This month, Jamie Edmonds, Senior Environmental Manager at Kier Utilities and Rail, shares his perspectives on the role construction plays in enhancing biodiversity and how the recent Government announcement to mandate net gain will impact the sector.
Times are changing for the construction sector and the environmental agenda is gathering momentum with environment moving from periphery to mainstream. The recent Environment Bill, biodiversity and net zero carbon commitments and a growing public awareness on plastic waste post Blue Planet have all created a swell of change.
I have been passionate about ecology and biodiversity since I was a child and now, I am doing a job I love where I can put my passion into action. I have been with Kier for 13 years and formerly worked at May Gurney and have seen the biodiversity agenda evolve with an increasing pace. Last year I was honoured to be recognised as CIRIAs Biodiversity Champion for the work my team did on the Southern Strategic Support Main alongside Bristol Water – a 31km new water trunk main in Somerset. The CIRIA BIG Biodiversity Awards were launched in 2013 with the ethos ‘do one thing’ for biodiversity and have captured the attention of the construction industry with over 600 case studies submitted, 21 awards presented and 4 overall winners gaining recognition.
Construction is a fantastic industry to work in creating and shaping how and where we live and work. However the work we do whether building, infrastructure or housing all have implications for nature conservation both in designated sites and the wider environment. Issues are not just limited to on-site disturbance – they include off site disturbance of habitats, disturbance and fragmentation of land and the impact of sourcing of materials i.e. quarrying.
This month the Government launched their Biodiversity Indicators Report 2019 which summaries the broad trends around biodiversity. There have been some positive shifts including the addition of volunteering for conservation, marine pollution, use of data for decision making. However progress is deteriorating on businesses integrating biodiversity into strategies, protection of birds, pollinating insects and public sector expenditure into the issue. So, there is more to do, and business has a responsibility to step up, none more so than the construction sector.
Every construction site has an opportunity to put biodiversity at the heart of their planning from design through to construction and then to operation. The announcement this Spring of the Government’s intention to mandate net gain (an overall increase in biodiversity) on all new developments will go some way towards this but initially I suspect the focus by many will be on compliance. Nature Recovery Networks will also ensure space for nature is incorporated into planning and where people live. As we continue to build new homes and infrastructure as well as becoming more resilient to climate change, we will need to work with nature to ensure that further habitat loss and fragmentation is not only limited but, in some areas, reversed. Improving and recreating habitat corridors and rewilding will be essential for creating a balance. This month Natural England published a report which shows that nine out of ten adults in England are concerned about increasing threats to the natural environment, with nearly two-thirds specifically worried about biodiversity loss. The research shows the clear priority the public give to investing in nature recovery which in turn provides a great opportunity for the construction sector.
So, what can the sector do?
We need to be bolder. Clients and construction companies need to demonstrate what excellence is in terms of biodiversity, which exceeds net gain. Things such as setting industry standards for biodiversity on construction projects, mandating biodiversity site plans and biodiversity rating schemes similar to EPCs for Buildings should be considered.
From my experience of working on projects such as the Southern Strategic Support Main, we began with the basics such as bird and bats boxes and removing invasive species but if we were to truly change the way the team thought about this and maximise the legacy we wanted to create for wildlife we needed to think bigger. Implementing initiatives such as orchid translocation, citizen science owl box schemes, and school engagement programmes. And by engaging schools, colleges and universities meant we were training the employees of the future in the importance of biodiversity.
So if you are just starting on your journey and thinking about the contribution your company can make to enhancing biodiversity, I have 3 top tips:
- Start with small ideas and things will grow
- Make use of surplus materials – biodiversity enhancements don’t have to be expensive
- Use volunteers – in-house, client, local charities and conservation groups and members of the public.
With increasing public opinion on this issue coupled with new policy, what a great time for the construction sector to showcase the work they are already doing to enhance biodiversity. To find out more on what your business can be doing and for examples of best practices and implementation guidance subscribe to the CIP Environmental manual now .