Building biodiversity best practice

Construction and ecology sectors need to collaborate.

Construction can be a risky business for wildlife and habitats. However, there is also a lot of potential to improve biodiversity if construction firms collaborate effectively with ecologists. Recognising this back in 2012, CIRIA (Construction Industry Research and Information Association) established a Biodiversity Interest Group (BIG) to encourage engagement between CIRIA’s member organisations and professionals working with biodiversity.

The BIG Biodiversity Challenge was then created to connect people and organisations in the construction industry with nature, and to help industry recognise opportunities for maintaining, increasing and understanding biodiversity during construction. CIRIA anticipates that the competition will help industry to better connect with the natural environment during the construction period and beyond. It should also encourage those who are on site delivering the project, who are often the most disconnected from decisions regarding biodiversity and sustainability.

Alterations to land will invariably lead to changes in biodiverse habitats. These changes may result in an altered state that accommodates development without compromising biodiversity, or they may be negative, even destructive. Without interventions along the entire chain of design, planning, construction, handover and maintenance, opportunities for biodiversity can be lost and developments can fragment uncelebrated but precious habitats.

Getting everyone on board in the construction process is vital not only to educate those on the outside, but to illuminate those on the inside of the construction industry. If awareness of biodiversity becomes the norm within construction processes, then this can potentially lead to more integrated and collaborative developments, with improved connectivity of biodiverse networks beyond the life of the construction programme.

CIRIA’s BIG Biodiversity Challenge, now in its fourth year, aims to bring the construction and biodiversity sectors together in recognition that what may seem on the surface to be opposites (construction or destruction), can often be mutually dependant on many levels. Developments happen, and developers need high quality site investigations to deliver the best outcomes that meet planning requirements but also to fulfil their corporate, social and sustainability responsibilities.

The awards encourage more from the construction industry than paying lip service to meeting legal responsibilities; the aspiration is for biodiversity to be considered at every stage of the construction process. As a principal user of ecological expertise and data it is the in the construction industry’s best interests to collaborate and work with the right experts and nature wherever possible.

Previous winners of the challenge have been involved in engagement with local community organisations on their changing environment;  introduction of habitats such as bird and bat boxes, insect hotels; innovative design major coastal infrastructure to encourage colonisation and regeneration; and the clever use of waste material on site to develop specific habitats. The greatest benefits we see emerging are when the construction industry works with ecologists either as part of their in-house team or as part of the wider collaborative planning and development process.

Getting involved is simple

Author: 

Suzanne Simmons is project manager of the CIRIA BIG Biodiversity Awards.

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