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  • Dr Martina Girvan, Arcadis and Julia Lampard

Collaboration to maximise the social and biodiversity value of unused land

In early October, Arcadis ecologists returned to Project Saplings, our 2019 BIG Award winning project managed by Julia Lampard with TreeHouse School and Ambitious about Autism on land supplied by Thames Water. The team spent the day to continue enhancing the garden for biodiversity and improving the children’s learning experience. In addition to managing the habitat for biodiversity and creating resources by reusing old material, we had some great ideas around bird feeders, beetle bumps, water features and ideas around monitoring for the children to record the biodiversity in the garden. The site continues to be a vital resource for the continued development for the children who benefit in numerous ways.

Many children with autism have no concept of danger and can run off unpredictably so it is unsafe for them to access outdoor spaces most of us take for granted. Saplings is enclosed and children tangibly enjoy the freedom to explore. Teaching staff have commented that pupils are more able to focus in class after time out in the fresh air on Saplings.

It was back in February 2019 that Julia and the team started a small social enterprise ‘seed to sell’. The idea being pupils raise vegetables and flowers from seed and nurture these organically through to harvest. Produce is then sold to staff and the local community and pupils are paid a small sum with any additional profit funding resources for the enterprise. As a result, we have been delighted by how much pupils of all abilities have achieved. For some, this will be increasing their ability to attend a session alongside peers and to tolerate wearing gardening gloves. Seemingly small steps but huge for pupils who cannot safely work alongside others when they first come to our school. At the other end of the spectrum several pupils are now able to work almost independently and have even been heard explaining how to undertake tasks to new members of staff. Thus children have acquired skills of potential use in future employment settings.

We have availed of a wealth of free resources that pupils have been able to use on Saplings including wild flower seeds, native hedging and materials for creating biodiversity habitats. Consequently pupils have been able to learn about mini beasts, pollinators and insect lifecycles.

The space has also proved invaluable for teaching more traditionally classroom based lessons such as Maths and English outside and has also been used for practicing outdoor skills required for the Duke of Edinburgh Award. A member of our teaching staff is currently attending Forest School sessions as we hope to include elements of this approach in future teaching.

Saplings is also of benefit for all the volunteers involved. Without their input there would have been no infrastructure for the project. In addition to Arcadis, volunteers have included Aecom, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, BDO, Goldman Sachs, Just IT, Marsh, Metro Bank and QBE, Silva Arboriculture as well as a number of people from the local community.

A day out of the office combining physical labour with using our professional experience in a practical setting is extremely rewarding as in addition to getting physical exercise, we can see visible results from our efforts!

The Wildlife Trusts Nature for Wellbeing project showed that 95% of Wildlife Trust volunteers with low wellbeing reported an improvement in 6 weeks, which continued over the following 6 weeks even after the event – (Volunteering - a natural health service (University of Essex – The Health and Wellbeing Impacts of Volunteering with The Wildlife Trusts – 2017). There are many examples of orphaned land or land that is currently not being used to its full value. This is a great example of how land can be managed to gain maximum benefits for education, health and wellbeing and improve biodiversity and ecosystem services. Hopefully Arcadis and AAA can help other communities with their projects, if you would like advice on how to set up a similar scheme please contact or

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