Land use change
Design-driven land use change has direct and indirect consequences.
What’s going on?
The development of buildings and infrastructure often leads to a loss of semi-natural habitat and this impact extends into the wider landscape where increasingly scarce biodiversity havens have become fragmented and isolated, leading to a loss of connectivity for wildlife. Increased human pressures such as disturbance, trampling and introduction of invasive species can also degrade habitats.
Urban brownfield sites have become important havens for wildlife. As they offer unique conditions relatively free of human disturbance, they can support an extremely diverse groups of plants and animals [source]. Often, they provide alternative habitats for many species that have declined due to the loss of their native countryside habitats.
However, 50% of wildlife-rich brownfield sites have been lost or are under threat because brownfield development has been prioritised under the National Policy and Planning Framework [source].
The loss of habitats and the biodiversity they support has wide-ranging effects. The increase in impermeable surfaces lowers the capacity of the environment to cope with flooding, for example. The loss of certain habitats, such as peatlands, woodlands and saltmarshes, can have serious consequences on nature’s ability to lock up and store carbon. Similarly, a less well-connected landscape can impact the ability of pollinators to pollinate our crops that we rely on and the wildflowers that we enjoy. Furthermore, it can drive local species extinctions for a range of mammals, birds and other animals who can no longer access enough habitat, food or water to survive.
With recent regulatory developments such as the Environment Act and the focus on achieving net zero carbon, steps are being made to help address these impacts. Town and Country Planning Act developments and Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects will soon be mandated to achieve a minimum 10% Biodiversity Net Gain secured for a minimum of 30 years in accordance with the Environmental Act.
Such advancements present new challenges, however, with demand for land having to be balanced between potential competing needs of nature recovery, agriculture and development. Typically, environmental enhancements are considered late in the design process which can lead to project delays, planning refusals and the need for costly mitigation and compensation [source]. Embedding nature early on in design reduces impacts and creates opportunities for environmental enhancement.
Road building and road improvement schemes, for instance, often lead to habitat loss and fragmentation but considered route placement and integrated design features, such as green bridges, can benefit habitat connectivity.
Under the Mitigation Hierarchy – a design framework used to support environmental assessments and opportunities for environmental enhancements – impacts should first be avoided, then minimised and, only as a last resort, compensation should be provided either on or off site in the location of maximum benefit. The earlier this is considered, the easier and more effective it is to implement.
It’s also important to identify opportunities for wider benefits early on within the design process. Engaging with stakeholders from project inception can inform design choices, optimise outcomes for both biodiversity and people, and ease the consenting process.
Getting nature positive
Biodiversity impacts can be minimised and avoided by considering how a construction or infrastructure project can alter land-use early in the design process. Yet the industry should be seeking to go further than this and projects should deliver biodiversity net gains. Flood risk management will be a major driver for using green space to manage water quantity and quality.
Actions include maximising biodiversity net gain, designing for environmental net gain, enhancing habitat connectivity, and using green infrastructure.
Inspired by steps buildings and infrastructure companies are already taking, we’ve compiled suggested actions to help you on your journey to getting nature positive