Even better than the real thing?
Brownfield sites provide ‘surrogate’ habitats for species that would be found in other habitats if it were not for human interference.
The intensification of farming has led to the loss of flower-rich grasslands from the countryside, leaving brownfield sites as the last refuge for certain species. Car parks, warehouses, shopping centres, housing and flood defences, to name just a few, have left many bare-ground species with nowhere to go but brownfields.
If no one’s interested in brownfield sites, why are they under threat?
Well… various people are interested in them, but nearly always (from a bug’s point of view) for the wrong reasons.
To reduce urban sprawl, government policy adopts a ‘brownfield first’ approach, targeting new developments on available sites within urban areas. This is a good idea in principle, but it doesn’t take wildlife into account. The National Planning Policy Framework allows for the protection of biodiversity, even on brownfield sites, but even so they are often seen as ‘useless’ areas attracting antisocial behaviour (such as fly-tipping).
None of this helps in efforts to conserve them. Yet for many of these sites there is no reason why they cannot provide a valuable open space for the local community, with some thoughtful planning and awareness raising. Conversely, the green spaces that surround towns and cities that have strong protection from development (both through the planning process and through public opinion) are often products of our recent agricultural history, and have relatively little value for wildlife.
Mismanagement can also be a threat. Turning a brownfield into ‘pretty’ greenspace through importation of topsoil, seeding grassland and planting ornamental trees, or ‘green-washing’ as it is sometimes known, can be as devastating to brownfield wildlife as a housing development.
Finding a solution
Buglife is working hard to address the problems confronting brownfield biodiversity, through developing brownfield habitat management advice and a strategy for the conservation of our most important brownfields.
We hope to change public opinion on the value of the sites and encourage a ‘biodiversity first’ approach to planning, where sites of low value for wildlife, whether brownfield or greenfield, are prioritised for development.
We also want to see developments that do go ahead on brownfield sites incorporating areas of brownfield habitat and wildlife-friendly designs such as brown roofs and green walls.