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Protecting our unexpected wildlife havens

Ruth Chambers explains Link's new guidance to help Local Planning Authorities deal with development applications on brownfield land in England, which aims to reduce the number of inappropriate developments given the go-ahead.

September 2017

Wildlife is often more resilient than we give it credit for. It can thrive in the most unexpected places, including on industrial wastelands where old factories, housing, docks or power stations used to stand.

These ‘brownfield’ sites, where urban or industrial development has been prevalent, might at first glance seem bereft of greenery or nature. But in terms of wildlife, they can be of great importance in the urban landscape. Many habitats and species can actually thrive in these areas. Look around our towns and cities, in particular, and you’ll often see wildlife rising from the spoils of development.

Whether colonised naturally or helped a little along the way, the diversity of species supported by brownfield sites is surprising. Not only that, but these areas, so often seen as derelict and useless, can form important corridors for wildlife, linking up other habitats, as well as accessible community spaces.

But these habitats are at risk of destruction and serious degradation from insensitive development. Few previously developed sites have any legal protection and the creation of new sites is limited.

As part of its plans to boost housing development, the Government has tasked local planning authorities with compiling a register of brownfield sites within their areas, and identifying sites that are deemed suitable, in principle, for planning development.

The need for new development must be tempered with a rigorous approach that takes account of the environmental and social merits that many brownfield sites hold.

Link members have joined together to issue some simple guidelines to help local authorities protect brownfield sites that are important for wildlife. We believe that brownfield land of high environmental value – such as nature conservation designations and Local Wildlife Sites – should not be identified within the brownfield registers, or as being suitable in principle for planning development.

And of course, not all brownfield sites have a high wildlife and amenity value. Some sites, such as areas of hard-standing, car parks and empty buildings, are more likely candidates for redevelopment.

This approach would enable the Government to deliver two of its key ambitions: to deliver more of the right homes in the right places and to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited.

Ruth Chambers

Policy Consultant, The Wildlife Trusts

Find Ruth on twitter: @ruthmchambers

Find The Wildlife Trusts on twitter: @wildlifetrusts

Ruth Chambers is an independent consultant who has been providing expert planning advice and support to The Wildlife Trusts since 2016. She is also a Trustee of the London Wildlife Trust.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.