The Importance of Biodiversity

4th September 2019

The 4th September is National Wildlife Day.  Founded in 2005 by animal behaviourist and philanthropist, Colleen Paige the day serves to bring awareness of endangered species across the globe.  The day started in the USA but has spread internationally and serves to remind us all that wildlife is at risk across the globe; both from the inhospitable poles through to our own backyards.

As Landscape Architects the team at Outerspace UK are all too aware of the impact high-density developments, lack of biodiversity and climate change has on our fragile ecosystems.  Over recent years British butterflies have universally been in decline, but the species that has suffered more than most is the Small Tortoiseshell. Once one of our most common butterfly species, bringing joy to all who spotted its uniquely colourful wings fluttering between flowers, it has experienced an unprecedented crash over the past few years, collapsing by 75% since the 1970s.

Bees and bugs are also suffering. A third of British wild bees and hoverfly species are currently in a downward spiral with analysis of 700,000 naturalist records, dating back to 1980, finding that a third of the 353 species studied were struggling.

The decline goes beyond butterflies and bees. The 2016 State of Nature report showed that 56% of of British species suffered a noticeable decline between 1970 and 2013, with 15% already extinct or at a real risk of extinction. For many, extinction may only seem like a problem faced by our larger animals, but all of our fauna and flora are at risk both big and small.

At Outerspace we believe the interaction between humans and nature has never been so important.  We passionately believe that innovative design, with humans and nature as a central consideration, and biodiverse planting is essential in helping our wildlife to thrive.

So why does the team at Outerspace care so much about design enabling biodiversity?  Well, for a start, we understand that it is essential to our very survival.  Life on our planet is only made possible due to a complex web of interactions between millions of different species. For example did you know 70 of the 100 crop species that provide 90% of food globally are pollinated by bees?  Now imagine what the world would be like without our stripy flying friends!  Playing a part in helping creatures to thrive is central to what we do.

So how are we making a difference?

Understanding the impact development has on insects and the wider food chain is essential.  Be it gardens large or small, green spaces breaking up high density developments, public parks or road side verges. Smart bio-diverse design and planting can make towns and cities better places for wildlife and humans alike.

Increasing biodiversity doesn’t have to be hard and certainly does not mean quality of design must be compromised.  A few small considerations can make a huge difference for local wildlife.  A study on the distribution of plants and pollinating insects in Bristol, Edinburgh, Leeds and Reading  discovered that up to 50 times more bees were found in gardens than in areas with man-made surfaces including car parks and industrial estates.  Working with developers to design diverse planting schemes can create a matrix of green oases for wildlife to thrive between, enriching biodiversity even in the most crowded cities.

Here’s two of our recent projects which demonstrate how planting can make a big difference, even when the projects are vastly different:

Canary Wharf

With the relentless pressure for development, but with space at a premium, the London skyline is going up and up. The capital represents the cutting edge of architectural possibility, but in ecological terms, high quality areas are  still few and far between.  Outerspace are working in the heart of Canary Wharf, facilitating a recolonisation of nature. We are looking to maximise the ecosystem services created by green infrastructure such as flood mitigation, carbon storage, air pollution capture, heat island reduction and habitat creation. With a tough client brief and in line with the urban greening factor, as detailed in the Draft London plan, the team are reintroducing over 40 trees, species rich lawn, native hedges and mixed planting design at ground level and all the way up to the 30th floor! The planting scheme mixes native and naturalised species with a focus on biodiversity enhancements, to create a lush ‘urban oasis’, with supporting replica habitats.

Manor Park

London’s suburbs have traditionally been green havens for biodiversity, with peoples gardens, public parks and even railway embankments providing a rich ecological habitat that a wide variety of species take advantage of.  However, these spaces have increasingly come under pressure from with demands such as number of cars per household, the densification and infill of housing and the lack of funding to maintain public open spaces in a way that both humans and nature benefit. While this paints an all too familiar picture, there are some communities that are actively trying to change this, by taking control of their local parks and working with the local authority to rally their community to make a real difference. We have the pleasure of working with one such community; The Friends of Manor Park (FOMP).

Manor Park lies just south of New Malden; over the last few years FOMP have improved habitat opportunities by clearing overgrown areas and re-planting with wildflowers and native bulbs. They have also held regular events to promote the park and its ecology. The Friends group actively sort and secured funding that allowed them to employ the services of both Outerspace Landscape Architects and Ecologists, producing a master plan for the site, which will help guide its development and the work they carry out.  At the heart of this, is the community’s involvement. Locals have been closely involved with both the design process and the detailed consultation, making sure their ultimate aim; to provide a park for both humans and nature, is realised.

Written by Antony Geddes (Associate) Nick Willmore (Associate) and Kate Kershaw (Practice Manager)