Responding to Nature

State of Nature is a report into UK wildlife and biodiversity produced by a partnership of conservation and research organisations including Natural England, the Wildlife Trusts, the Woodland Trust and WWF.

The document “presents an overview of how the country’s wildlife is faring, looking back over 50 years of monitoring to see how nature has changed”. It identifies the main issues driving biodiversity loss, and presents suggestions for how we should respond.

The issues

Biodiversity in the UK is falling pretty rapidly.

“the abundance and distribution of the UK’s species has, on average, declined since 1970 and many metrics suggest this decline has continued in the most recent decade.”

According to State of Nature, the main contributors to biodiversity loss are:

  • Agricultural management
  • Climate change
  • Urbanisation
  • Pollution
  • Hydrological change
  • Invasive Non-Native Species
  • Woodland management.

Agricultural management is the main driver of biodiversity loss, followed closely by climate change which is causing range and population change in sensitive species, alongside landscape-scale alterations to vulnerable habitats. Other important impacts include hydrological change, urbanisation and how woodlands are managed.

How We Should Respond

Loss of biodiversity is a national and global issue, and there are a number of causative factors. Potential resolutions are therefore varied. Many mitigation measures will inevitably have to occur at the national and international legislative levels; climate change solutions will ultimately require global interventions, and issues related to agricultural management largely fall outside TEP’s purview.

But the State of Nature report nevertheless identifies the necessity of beneficial practices across a variety of scales; so all our projects present opportunities to protect and enhance biodiversity.

For example, State of Nature emphasises sensitive protected areas. Many protected areas sequester large quantities of carbon into soils, timber and wetlands. They are pivotal in climate change mitigation; whilst also providing habitats for a large array of often vulnerable species. TEP occasionally work with projects in these protected/’special’ areas, providing us with great opportunities to contribute to biodiversity conservation and enhancement.

Many of our projects also contain areas of woodland. Woodland management has had a complex impact upon biodiversity. While management since the First World War has caused woodland land cover to increase from 5% to 13%, some of this woodland is comprised of non-native species with limited habitat value. More appropriate management, with an emphasis on increasing the range and number of native species, will help restore the wildlife value of our forests and woodland. A focus on growing quality timber will also help sequester carbon both in growing wood, and later in the form of timber used in construction.

TEP’s London design office is working on Black Park, a Buckinghamshire County Council-owned country park. Our work involves planning future management of ‘compartments’ within the park, creating new areas of mixed woodland in addition to preserving existing areas of mature coniferous woodland. It will also involve the protection of an existing alder carr on-site, and thereby provide scope for improvements in woodland biodiversity.

Alongside our work in parkland and protected areas, much of our work concerns new residential areas. The topic of biodiversity may seem harder to link to these projects, but according to State of Nature, urban areas, with their mosaic of potential habitats, can actually enrichen biodiversity relative to rural areas with appropriate planning. TEP’s role is to navigate the various competing priorities in projects in order to balance viability requirements for intensive development with design that maximises each site’s biodiversity.

Residential developments are also important because, for most people, urban areas are a stage for their relationship with nature. Designing with this in mind, attempting to foment a closer bond between residents and their surrounding landscapes is important in bringing biodiversity issues into greater focus.

TEP engages in a wide range of residential design projects, often with a focus on providing residents with a greater connection with nature. The landscape design of phase 3 of Barton Park residential area in Oxford, for instance, is underpinned by the theme of food production, derived from the local area, and thus provides a variety of growing spaces – orchards and allotments – as well as a variety of green spaces at varying scales. Other projects have sought to incorporate ecological mitigation measures aimed at preserving biodiversity; the ongoing design for Lea Castle in Worcestershire includes bat barns for example. State of Nature emphasises the value of species-by-species approaches to conservation, as often embodied by our ecology team.

All of our projects present avenues to conserving and enhancing biodiversity. As a practice, we have a responsibility, enshrined in the Codes of Conduct of our professional institutes (Landscape Institute and the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management), to reflect biodiversity issues in the services we provide to our clients.

Ultimately, underpinning all the suggested responses within State of Nature is an attitude that prioritises conservation and biodiversity net gain; an ethos embedded in all of TEP’s work, and an ethos that we should seek to disseminate among our clients. If this ethos can feed into a greater connection between the public and their natural environment then this in itself is a massive step towards a broader, more effective strategy to preserving and enhancing biodiversity.

For more information on how TEP can help with protecting and enhancing the biodiversity within your developments, contact our design team tep@tep.uk.com.

To access the 2019 State of Nature report click here: https://nbn.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/State-of-Nature-2019-UK-full-report.pdf