TG Escapes Blog
The role of the construction industry in improving biodiversity
Why do we need Biodiversity?
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) defines biodiversity as;
“The variety of life which includes all living organisms from the various ecosystems of the planet”
If the natural world is to be kept in balance and to thrive, it needs a rich diversity of flora, fauna and micro-organisms. Biodiversity is essential to maintain a healthy stable environment which, in turn, is crucial for the continued provision of life systems upon which human life depends. These include food production and security; fuel; clean air; fresh water and medical and pharmacological progress. A healthy eco-system also plays a vital role in climate stability and disease limitation.
Although the problem of climate change is now broadly acknowledged, albeit with varying degrees of urgency and response globally, there is now a growing concern about the health consequences of biodiversity loss and the impact on the capacity for humans to sustain healthy, productive lives. As detailed in the World Health Organisation’s paper on Biodiversity and Health, healthy communities rely on well-functioning ecosystems.
UK biodiversity is in decline
A recently published paper by the National Biodiversity Network, entitled State of Nature 2019 UK, collates a wide variety of data to document the trends in the UK’s biodiversity in the last 5 decades. It also analyses the pressures affecting the state of nature and reviews the conservation response.
“Our statistics demonstrate that the abundance and distribution of the UK’s species has, on average, declined since 1970 and many metrics suggest this decline has continued in the most recent decade. There has been no let-up in the net loss of nature in the UK.”
The report analyses the many pressures on our native biodiversity which include the intensification of agricultural land management, climate change and, most importantly for the construction industry, increased urbanisation.
Without any intention to play a blame game, the upshot of our human activity during the last half century has resulted in the UK being recognised as the most nature depleted nation in the G7 and in the bottom 10% globally.
Well-planned development can enhance biodiversity
The process of increased urbanisation and the associated construction of buildings, roads and rail networks has led to the direct loss of habitat while also causing habitat fragmentation and hydrological changes as more land is covered by artificial surfaces. However, well-planned and managed urban environments are capable of supporting a high level of biodiversity, with gardens, allotments and other green spaces currently recognised as pollinator hotspots.
The Government has been slow to address the issue and until recently had only issued a set of guidelines (the Nationwide Planning Policy) requiring local planning authorities to consider unquantified biodiversity improvements when processing planning applications. The response was, at best, piecemeal and haphazard.
What is meant by ‘Biodiversity Net Gain’?
It is clear that time has become of the essence, as evidenced by the Environment Act 2021 which has specified a mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) and a requirement that all new development must show a measurable 10% uplift in BNG by the end of 2023.
Two metrics are to be used, one for large scale projects which must be verified by a qualified ecologist and another for developments below 5000 sqm. The latter will be applicable to most of TG Escapes buildings and can be measured by our own inhouse architectural and engineering team.
The metrics assign biodiversity ‘units’ to the site of any proposed new build, as found and after development. Given that any new construction will result in the loss of some habitat and disruption to local wildlife populations, a 10% uplift is not a small undertaking.
How can the construction industry address biodiversity loss?
The route to achieving the 10% target should be approached by a system based upon four principles. In descending order of importance, these are:
AVOID MINIMISE REMEDIATE COMPENSATE
Avoidance favours sympathetic site design aimed at conserving the maximum quantity of existing high value biodiversity as possible, particularly trees and hedgerows.
Minimisation can be achieved through the modular building method, whereby a building’s components are made offsite and assembled onsite, significantly reducing habitat damage and disruption, combined with the use of environmentally sustainable building techniques and materials. These approaches can be further supplemented through the inclusion of green infrastructure such as living roofs.
Of the final two elements, TG Escapes believe that compensation should always be seen as the last resort: the purchase of credits is a wasted opportunity to use simple, yet highly effective, tools to achieve the BNG target. These include planting trees, sowing wildflower seeds and building bird and bat boxes, which we intend to include in each of our projects for the purposes of both enhancing the BNG and enriching the experience of our buildings’ occupants.
Finally, we believe that there is enormous potential for a community space, such as a school’s grounds, to engage people in the issue of biodiversity and encourage them to take action in their own gardens or to band together to create other local green spaces.
The future relies upon children but conservation action needs to be taken now. Adults need to be given the opportunity to reconnect with nature and to understand the relationship between connection and action.
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