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  • Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive

Why nature matters and what the construction industry can do


At the end of the hot August bank holiday weekend radio host Jeremy Vine asked on Twitter why all our windscreens weren’t splattered with dead insects from our trips to the coast. Some said they had never reached a speed to kill a bug, others said there were plenty on the M6 and M74. In reality, our clean windscreens are a symptom of the dramatic changes in farming practice that happened last century. This began to change in the 1990s and post-Brexit farm policy must sustain and accelerate this change in direction; but for now most farms – with some notable and wonderful exceptions – harbour much less wildlife than they used to.

This is not irrelevant to us. The diversity and abundance of the life around us matters. A healthy wildlife-rich natural world is not just valuable in its own right, but is the foundation of our wellbeing and prosperity; we depend on it just as much as it depends on us.

So if 70% of our land is farmed and this land has poorer soils and less variety of life than it ought to, what happens elsewhere is even more important to the insects, birds and people that depend on it. Healthy ecosystems also help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

The construction sector has a vital role to play in minimising further losses and contributing to nature’s recovery. This is why CIRIA’s own Biodiversity Net Gain work is so important. Leaders in the construction sector have a real responsibility to help the country rebuild reserves of natural capital, on land and at sea.

It is eminently feasible to do this in most cases with the right advice and your Wildlife Trust can provide this. The key is to engage early with those who understand the ecology of the location, the practicalities of avoiding damage, the opportunities for habitat restoration, and the best way to manage people’s interface with the natural world.

There has been progress already - whilst new roads can be barriers to wildlife on the move, the stunning swathes of cowslips on some motorway edges show what can be done for the good. It is becoming more normal to think about water management and sustainable urban drainage. And if we could harness the sector’s creativity to build, and even retrofit, some impressive wide green bridges, that would take us even further forward. Offshore developers are beginning to recognise the impact they might have on marine wildlife as well.

Some leading developers are already committed to achieving an overall uplift in wildlife in every scheme. And it is good for business. The right surroundings increase returns on new homes and staff wellbeing and productivity rises.

This is because our DNA has evolved over thousands of years to suit being in groups of humans outside in the natural world. When we are deprived of company or nature, or both, we get stressed and this leads to endless negative health risks. Creating the right wildlife-rich greenspace as part of the construction process is therefore a contribution to the health of the nation.

The Government has committed to being the “first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than it inherited it”. A critical part of the equation will be the leadership and commitment of this generation of leaders in the construction sector.

Let’s not forget that we are part of nature; everything we value ultimately comes from it and everything we do has an impact on it.

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