Unlocking the mystery of brownfield habitat: First ever national inventory launched

Thursday 17th April 2014

The first ever national inventory of wildlife rich brownfield habitat has been launched on a new interactive website in partnership with Natural England, Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust and Defra.

The inventory distinguishes priority Open Mosaic Habitat (OMH) on Previously Developed Land from other brownfields, providing an essential tool for Local Authorities, Strategic Planners, Ecologists, local wildlife groups or indeed anyone with an interest in local planning or urban nature conservation. It is designed to work alongside Buglife’s Brownfield Hub, a one stop shop which offers detailed information on the management of priority OMH.

These inauspicious areas on sites which have previously been developed or have a history of disturbance such as abandoned industrial sites, former railway sidings and extraction pits can contain pockets of biodiversity that are incredibly important in the landscape.  The best examples can support rare invertebrates such as the horrid ground weaver spider, the streaked bombardier beetle or the dingy skipper butterfly that are declining in the wider countryside and have retreated to OMH. Nearly 15% of all nationally scarce invertebrates are found within this priority habitat. Sites may also support rare plants such as orchids, mosses, liverworts and lichens.

Remote analysis, using existing datasets and aerial photography of known brownfield sites has enabled 60% of these wildlife rich brownfields to be mapped, with 100% coverage planned over the coming year. So far, of all the brownfield sites analysed, only 8% are thought to contain priority OMH.  Habitat surveyors registering on the website can view the inventory and update it with local datasets using on the ground knowledge, to ensure the site is live, relevant and provides the best possible information for users to assess clusters, distribution, size and area of this hitherto faceless habitat type.

Samantha Davenport, Senior Environmental Specialist for Urban Biodiversity at Natural England said:  “We’re excited about the opportunities presented by the new national inventory, the website and Buglife’s new brownfield hub.  Together these resources open the door to the most up-to-date information on OMH – why it is important, how it can be identified, where it can found, and how it can be managed – making it accessible to all.  Most importantly, it informs decision making, allowing decisions on local planning to be made with confidence”.

Sarah Henshall, Lead Ecologist for Buglife said: “A small number of brownfield sites can be havens for rare and endangered species – especially insects.  It is important these sites are properly considered in the planning process. This suite of resources will provide ecologists, planners and land managers with the information they need to make informed planning decisions, furthering sustainable development whilst protecting and enhancing biodiversity”.