Biodiverse Landscapes: Ensuring Biodiversity in Urban Planning

Urban areas house the majority of the world’s population. 55% of people currently live in cities and towns, and predicted to hit 68% by 2050. As this growth continues, it’s essential we understand the importance that biodiversity brings to different landscapes and conserve green spaces where we can.

Biodiversity is becoming a crucial consideration at the forefront of urban planning. As populations increase, we are finding how to incorporate green infrastructure into our cities.

What are Biodiverse landscapes?

A phrase coined in 1985, Biodiversity refers to living things in all its forms and interactions. That’s fairly broad, to say the least. It includes humans, animals, plants, and everything else that is alive such as bacteria. For a more technical definition, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity describes it as:

“Biological diversity” means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part.

But what about in the context of the urban environment? Parks, podiums, roof gardens and especially green roofs are all examples of incorporating biodiverse landscapes into our cities. Bat and bird boxes are increasingly specified by landscape architects, as are beehives and insect hotels. This shift ensuring green spaces provide for wildlife habitats has occurred in recent years, set to grow in the future.

Biodiversity and Urban Planning

By its very nature, construction destroys existing infrastructure and in doing so alters biodiversity patterns. Projects such as new roads, tunnels and railways especially, as they often cross large areas of green space. Such schemes have a large impact on wildlife and habitats, which can modify long-term dispersal patterns of plants and animals. For this reason they are invariably controversial.

However, this may not necessarily mean a total change of building plans. Urban greening systems such as roof gardens, living walls and green roofs ensures maintained biodiversity or reintroduction within the built environment.

The High Speed 2 (HS2) railway is a typical example of a construction scheme with a high environmental expense. 42 different woodlands will be partially or fully destroyed to clear the path from London to Birmingham. On the flip side, there is an argument that the use of the railway will mean a permanent reduction in car and domestic air travel, resulting in it being the ‘greener way to travel.’ There is also a £7m donation to improve existing woodlands, and a commitment to restore trees and habitats in areas destroyed by the works.

Biodiversity Net Gain; A big step forward

The UK government’s Environmental Bill was reintroduced at the beginning of last year. It follows the original 25 year plan to ‘leave the environment in a better state than when we found it’. Also, this latest update has seen the emergence of Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG).

Biodiversity Net Gain is a set of terms that require all new developments to deliver at least a 10% improvement in “biodiversity value”. The scope of greening required reflects the scale of the development and the existing infrastructure destroyed to make way for it. The biodiverse value could be achieved in the form of roof gardens and/or green roofs. For larger developments this could include the creation of parks or an adjacent tract of woodland. Local area environmental targets are also considered.

As a new piece of regulation for architects and specifiers to follow, it’s important that the opportunities for making green space available are understood and taken advantage of. Such government initiatives are hugely influential and invariably achieve results. The Urban Greening Factor (UGF) is another example of a mandatory scheme that has had a massive impact by establishing a minimum balance of green (soft) to hard surface finishes. You can find out more on this here.

The ‘Green Block’ shown below is part of a concept for a greener London produced by architects WATG. Image credited to WATG.

The benefits of Biodiverse Landscapes

The benefits of biodiverse landscapes are far reaching. There are obvious advantages for local ecology, especially since the implementation of BNG terms. There are benefits for developers too, as they can create more visually attractive buildings which are inevitably worth more in the marketplace. It is also better for the local community , as research consistently indicates that urban biodiversity has a clear positive impact on both mental and physical wellbeing, as well as social and cultural health. There is even evidence to support knock-on benefits to economic health and stability.

Healthy, functioning ecosystems bring practical benefits too. Improved air quality, carbon sequestration, and sources of green energy are examples of this. Biodiverse landscapes also offer improved microclimates, encourage population and variety of wildlife, and help develop a sense of community and wellbeing for residents.

Creating Biodiverse Landscapes

We understand the value of biodiverse landscapes at Valley Provincial, having built many podiums, terraces and rooftops to create green, usable  spaces. To find out more about how we can create biodiverse landscapes, take a look at our case studies page here.

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