A huge challenge lies ahead – thousands of new houses are to be built yet we need to restore the natural world.
Housebuilding needs to shift its focus from numbers to a more visionary approach that benefits nature as well as people, the Wildlife Trust has said.
The charity has published guidance to help planners and house-builders provide new housing in a way that provides people with inspirational homes that are more environmentally-friendly to live in.
The government has committed to building 300,000 homes a year until 2022, which is the equivalent to around 36 square miles being given over the new housing developments annually, according to the charity.
Birds and pollinators
The Wildlife Trusts believe that the natural environment must be put at the heart of planning in order to give the government a chance of meeting its commitment to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it, and to build new homes and communities that people enjoy living in.
“A huge challenge lies ahead – thousands of new houses are to be built yet we need to restore the natural world. We’re calling on the government and local authorities to build beautiful, nature-friendly communities in the right places,” Rachel Hackett, living landscapes development manager for the Wildlife Trusts said.
The UK has lost 97 percent of lowland meadows in England and Wales since 1930, the charity said. More than half of wild plants and animals have declined in the past 50 years, with 15 percent are at risk of disappearing from the UK altogether.
While much of this loss has been due to intensive agriculture, built development continues to be a major contributor, reducing the space left for wildlife and disrupting ecological processes such as natural floodwater storage in river, it said.
But it believes that this is often unnecessary and has produced the guidance to show that it is possible to design homes that encourage birds and pollinators and soak up floodwater.
“With good design the costs of doing this are a tiny proportion of the overall cost of a housing development, but represent a big investment for the future,” said Hackett.
Nature-friendly housing can be created by planting wildlife-rich community green spaces, walkways, gardens, verges, roofs, wetlands and other natural features, all of which improve people’s health and quality of life too, she said.
There are a myriad of social, environmental and economic benefits of such features in housing developments, the trust said. While wildlife gains more space to live in, residents get health benefits from daily contact with nature and protection against climate extremes, and developers have satisfied customers and an improved brand.
The Wildlife Trusts responds to thousands of planning applications each year to promote design that benefits wildlife as well as people. It also works with developers to influence landscape design in and around new developments such as at Cambourne in Cambridgeshire and Woodberry Wetlands in London.
The government’s 25-year environment plan, published last week, contained a pledge to strengthen planning policy so that council planners have to ensure that development provides net gains in biodiversity where possible.
Catherine Early is a regular contributor to The Ecologist and tweets at @cat_early76.