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Sustainability and Ecology
We always strive to make our projects sustainable and ecologically responsible, and take environmental, social and ecological considerations into account when specifying materials.
The increased emphasis that will be placed on ecology and sustainability in the future is evidenced by recent government publications, including:
- the controversial Draft National Planning Policy Framework (published July 2011)
- The UK National Ecosystem Assessment
- Natural Environment White Paper "The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature"
- Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England's wildlife and ecosystem services (2011)
- Flood and Water Management Act 2010
The Role of Gardens in Sustainable Development
There are some remarkable statistics buried in these documents, such as:
- "Gardens cover up to a quarter of the land surface in our towns and cities (a total area of 432,924 hectares)."
- "The area of urban habitats now covers over 10% of England."
- "In London alone, it is currently estimated that 3,200 hectares of front gardens have been paved, and, in Leeds, an estimated 75% of the increase in impervious surfaces that has occurred from 1971 to 2004 is attributed to the paving of residential front gardens."
Design for enhanced biodiversity doesn't "just happen": it is the result of rigorously evaluating the site and carefully selecting features and planting to achieve the desired objective. When one considers that it is not unusual for there to be around 2,500 species of flora and fauna in an urban back garden, and unimproved chalk downland can have as many as 25 -30 plant species per square meter, it becomes clearer that we can't just assume a typical new perennial planting will enhance biodiversity. Indigenous, and preferably non-invasive, species play an important role in encouraging insects and other invertebrates.
If your project aims to comply with the BREEAM Code for Sustainable Homes we can offer an integrated landscape design and ecology service, starting with an ecology survey of the site prior to any work commencing.
Water and Sustainability
Despite England and Wales appearing to enjoy plenty of rainfall, their increasing population and the changing climate mean that water resources are under pressure. In reality there is less water available per person in south-east England than in many Mediterranean countries! A newly planted garden will require watering during the summer for at least two years, or possibly in perpetuity depending on soil type, so sources of non-drinking water for irrigation are becoming increasingly important.
Water recycling systems typically have long payback periods, but the cost of installation is much lower when combined with other construction or refurbishment work.
The Code for Sustainable Homes calls for sites to be registered before detailed designs are finished, and landscape aspects should be considered at an early stage. Key elements include indoor water use, where water recycling and conservation have a role to play, the management of surface water run-off, as well as enhanced biodiversity (see above).
It isn't only water supply and consumption that is an issue – times of high rainfall raise entirely different challenges, and SUDS Regulations also have an important role to play. Key objectives of SUDS are:
- controlling run-off rates and volumes, thereby lessening the risk of downstream flooding
- reducing pollution concentrations, thereby protecting downstream water bodies
- encouraging natural groundwater recharge, where appropriate
- contributing to enhanced amenity and aesthetic value of developed areas
- providing habitats for wildlife in urban areas, and opportunities for biodiversity enhancements.
Plants and Horticultural Practices
Plants should be specified with due regard to local conditions and any microclimate, with the aim of avoiding irrigation once they have become established. Ideally they should also be selected to encourage biodiversity, and invasive non-indigenous plant should be avoided.
Every effort should be made to avoid peat-based compost. There are now plenty of alternatives, based on sustainable materials such as bracken, which many wholesale plant suppliers now use.
Where appropriate, we try to specify permeable or "green" surfaces such as reinforced grass, in place of hard paving.
We pay particular attention to specifying materials from sustainable and ethical sources, and prefer to use recycled materials where available. Many suppliers of natural stone from developing countries do not audit where their stone comes from, and we strongly recommend that all natural stone from India is sourced from Ethical Trading Initiative member companies.
Where appropriate we prefer to specify lime-based mortars, in preference to cement, as the manufacture of cement results in much larger atmospheric CO2 emissions than lime, and lime mortars can absorb up to 75% of their weight in CO2 from the atmosphere as part of their curing process.
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