfully integrated into new homes and developments. As we head towards [the COP26 climate summit], we want to support those in the housing and construction sector to think more about how they can better integrate biodiversity and climate resilience into new home developments to help to achieve the country’s climate change goals and improve health and wellbeing in local communities. Biodiversity Net Gain will soon become mandatory in England, so there’s no excuse not to start looking at these issues now.”    

Download the report at bit.ly/Biodiversity_report CABE

Vice President Richard Smith is this issue’s Member Profile on page 45.

Image credit | Alamy

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