24 April 2023

Boosting urban biodiversity with new innovations in green infrastructure

Boosting urban biodiversity with new innovations in green infrastructure  image
Alexander Ilsink is CEO of green systems provider, Mobilane.

Within the UK and internationally, there is a growing understanding of the critical role that our towns and cities must play in addressing the crisis of biodiversity loss.

At COP 15 last year, a new agreement to restore 30% of the world’s ecosystems by 2030 was established, drawing the issue into focus on an international level. Meanwhile, in a UK context, new policy due to come into force this November will mandate all housing, industrial and commercial developments in England to boost biodiversity by 10% in order to obtain planning permission. Known as Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), the policy will require stakeholders across local development to take notice of the UK’s biodiversity crisis, and find ways of collaborating on local development schemes to address it.

The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries on the planet, with just 53% of its biodiversity remaining – an alarming figure at any rate, but especially when compared to the global average of 75%. The BNG policy rollout is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, not just because it provides a framework for local authorities to manage the biodiversity crisis in local neighbourhoods, but because it reframes the crisis as one that very much includes urban contexts.

Green connections

This is vital, as due to intensive agriculture, monocultural crops, and persistent use of pesticides in rural areas, the urban realm can provide a welcome habitat for insect communities to find the shelter, food and space required to support a thriving population. Society depends on insects for a whole range of ecosystem services, including waste cleaning, crop pollination, and feeding other animals such as birds, and so it is crucial that we make the fabric of our built environment as nature inclusive as possible.

Alongside innovation in policy like BNG, the design and implementation of effective green infrastructure will be essential for building biodiverse local neighbourhoods. This includes the integration of living walls and roofs, street trees, and sustainable drainage systems (also mandated by 2024), with a larger system of urban nature that also includes parks, commons and rivers. Being strategic with how these local green systems connect will be of paramount importance.

As experienced green systems providers, Mobilane has long been aware of the need to integrate living walls and roofs alongside open green space to support insect communities. However, it is the growing need to track populations and record data more accurately that has driven its recent partnership with research consultants, SGS Search, and resulted in a new innovation which uses DNA-testing technology to measure biodiversity.

Data-driven design

The DNA Insect Scan is a new service that enables local authorities, architects, planners, and building occupiers to maximise the potential of green infrastructure. Utilising advancements in DNA testing technology to accurately and cost-effectively measure insect biodiversity, the technology provides data-driven insights into the effectiveness of any design interventions.

During the technology’s initial rollout at a commercial property in the Netherlands, 10 samples were taken from both a living wall and some neighbouring ground level vegetation. Of the 103 species detected, not only were the majority found on the living wall itself, but 15 of them were found spread across both the living wall and neighbouring environment. Such data suggests that the wall is already being used as an ecological corridor, and that its verticality isn’t a barrier to habitation, which are indeed reasons to be optimistic. However, with such specificity in analysis now available, it also suggests that much more can be done.

With nascent policy interventions like BNG soon to draw a much larger group of stakeholders in local development into the biodiversity agenda, it is vital that we use the data now available to us to be more rigorous and strategic than ever. With a consistent programme of research, in which each new development and construction project is set in the context of the biodiversity data, we will start developing a far greater understanding of how the material transformation of local areas impacts biodiversity, and how we can optimise green infrastructure to best support it.

It is right that biodiversity is finally receiving recognition as a critical environmental challenge for the sector alongside decarbonisation. Now, with the knowledge and tools now available to us, it is time for us to meet it.

Alexander Ilsink is CEO of green systems provider, Mobilane

This article is sponsored by Mobilane.

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