The UK government’s plan to build more homes in an attempt to fix the broken housing market has sent the country into a developing frenzy. Figures have shown that with an increase in applications, the number of planning disputes brought to the High Court has reached a new record.
Many of these disputes concern the development of greenfield sites. Campaigns to protect England’s Green Belt land from new developments have urged the government to adopt a ‘brownfield first’ policy in order to protect the countryside against urban sprawl.
However, while the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) claim there is enough brownfield land, abandoned sites that have already been developed, in the country for one million new homes, these sites are already refuge to a bountiful biodiversity.
Brownfield vs. Greenfield
The invertebrate conservation group, Buglife, argue that brownfield sites are increasingly important for biodiversity in light of agricultural improvements and urban development reducing countryside habitats. The untouched havens of brownfields provide a new brand of ‘mosaic’ habitat rarely found in the growing agricultural monoculture of the countryside. In fact, it has been reported that over 40 invertebrate species in the UK are largely confined to brownfield sites. Over 400 nationally scarce species have been recorded on the Thames Estuary brownfields alone.
Saying this, there is no denying the benefits of greenfield sites. A report by Natural England states that, amongst other public health benefits, “the ecosystem services provided by Green Belt land are highly significant … and could take on an even greater significance in the face of climate change”. With a continuously expanding global population, protection of these sites is important for the future of the countryside.
The ultimate question, therefore, is whether we should change our outlook on development planning. Should we practice a ‘brownfield first’ approach to protect the countryside from urban sprawl? Or ‘biodiversity first’ to defend our wildlife against intensive agriculture and development?
Although planners already face a barrage of obstacles during the application process, it is becoming increasingly clear that preserving the ecological value of a site should be high on their list.
Whether brownfield or greenfield, conservation charities urge developers to make a thorough assessment of the biodiversity in order to prioritise development sites of low value for wildlife. Furthermore, for development that does go ahead, better brownfield management is needed to encourage the incorporation of wildlife-friendly designs in order to protect existing habitats.
It is time to start considering how we will continue to live on an overpopulated planet with both insects and humans competing for space. Could a ‘biodiversity first’ policy be the way forward?
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