A Vision for Housing and Nature

Green InfrastructureGreen Infrastructure

A new way to build

Read our new guidelines: Homes for people and wildlife - How to build housing in a nature-friendly way

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.

Housing developments can make a positive contribution to wildlife and to the health and wellbeing of those who live there if they are built in the right way and in the right place. There are two stages to this:

Location - we should prioritise places for housing that are already well served by infrastructure - identifying where to build so that development avoids harm to the existing environmental assets of an area. Housing should be targeted at places where it can have a positive environmental impact to help achieve landscape restoration and recovery. This requires an up-to-date and well-informed ecological network map, which identifies existing natural features and habitat, alongside areas where new habitats are needed.

Design - deciding how new housing developments and houses themselves are designed to integrate space for both wildlife and people, as well as to reduce carbon emissions and minimise water usage. This should also draw on local ecological knowledge and an understanding of local environmental assets – and how they fit together at a landscape-scale. 

The Wildlife Trusts believe that all new housing developments must avoid damaging our last remaining wild places and should also include:

The Wildlife Trusts have pioneered the integration of wildlife into new developments for the past few decades. We've worked in partnership with developers to influence the design of new developments like Cambourne in Cambridgeshire and Woodberry Wetlands in London.

We've worked in partnership with developers to influence the design of new developments

By providing expert advice to developers at all stages of planning and construction we have ensured that existing meadows, wetlands, hedgerows, trees and woods are retained, enhanced and joined up with wildlife-rich gardens, verges, amenity green space, cycle paths and walkways. The result is natural corridors weaving through the development and reaching out beyond.

These features add what is known as natural resilience: they reduce surface water flooding and improve air quality, for example. There are other benefits too: houses with high environmental standards and built-in roosting and nesting features; easy access for residents to safe, attractive green space for exercise, play and social interaction; and the priceless treasure of wildlife on your doorstep.

Please follow the links to download our high-res and low-res versions of our new guidelines ‘Homes for people and wildlife - how to build housing in a nature-friendly way.’

A few examples of what we're doing

Woodberry Wetlands: London Wildlife Trust

London’s two Stoke Newington reservoirs are a Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation, an urban haven for wintering wildfowl. The east basin had been closed to the public for over 180 years, then Thames Water granted London Wildlife Trust permission to establish a community project on its north side in 2007.

The first phase of the project was completed in 2016, with Woodberry Wetlands opening to the public. A new bridge and boardwalk provided access, with the restoration of an ‘at risk’ grade II listed building producing the Coal House Café. But it wasn’t just the visitor facilities that were improved – new habitats were created, including reedbeds and species-rich grassland.

Woodberry Wetlands is rapidly becoming a go-to destination in the neighbourhood, and the wildlife of the site is thriving. The habitat improvement has resulted in a greater diversity of breeding birds, with the reed warbler population flourishing and Cetti’s warbler breeding for the first time in the borough.

St Leonards Hospital Redevelopment: Dorset Wildlife Trust

St Leonards, a former 1940s military hospital in Dorset, was in dire need of investment. The site’s spectacular heathland and acid grassland, precious habitat declared a Local Wildlife Site in the early nineties, was suffering from a lack of management. 

Redevelopment offered the opportunity to change things, to restore and enhance the site so that valuable habitats could thrive. 

In 2015 a 26-hectare development was approved. It will provide 210 new homes, a new feeder road and 18.3 hectares of Local Wildlife Site. Key 

environmental outcomes over a 7-year span will include 17 hectares of restored heathland/acid grassland mosaic and 25  hectares of natural greenspace adjacent to the reserve, enhanced for access and biodiversity.

Redevelopment offered the opportunity to change things, to restore and enhance the site so that valuable habitats could thrive.

With such clear benefits for nature, the plans met with few environmental objections, and good public consultation from an early stage kept the process smooth. Dorset Wildlife Trust were involved from the beginning, with early and ongoing consultation between the Trust, Natural England, the developers, ecological consultants and East Dorset District Council critical to securing these positive ecological outcomes.

Thanks to conscientious construction, the prognosis looks promising for the wildlife of this former hospital site.

My Wild City: Avon Wildlife Trust

Bristol is the fastest growing city in the UK and as the city continues to grow, so do the challenges facing wildlife within and beyond its boundaries. My Wild City takes on these challenges, aiming to inspire people to transform Bristol into a flourishing nature reserve where wildlife can thrive. 

The houses of Stanley Park in Easton were approached with the offer of a wildlife garden makeover. Thirty houses signed up to the community project, which saw their front gardens transformed into a haven for nature and people alike. Stanley Park now provides a wildlife corridor between two neighbouring green spaces, allowing wildlife to move more freely. It also serves to inspire others to work with their neighbours to create their own wild streets, improving connectivity for wildlife across the inner-city area

All the actions taken by people to help make Bristol one big nature reserve are recorded on an interactive map.

 

Trumpington Meadows: Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust

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 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. 

Gaydon: Warwickshire Wildlife Trust

 A planned 3,000 home development, covering 290 hectares was proposed in 2013 in Stratford-upon-Avon. Since then, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust has worked closely with local interest groups, the local authority planning officer and the developers’ consultant ecologists to address concerns and maximise gains for nature, particularly in relation to the Lighthorne Heath Quarry Local Wildlife Site (LWS) and adjacent Ancient Woodlands. The LWS is recognised as one of the most species diverse and unique sites in the county, comprising nationally threatened habitat.

At the time of this report, there is an agreed Masterplan for the site and two separate planning applications that are awaiting determination. Early engagement by the Trust has helped to shape the plan proposals and secure positive features for nature within and around the proposed development to secure an overall net gain in biodiversity. 

The site is complex due to its size and indirect impacts on neighbouring habitats and the fact that there are multiple developers and applications. But the impact of the development has been objectively measured using a Biodiversity Impact Assessment – a local adaptation of the Defra metric. As most of the on-site compensation will come from enhancement of the Nature Reserve, owned by one developer overall net gain will be achieved by ‘credits’ from one part of the development being transferred to the developers of the other.

Key outcomes for nature, will include the long term-management of the LWS as a new Local Nature Reserve; semi-natural buffers to protect the ancient woodlands; connective semi-natural habitat to link the ancient woodland with the proposed Nature Reserve; and green infrastructure throughout the development.
 

Natural Estates: London Wildlife Trust

Natural Estates was a project that worked with social landlords to improve green spaces on estates for people and wildlife. It was a partnership between London Wildlife Trust, eight social landlords, and Groundwork London. It was funded through Big Lottery Access to Nature, in collaboration with Natural England.

The aim of the project was to engage residents in enhancing and maintaining the biodiversity value of their common green spaces, improving their physical and emotional health, encouraging social cohesion and promoting active citizenship. More than 7,000 residents from nine different London housing estates took part.

“For many social housing residents, their best opportunity to engage with the natural world is to access the green space on their own estates."

A project involved a programme of activities that enhanced the biodiversity of communal green spaces and improved the green infrastructure of London's Living Landscape included: creating and making balcony planters, hanging baskets, raised beds, bat boxes, mini-beast shelters, hedgehog hibernacula, stag beetle loggeries; sowing wildflower meadows; learning about habitats and their management; and wildlife surveys.

A training and capacity building programme for staff and residents was run alongside these activities to engage social landlords and residents in the management of greenspace so that improvements became embedded in the operational delivery and were sustained beyond the lifetime of the project.

 

Priest Hill: Surrey Wildlife Trust

Priest Hill, near Epsom used to be an abandoned playing field and some developed land. Now it has been transformed to provide 15 new homes alongside a brand-new nature reserve for the benefit of wildlife and the local community.

Prior to this, management of the site had been largely abandoned allowing its succession to rough grassland and scrub, as well as fly-tipping, arson and other urban fringe problems. Without proper management the potential diversity of its habitats was declining.

The developer, Combined Counties Properties Ltd funded much of the work to restore the 34-hectare reserve alongside provision of a site manager’s house and maintenance base, through ‘planning gain’. Ownership of the reserve and the associated buildings were transferred to Surrey Wildlife Trust before the remainder of the site was developed for housing. Throughout the process, Surrey Wildlife Trust worked closely with the developers and Epsom & Ewell Borough Council to ensure the full potential of the site was realised.

Since clearing the previously-developed area of tarmac and rubble, the Trust has been working to restore and re-create species-rich chalk grassland, wetlands and hedgerows.

Most recently a conservation grazing regime has been re-introduced. The site represents a new and important 'stepping stone' between its nearby Howell Hill nature reserve and Epsom Downs to the south – helping to reconnect a strategic Green Infrastructure and wildlife corridor penetrating into Greater London. Targeted conservation work at Priest Hill has already benefitted the recovery of priority species such as Small blue, White-letter and Brown hairstreak butterflies, Common lizard, Skylark and Linnet.

Many of the existing access paths and tracks have been retained and large kissing gates have been installed at pedestrian access points so that people can enjoy the reserve for years to come. With SWT staff living on site, the reserve is afforded added security and the growing diversity of species can be closely monitored.
 

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.

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.

“We like living in Cambourne because we have attractive and varied open spaces on our doorsteps with no need to get in the car."

Green space make 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.
 

Tadpole Garden Village: Wiltshire Wildlife Trust

Tadpole Garden Village is a modern day 21st Century Garden Village located to the north of Swindon, a short distance from the village of Blunsdon and the River Ray. The development, comprising approximately 143 hectares, will feature 1,855 residential homes as well as a school, shops, a pub and a community centre. Inspired by the original Garden Cities principles and Crest Nicholson’s own Garden Village Framework, the vision is for a holistically planned, new community with strong character, design, landscaping, and public open spaces. The green infrastructure is supported by a strategy for its long term management and maintenance by the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust.

As former farmland, the site has been designed and developed around many existing natural features, including hedgerows, established woodland, ponds and ditches. In total more than 68 hectares of green space weave through the village landscape, offering open spaces, sports pitches, woodland, play areas, cycle routes, footpaths and a new Nature Park for both people and wildlife. Crest Nicholson is working in partnership with Wiltshire Wildlife Trust to create the Nature Park, which will see the conversion of more than 48 hectares of arable land to wildflower species-rich meadows, providing essential habitat for plants, invertebrates, bats, birds and mammals, such as the brown hare. The Nature Park will also provide vital links in the green corridor that runs along the River Ray to the north Wiltshire countryside.

Crest Nicholson is funding the creation of the Nature Park with the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust assisting with the quality design and implementation, as well as ensuring its successful long term management and maintenance. The Trust will also provide 100 days of community engagement activities working with the local primary school, and residents to secure community interest and pride by local residents. The Nature Park is supported by an endowment from Crest Nicholson and an annual service charge payable by residents.
 

Rugby Borough: Warwickshire Wildlife Trust

Once a common sight in gardens, the UK population of hedgehog has plummeted from 30 million in the 1950s to less than a million today. Homeowners and house builders can take practical steps to fight the decline of hedgehogs, and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust are working with whole neighbourhoods to do this through their Hedgehog Improvement Area projects.

Rugby Borough is a Hedgehog Improvement Area, an initiative funded by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society to conduct large-scale conservation work for our nationally declining hedgehogs. As part of the initiative, alongside the Planning and Biodiversity Officer, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Hedgehog Officer provides advice and assistance to developers and liaises with ecologists and local authorities, to encourage hedgehog-friendly development.

This may include minimising areas of hard standing, sympathetic planting along boundaries and features that have the potential to fragment the landscape, including features such as ponds and log piles in gardens, and crucially, connecting all areas of green space at ground level. Permeable barriers with 13 x 13 cm base holes or ‘hedgehog holes’ are strongly encouraged to facilitate a ‘hedgehog highway’, with the offer to map holes for the developer.

Five housebuilders have agreed to implement ‘hedgehog holes’. Two are these are initial housebuilders at the Houlton development, a former radio mast site. With 6200 houses planned alongside schools and other facilities, it is hoped that other future housebuilders at this vast development site will be encouraged to do the same, connecting gardens with the rest of the 1200 acres of open space. Importantly, these hedgehog holes have the potential to benefit all ground dwelling wildlife e.g. toads, with hedgehogs acting as a much-loved umbrella species.

Partnership work with Rugby Borough Council has also resulted in the revised Local Plan including a statement regarding the enhancement of the connectivity and biodiversity of residential and non-designated green space and use of permeable barriers. With this plan being used to guide decisions on development in the Borough, Rugby looks set to become more connected for wildlife in the future.


(Photo credit: Woodberry Wetlands © Penny Dixie; Orchid © Mark Hamblin/2020VISION; Summer Street © Avon Wildlife Trust; Grassland Path © Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust; Gaydon © Warwickshire Wildlife Trust; Natural Estates © London Wildlife Trust; Priest Hill © Surrey Wildlife Trust; Cambourne © Matthew Roberts; brown hare © Jamie Hall; hedgehog highway © Deborah Wright)

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