Building for people and wildlife

Logo: The Wildlife Trusts

As the demand for land for agriculture, housing and development has increased, so the space for wildlife and nature has decreased.   Growing recreational pressures that come with development, particularly in more densely populated areas, have also created challenges, including the loss of garden and community greenspace.

Exeter urban meadow © Emily Stallworthy,  Devon Wildlife Trust
Exeter urban meadow © Emily Stallworthy, Devon Wildlife Trust

But new developments don’t have to squeeze out wildlife and greenspace. In fact, they can enhance it – and benefit people at the same time.

The Wildlife Trusts are calling on developers, local authorities and Government to embrace a new, more holistic way of building: one that avoids damage to protected sites and works with the natural surroundings to create gains for nature, and better health and well-being for residents.

The next decade is likely to see hundreds of thousands of new homes built. In the past, housing developments have mostly destroyed habitats rather than created them. But done in the right way, on the right site, they can lead to a net gain for wildlife – and offer their incoming residents a healthier, happier place to live. And that’s because good housing and a healthy natural world are intrinsically linked.

The Wildlife Trusts have pioneered the integration of wildlife into new developments for many decades, using our expertise and relationships with developers we have ensured that existing meadows, wetlands, hedgerows, trees and woods are retained. We also aim for wildlife-rich gardens, verges, amenity greenspace, cycle paths and walkways. The result is natural corridors weaving through the development and reaching out beyond. These features add natural resilience: they reduce surface
water flooding and improve air quality, for example. We also work with social landlords and residents to create natural places that encourage wildlife and benefit people.

The best new houses are energy and water efficient; have built-in roosting and nesting features; and provide easy access to safe, attractive green space for exercise, play and social interaction. And they deliver the priceless treasure of wildlife on your doorstep.

Housing vision illustration © The Wildlife Trusts
Housing vision illustration © The Wildlife Trusts

The cost implications of doing this are a tiny proportion of the outlay of a housing development, it’s about choosing the right sort of greening rather than about radically different costs. The benefits are considerable for business, nature, residents and communities alike.

The Wildlife Trusts believe that all new housing developments could and should be places where people and wildlife flourish with

  • Access to wildlife whether in town or country
  • High quality natural green space
  • A genuine, measurable net overall gain for wildlife
  • Connectivity to the wider ecological network.

With the urgent need to build so many new homes, the Government has a perfect opportunity to reset the approach to housing. We believe it should refocus to help wildlife, and to create healthy, cohesive and thriving communities, where residents can connect with nature and each other.

All the necessary knowledge, evidence and expertise to do this already exists, and so our vision is simple: it should become normal for all housing developments – whether new or established – to contribute to nature’s recovery.

More at The Wildlife Trusts new guide ‘Homes for People and Wildlife – how to build housing in a nature friendly way’

Case studies

Cambourne: The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire

The new settlement of Cambourne is a series of three interlinked villages designed to use existing landscape and habitat features as building blocks for a network of green spaces.

Cambourne © Brian Eversham
Cambourne © Brian Eversham

The project was conceived in the 1990s and comprises of 4,200 dwellings. The green spaces frame, join and permeate each of the three villages - giving residents and wildlife easy access to the whole network. This consideration to design has made Cambourne a safe and attractive place where people want to live and engage with their local environment and where wildlife can thrive.

Green space makes up 60% of the settlement. This includes pre-existing and new woodlands, meadows, lakes, amenity grasslands, playing fields, allotments and formal play areas. There are 12 miles of new footpaths, cycleways and bridleways and 10 miles of new hedgerows. The new grassland areas are rich in ground nesting birds such as skylarks and meadow pipits which have had great breeding success over the years. The lakes and ponds that serve to prevent flooding also provide great habitat for wildfowl and dragonflies.

Management of the green spaces is undertaken by the new Cambourne Parish Council and The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire. The land will eventually be transferred to each of these organisations.

Quote: “We like living here we have attractive, varied open spaces with no need to get in the car. The area feels safe and the kids can play within walking distance of our home.” Rachel Mortimer, wild development resident at Cambourne, Cambs

Trumpington Meadows: The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire

Trumpington Meadows is a development of 1,200 homes and forms part of a string of developments on the southern fringe of Cambridge. Respecting Cambridge’s character as a compact city with networks of green space connecting the city to surrounding rural areas, the new developments link into, and continue, these green corridors.

Trumpington Meadows © Sarah Lambert
Trumpington Meadows © Sarah Lambert

Trumpington Meadows Land Company wanted to create a high-quality development with its own character and sense of place and viewed a new country park as integral to this. It carried out extensive consultation with local communities and stakeholders prior to submitting the planning application.

The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire & Northamptonshire was selected as the land managing organisation and engaged with the landscape architect on design and creation of the development’s green infrastructure to help secure better outcomes for wildlife and limit future management problems.

Local play areas, swales and tree avenues are included throughout the development. The 58 hectare country park is designed to be both a space for people and a ‘nature reserve’. Its staged creation, which includes over 40 hectares of new species-rich meadows, hedgerows, woodlands and restored floodplain meadows, began prior to the building of the first houses to allow the landscaping and habitats time to mature.

The country park was designed to follow the River Cam and include its floodplain. A river restoration scheme was developed by the local authority ecologist to improve the river habitat and re-connect the river with its floodplain meadows, providing a small reduction in flood-risk downstream. New houses were built away from the flood plain to reduce flood risk and the drainage system is engineered to include a balancing pond with overflow area and open ditch features, to keep runoff to the River Cam at pre-development levels.

First published in CJS Focus on Greenspace in association with Fields in Trust on 21 May 2018

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