Biodiversity (biological diversity) sustains the living systems that provide us with health, food and fuel, all of which are vital for our quality of life and the long-term sustainability of our planet. Indeed, it is so important that 2010 was declared the International Year of Biodiversity by the UN.
In Britain, some of our most valued and vulnerable species have traditionally shared our built structures: migratory birds such as swallows; our own populations of sparrows and starlings, now in sharp decline; the majestic barn owl; and bats, so important in our ecosystems that they are now recognised by the Government as indicators of biodiversity.
However, the way we design our buildings is changing, with potentially negative consequences for cherished species such as swifts, swallows and bats. Making buildings 'airtight' – one of the key ways to lower carbon emissions - has meant that potential resting, nesting and roosting places are being designed out. Furthermore, the national standard Building for Life has a criterion that is likely to lead to most new dwellings having the U-value envelope reaching up to the apex of the roof to allow for future conversions of the roof space into a living area. This will deny species access to lofts.
So is it possible to build low- and zero-carbon buildings without damaging our biodiversity? Thankfully, the answer is yes. By considering biodiversity early on in the design process and incorporating measures, generally at little extra expense, into buildings it is entirely possible to see these building-reliant species thrive in low- and zero-carbon buildings.
In 2009, I chaired the UK Green Building Council's (UK-GBC) Biodiversity Task Group. At the time, the information available was largely concerned with protecting wildlife in existing buildings. Our report concluded that there was a crucial need for information about providing for species in the design of new low- or zero-carbon buildings. Subsequently I have written a book for RIBA Publishing which sets out factual and practical advice on how to make new low- and zero-carbon buildings truly sustainable. An overview of the species concerned and how they use buildings is followed by a concise summary of wildlife and planning legislation, the Biodiversity Action Planning Process and the Building Regulations which relate to low- and zero-carbon buildings. With funding from Natural England, I specially commissioned architects to produce some much needed designs and practical guidance for the industry, and this is the focus of chapter three. Together we have reviewed the build types that are likely to be in general use over the next decade, and taken into consideration what is known of the needs of our building-reliant species. Then, with due consideration for the Building Regulations, a series of architectural drawings have been created that are suitable for the enhancement of biodiversity in new low- or zero-carbon buildings. This book also advises on ready-made products and how they can be incorporated into the architect's designs.
The book has been warmly received by ecologists, architects, government departments and the UK-GBC. Paul King, Chief Executive of the UK-GBC said: “The UK Green Building Council Biodiversity Task Group illustrated that buildings can have a positive impact on biological diversity. The industry has a key role to play in ensuring that our homes are designed or refurbished with this positive impact in mind and this book provides an invaluable resource for those who wish to enhance habitats for both people and wildlife."