Biodiversity Provision Within Built Structures – standard rather than exceptional design

Many thanks to Adam Bratt who has provided the below guidance on biodiversity provision within built structures. Adam is a senior Ecologist at Blackdown Environmental and a regular Design Review Panel member, attending Design Review Panels across the South West; in Devon (both Plymouth and Exeter) as well as Somerset sessions held in Taunton.

"There may be many and varied reasons for incorporating opportunities for wildlife into built designs. For some, this may be a planning condition (or protected species licence) with a requirement to compensate for the loss of existing wildlife habitats within demolished structures. However, increasingly, such provisions are provided by way of targeted enhancements, often to assist planning applications achieving net biodiversity gain or at the direct requests of an applicant who either wishes to encourage wildlife to their surroundings or organisation wishing to demonstrate corporate environmental responsibility.

But it is likely that the introduction of local planning policies and supplementary planning documents by local authorities, will have the biggest effect on provision of biodiversity opportunity within built structures. Many local authorities now have stated requirements for provision of bat and bird boxes within new dwellings, and it is likely that this trend will continue.

The reasons for this provision are clear. All too often when sustainable building is discussed, the focus is on energy and material (or waste) considerations. But biodiversity is fundamental to sustainable development, and the advancement of building design and construction techniques by creating ever more sealed structures has, on occasion, been to the detriment of the wildlife which have historically resided alongside people for hundreds (if not thousands!) of years. Surveys of buildings by the charity Swift Conservation have identified that swifts nest almost entirely in buildings constructed pre-1944. They go on to note that while approximately 10% of homes built before 1919 can house swifts, the figure for inter-war housing is about 7%, and for post war housing only 1.4%. For post-2000 properties it is almost nil.

And these figures are borne out by records of declines. For example, the UK breeding population of swifts has declined by an estimated 42% between 1995 and 2013 (RSPB). And it is not only swifts; other bird species traditionally reliant on buildings including house sparrows, house martins and starlings are also species listed as being of conservation concern. Whilst such declines are obviously not solely attributable to loss of nest sites, the demolition and/or conversion of old factories and inter-war social housing is certainly considered to be a contributing factor. But it needn’t be the case. There is now an increasing array of specially designed products available to accommodate wildlife within buildings.

There are also a variety of technical guides and instructions for incorporating more bespoke wildlife provision within buildings (including some available through RIBA Publishing such as Biodiversity for Low and Zero Carbon Buildings: A technical Guide for New Build). Such guides are based upon specialist research to ensure maximum likelihood of wildlife occupation and compatibility with modern, efficient construction techniques. With careful thought to which species will benefit within a given structure and site (and careful consideration for micro-sighting boxes, bricks and tubes to ensure maximum likelihood of occupation), the provisions made can have significant positive impact on local wildlife populations.

And whilst the reason for incorporating these opportunities into building design may largely be due to compliance with planning conditions and policies; it is a real hope that increasingly these features will be provided proactively and routinely by built environment professionals, even where a project may not necessarily include a dedicated ecological consultant. After all, biodiversity inclusion within built structures should be standard, not exceptional, design."

Blackdown Environmental is an Ecological Consultancy and Environmental Contracting company providing specialist ecological advice and habitat management services to a wide variety of clients in sectors including residential and commercial development, transport and infrastructure engineering, local authorities and charitable trusts. For more information about wildlife inclusion within structures please contact our Senior Ecologist Adam Bratt - - You can read more about Adam by clicking here ...

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