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Living Walls And Green Roofs Pave Way For Biodiversity In New Building

By Felicity Carus

Otters could return to urban rivers, bats could roost under bridges, swifts could flock to office blocks and peregrine falcons soar above cathedrals under recommendations from the UK Green Building Council.

What do the Westfield shopping centre, Canary Wharf and a Victorian museum have in common? They are all at the vanguard of a move to encourage biodiversity in buildings that could take on an unprecedented scale if guidelines published today are adopted.

Under recommendations from the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC) for developers, planners and policy-makers, Otters could return to urban rivers, bats could roost under bridges, swifts could flock to office blocks and peregrine falcons soar above cathedrals. Existing examples of encouraging biodiversity in buildings include the Westfield shopping centre in west London and its "living wall" planted with wildflowers, Canary Wharf's assortment of biodiversity initiatives, and the south London Horniman Museum's green roof, one of the country's first.

Carol Williams, the chairwoman of the UKGBC task group of biodiversity and construction industry experts, said the government's target for all new homes to be zero carbon by 2016 is changing attitudes in the construction industry. "The construction and property sector has been pilloried in the past for its negative impact on green space, wildlife and habitat – but the industry can actually have a positive influence on ecological value. If we don't make provision for wildlife now, then we might not be able to attract it retrospectively quite so easily," she said.

The UKGBC task group - which included Natural England, the Association of Local Government Ecologists, Bovis Lend Lease, the Canary Wharf Group, Grimshaw Architects - recommended 10 ways to encourage and enhance biodiversity in the built environment.

Just some of the design features which would encourage biodiversity in cities are specially made nesting bricks built into cavity walls for birds such as swifts and starlings, or ledges that mimic cliff faces for peregrine falcons which are attracted to tall buildings. Cathedrals, office blocks in Canary Wharf and Battersea power station in south London are all known to have housed breeding birds of prey.

Green corridors will allow other mammals to "commute", said Williams, and careful lighting and roosting boxes under bridges will allow Daubenton's and pipistrelle bats to inhabit areas which are ususally too bright for them.

But according to Dave Wakelin of sustainability consultants Hilson Moran, "green roofs" have the biggest impact on biodiversity in cities, because patches of roofspace that mimic grassland or shale environments can create their own ecosystem. Black redstarts, he says, have been attracted back to Canary Wharf by the shrill carder bee, a ground nesting bee that burrows into the sediments in the shale in the roof garden at 20 Cabot Tower.

In the City of London, CCTV is trained on peregrine falcons nesting in an office block so that staff can watch the progess of a breeding pair, as chicks hatch. Wakelin said this is just one initiative to get office workers more interested in the "priority" species in their city.

"We see buildings as extensions of green space. They are like fingers of greenery spreading out between buildings and act as green stepping stones between bigger areas of green space mean that you haven't got so many barren spaces left in cities."

Paul King, chief executive of the UKGBC, said: "If done well, new developments can actually create habitats in which wild species thrive, and which we can all enjoy. Green roofs, living walls, and good old-fashioned parks and green spaces in our built environment can make us all feel happier and healthier, and give something back to nature."

Environment minister Huw Irranca-Davies welcomed the report. He said: "Our wildlife brings opportunities as well as challenges, and this report demonstrates how the construction industry can show leadership in recognising how protecting and enhancing the UK's wildlife can bring economic as well as environmental benefits."

This piece originally appeared in The Guardian.
Photo credit: flickr/416style, Creative Commons License.

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I live near to the Westfield mall and see it everyday on my way to work. I have to comment on the statement that Westfield is "at the vanguard of a move to encourage biodiversity in buildings". This is laughable and if the mall is promoting their planted wall as biodiverse then that is just crazy crazy crazy. The wall is only there to block out the view of the surrounding rooftops. It sits on a plinth shared by a powered water fountain that runs constantly even in cold weather. It is elevated above street level as is the entire mall terrace and will never be connected to any wildlife corridors. The wall is is in a completely hardscape setting, only providing the restaurants on the terrace with a nicer backdrop than the crappy towerblocks to the west. The mall doesn't fit in with the surrounding built context and degrades the overall urbanism, in addition it has a nicely filled carpark and the streets surrounding are clogged with cars making public transportation run inefficiently... this is not a sustainable building and never will be. I can provide pictures if anyone would like to see this horrible mistake in action. Please research articles more thoroughly before posting. If the Westfield Mall can say that recommended their building as being green then this degrades this website completely.

Posted by: WTN on 6 Apr 09

Hey WTN,

I think Felicity is just using Westfield as one example in a developing trend in which buildings are encouraging biodiversity in the city; developments that "could take on an unprecedented scale if guidelines published today are adopted." So, I don't think she is saying that it is the best example, but one example. It is unfortunate, however, to hear that the building is so unsustainable. Thanks for point this out. If the mall is using "biodiversity" as a way to greenwash, as you say, then that is pretty shady.

Posted by: Sarah on 6 Apr 09

There are ways for you to take action. There are things you can do each and every day to lesson the negative impact on the environment, starting right now. We often feel overwhelmed and confused, wondering what it is that we can do to make a difference.

Posted by: livinglopez on 14 Apr 09

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