Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Project: Making a Home For Nature

Since the autumn I've been working on a personal project to improve the small garden space we have for wildlife. I've tried to plan out different habitat areas and ideas to improve diversity from the Wildlife Trust and RSPB material available. This has included a DIY Green Roof project which is proving interesting as green roofs have lots of potential for conservation. In so doing I've learnt through my own research about construction of roofs with the objective of maximising value for invertebrates, native wildflowers that are suitable for green roofs and the value of green roofs for slowing rain water run off, improving air quality through removing lead according to research and so on. 
First, here is the bat box I built out of recycled materials from the Bristol Wood Recycling project( Under the recommendation the opening has been made 2cm wide and I made sure I did not use treated wood. I like the pine bark front that only cost me a couple of quid. Bargain!

Under netting here are the wildflower seeds I planted in the autumn that seem to be growing well. They were from a pack of native wildflowers sold by the RSPB. I also acquired some free seeds from the Avon Wildlife Trust which was a mix more associated with old fashioned cornfield wildflowers.
I also planted some willow back in January into a fence structure. Willow is great because it grows so vigorously that to plant it is really simple. Even in the first year it has supported lots of caterpillars of a number of moth species. Willow is a valuable food plant for various invertebrates.   

A view from on top our flat roof over our postage stamp of a garden. Note I have created a pond area and planted it with some aquatic plants. Marsh Marigold, Water Mint and Lesser Spearwort. ( I've found this company good for native species that are often not available in garden centres. These pictures below show the green roof I have been building....

It may not seem like much but I have planted it with wildflower plugs of various species including wild marjoram, cowslip, wild basil, birds-foot trefoil, field scabious, common toadflax and oxeye daisy. The basis is crushed red brick mixed with a small amount of organic material. I have also added some locally sourced and produced biochar as an experiment because of its property's of holding water and water purification. On the subject the vast majority of charcoal for BBQs is sourced form eucalyptus plantations associated with rainforest deforestation. Buying British charcoal supports sustainable management of UK woodlands and the wildlife this management supports. Unfortunately because the market is so saturated with cheap coal among other things including cheaper labour costs abroad it has not been possible for British sustainably produced BBQ charcoal to be viable. On the face of it there is still a market for charcoal including the rise in people installing wood burners that the benefits to certain wildlife through continued traditional woodland management funded through marketing British locally produced charcoal would appear to be a good idea to benefit wildlife and create a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Interestingly species like hazel burn hotter and cleaner so British charcoal can even be seen as having better properties and being better in quality than the standard coal available. Whilst the case remains for the need to use cleaner energy sources, charcoal production remains in country's around the world in use for cooking.
The ethics of a green roof is to create it as sustainably as possible. I have sourced the wood from recycled sources and the material liner from off cuts.
Dusty Gedge and Nigel Dunnett are the best sources for their work on green roofs. Much of this in Sheffield. London has various large green roofs created in the last decade. Here is a useful book of theirs.

Buglife has produced a useful guide to producing green roofs for invertebrate diversity. It details various species of bees, moths, spiders and so on which shows how valuable green roofs can be.

So I cant wait to see what the garden will look like this year. I have planted lots of plug plants as well in various areas. I have researched many wildflowers so there are lots of different species from fox gloves, red campion, honeysuckle, sneezewort, bladder campion, comfrey and many others within the small space available.

On a similar note the WWT has a project creating SUDs, which are similar in principle to green roofs, as a requirement of new developments. Here is the article link...

I really like these new initiatives where conservation can work to connect people with nature and improve peoples health and environment whilst providing a functioning benefit to the places we live. I like the ideas of Biophillic city's too and I would encourage you to look up the basis of the idea if you have not heard about it. In essence what if we change what we expect a city to look like so that it becomes a functioning green oasis rather than uncompromising concrete. Nature becomes an integrated part of city living and citizens live happier and healthier lives. In city's we can forget the beauty of the world beyond our walls. We can become absent from the natural world. This comes at the cost of our own knowledge of nature, conservation issues and our own wellbeing as a species. The really positive thing is that we can bring nature to the people and in a way that has measured environmental benefits. There is a need to reaffirm connections with the world around us and our senses certainly. With around 80% of the population living in city's its a massive benefit. Cumulatively if we as a society were happier emotionally, rather than oppressed by modern life, what could we achieve? Maybe we need the opportunity to breathe. If we were emotionally healthy individuals could we then be in a better position to heal our world given there is no longer a need for such self preservation? I wonder sometimes if nature can offer us the strength and resilience we need to overcome adversity through making us more thoughtful, rounded, emotionally stronger human beings. Often the cost of our separation from the natural world has cost us more than we may ever understand. 100%, its easy to see green city's as a positive vision for our future.

So greener city's can cool the heat island effect, mitigate against flooding, clean our air and be better from an economic point of view too, providing long term benefits. The idea of WWT's use of SUDs which can be created as effective naturalised city wetland habitats for managed flood relief seems to tick all the boxes. Its a shame that the WWT news article shows how politically there is very little tolerance or understanding to environmental legislation that is perceived as little more than red tape so it appears. Economically the choice not to install SUDs doesn't add up given that using natural services is more effective and cheaper in the long run as mentioned in the article. Its a wasted opportunity for people too given that we all need healthy places to live work and play. We should throw away the book on new build developments that are lifeless soulless places in favour of a better alternative. Its a new perception that sees things differently. It requires that we see differently to no longer build infrastructure that compounds existing problems like flooding. It should also be recognised that we are not machines, we are human beings, and modern city's should not be indifferent to this. In this sense we need places to live, not simply shells to live in.

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