GREEN GAINS CAN
It’s time to put biodiversity into practice rather than simply preaching it, says Habitat Aid founder, Nick Mann.
When you think of green building
what do you think about? Carbon
footprint? Energy efficiency?
Sustainability? Resource efficient
construction and operation?
There’s another side to green building, of
course. It can be about not just causing minimal
environmental damage, but actually enhancing
local biodiversity and biomass – i.e. numbers and
types of animals and plants. And this is becoming
increasingly important. I don’t like people calling
what we’re seeing an “ecological apocalypse”
but technically, they’re right. We easily forget
how much nature has disappeared in the UK in
particular over the last 40 years – the ecologists
call it “shifting baseline syndrome”. In 2016 the
authoritative State Of Nature Report assessed 218
countries for “biodiversity intactness”. The UK was
ranked 189. This green and pleasant land is one of
the most nature-depleted countries in the world.
Why has this happened? In short, habitat loss
and fragmentation. This has been caused by all
sorts of things; it’s complicated. We have used a
lot of pesticides, which hasn’t helped. Farmers
BUILDING PRODUCTS | FEBRUARY
have been paid to do daft things. A growing
population means growing infrastructure and
housing. Anyway, we are where we are.
There are moves afoot to dramatically change
the way we incentivise our farmers in a world
after the Common Agricultural Policy. Michael
Gove is talking the talk; he wants to move to
a system where we pay farmers for “public
goods”. This might include not farming but other
activities; tree planting, making meadows and
wetland areas, and possibly even rewilding. Some
conservationists are very excited, and I’ve got
everything crossed that he will deliver.
Mr Gove is also currently consulting about the
policy of “biodiversity net gain”. The idea is that
new development has to not only have a minimal
impact on local biodiversity, it has to enhance it.
There are two obvious catches to this. Firstly, how
on earth do you measure this? If you destroy 50
acres of 500-year-old broadleaf woodland, how
do you offset that loss? You can’t. Worse, there
are very significant inherent risks in thinking you
might be able to. You could plant however many
acres of saplings you like and it won’t start to even
shift the scales. Secondly, how do you monitor
offsetting? It has to be an ongoing process, not
just a one-off exercise in greenwash.
It’s my view that the move towards greener
developments has to be driven by developers
themselves to be successful, rather than through
regulation. This might be happening already.