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construction planning



Globally, the construction industry is arguably one of the most resource-intensive and environmentally damaging industries in the world. Construction accounts for 40% of the total flow of raw materials into the global economy every year – some 3 billion cubic tons. The industry accounts for approximately 9% of Global Gross Domestic Product and in England alone provides employment for around 1.5 million people. It is seen by many, including the UK government, as a barometer of underlying economic conditions.

The sector operates through land use planners, who determine the location and nature of development, clients, including house builders and commercial property developers, who determine what should be built on a site and where, designers who decide on the detail of building, materials and components suppliers who extract and/or manufacture materials and components, for use by the contractors who actually do the building. In addition to these groups, there are others such as surveyors, architects, letting agents, consultants, finance institutions and insurance companies, all of whom have an influence over the industry and its impact on the environment. Since mining and quarrying is dealt with in a separate section this section mainly covers material relevant to four key groups – planners, clients, designers and contractors.

When considering the potential nature conservation impacts and opportunities of the sector it is probably appropriate to recognise four main subdivisions:
• Housing (both public and private)
• commercial development
• industrial development
• Civil engineering infrastructure (such as water treatment and distribution, roads, railways and airports).
Area based or regeneration projects often involve all of the above plus public realm projects such as libraries or community buildings and green spaces (e.g parks, community gardens)

Construction projects, whether commercial developments, housing estates, infrastructure or public sector projects all have the potential to impact on natural habitats, affecting wildlife and plant species. The construction sector is also an important user of resources, many of which are produced or derived through processes which impact on biodiversity. The construction industry therefore has an important role to play in protecting sensitive sites and minimising damage to ecology. There are also the opportunities to enhance biodiversity by creating habitats as part of the construction or development project.

Use and Impacts on Biodiversity in the UK

Difficult to both assess and address is the contribution of individual developments to long term environmental trends. These may not be site-specific and include water table depletion, low flows in rivers, diffuse pollution of air and water, and loss of flood-plain capacity. These all have implications for nature conservation both in designated sites and the wider countryside. These issues are of key importance in some Natural Areas, especially where development pressures are most intense. Once again, these issues need to be considered better by clients and designers at the project planning and design stage.

On site disturbance
Impacts on protected species at designated sites are significant. Bats, badgers and great crested newts are those most commonly affected, along with several bird species. The presence of a protected species at a given site often only comes to light late in the day. This has the effect of introducing delays and conflict into the development process and it becomes clear that these species are seen as an inconvenience and impediments.

Some 40% of Natural Areas highlight ‘development’ as a significant issue, primarily coastal, maritime and lowlands Natural Areas. The issues identified typically relate to the protection of prime sites from damaging development, but broader issues of coastal squeeze, water resources, protected species and geological resources are also highlighted.

Off-site impacts on habitats
Of increasing significance are offsite effects of development on adjacent areas. These indirect effects may include pollution of air and water, hydrological impacts, disturbance, increased risk of vandalism, fires and fly tipping, unregulated access, isolation or fragmentation, ancillary development and operations (such as access roads and dredging) and the displacement of individuals and populations of species leading to increased pressure on other sites. These effects are often poorly addressed in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and their significance is often not recognised or acknowledged by decision makers. Nevertheless such effects may be as harmful to a site as direct loss.

Disturbance and Fragmentation
Construction needs land and the use of land can have direct impacts in terms of destruction of habitats and more subtle effects on biodiversity such as disturbance and fragmentation. Noise and light generated during construction processes may not directly harm individual animals but it could affect feeding and breeding behaviours which could have negative impacts on long term population levels. The use of land may also divide up land and separate habitats which were previously adjacent. This can influence population dynamics especially for mobile species which rely on large habitats. The impact of fragmenting habitats on different species can be complex and can lead to gradual decline in populations which is difficult to attribute to a specific cause.

Sourcing of materials
The materials used and their processing and production will have a major impact on biodiversity. Timber, gravel, sand, iron ore, rocks etc are all major materials needed for the construction industry and the production of these materials can impact heavily on biodiversity. Please visit the supply chain page and the Mining and Quarrying page of the website for more information.

What You Can Do

Working together, planners and developers/clients should, through good design, aim to minimise impacts such as habitat destruction, fragmentation and species isolation, and wherever possible, should actively seek to ‘re-build’ local ecological networks.

Enhance the overall ecological quality, extent, capacity, structure and functioning of the site and the surrounding ecological network by creating new habitats, buffer areas and landscape features that are of importance for wildlife. Such effort should particularly be concentrated:
• in areas where the most important, fragile and/or threatened habitats and species are known to occur;
• where there are species requiring large ranges and/or those with limited powers of dispersal, which have particularly suffered as a result of habitat patches becoming reduced in size and isolated within intensively managed modern and often inhospitable landscapes;
• on species with low reproductive capacity (eg, most large mammals) or species highly sensitive to disturbance (eg, most birds of prey), and species subject to recovery programmes (eg, focus for local BAP targets).

Local Biodiversity Action Plans, Species Action Plans and Habitat Action Plans should be used as a guide to the relevant priorities for such positive measures at the local level. These may include rehabilitation of degraded habitats or the creation of new habitats within and adjacent to development sites.

Avoid developing sites, and locations within sites, where existing key habitats, important species, buffer areas and other landscape features of major importance for wildlife would:
• suffer direct impact resulting in the reduction or complete loss of: habitat present, the abundance, distribution and/or diversity of species present;
• suffer an indirect impact from nearby development through increased ecological disturbance and stress, thereby reducing the site’s capacity to support the wildlife present;
• suffer a reduction in ecological quality so that the site is no longer able to support the migration, dispersal or genetic exchange of wild species.
• be further fragmented from other similar features by development that causes a ‘barrier’ effect in the landscape between fragments.


Soft landscaping
Soft landscaping, such as by means of trees, performs a valuable function at many levels. It supports biodiversity, especially if it is indigenous species that are planted.
Grasses and shrubs are as effective at converting Carbon dioxide as are trees. Soft landscaping has the added advantage of attenuating the movement of groundwater to minimise erosion. The use of natural bio-systems can make it possible to deal with many of the consequences of groundwater management without making it someone else’s problem.

Hard landscaping
Hard landscaping has at least two negative environmental impacts; it collects and reflects heat, requiring additional cooling capability, and it speeds up the movement of rainwater, placing an additional burden on disposal systems and times.
Landscaping should rather attenuate climatic conditions: alternative materials and responses should be applied if heat build-up is problematic, and to slow down the rate of rainwater disposal, thereby allowing groundwater replenishment. There are many design devices that can be used, such as retention ponds, to assist in this matter.


Trees and planting modify air cooling in summer and air warming in winter. They provide shade to buildings and landscape surfaces thereby reducing the ‘heat sink’ effect. They stabilise ground conditions, preventing soil erosion. They absorb groundwater and slow the movement of rainwater across the ground surface. More specifically, they absorb Carbon dioxide emissions from the air. It is estimated that 15 trees are required to convert the carbon emissions over a year of a typical car and about 40 trees for a house. An examination of the scale of conversion quickly illustrates why we have such a problem globally. Please click here to visit our Planting for biodiversity page.

Restore and, where possible, link and connect existing habitats and landscape features which could potentially be of major importance for wildlife - enhancing their intrinsic quality and also their ability to support migration, dispersal and genetic exchange.

Retain and Incorporate within the development site layout existing habitats, important species, buffer areas and landscape features of major importance for wildlife – making sure that the site retains at least the same capacity to support the diversity, abundance, migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wildlife as it did prior to development.

Compensate for features lost to development through the:
• re-creation as nearby as possible of features and landforms capable of maintaining the same ecological functions and with the same capacity to support at least the same ecological functions and with the same capacity to support at least the same quantity and quality of habitats and species as would otherwise be lost or displaced through development;
• restoration and enhancement of surrounding/nearby features unaffected by development;
• creation of new or additional buffer areas to reduce impacts;
• translocation, where possible, of habitats and species that would otherwise be lost.

Manage existing, restored, newly created or translocated habitats and landscape features of major importance for wildlife.

Monitor existing, restored, enhanced, and newly created or translocated habitats and landscape features of major importance for wildlife to ensure that they are unaffected by the new development and continue to support wild fauna and flora.

Reviewing your purchasing strategy
Every business consumes products and services supplied by other businesses. By managing what you buy, how you use products and how you dispose of waste you can improve your own, and other companies biodiversity performance. For further information visit the supply chain page.

Legislation and licensing

When dealing with protected species there are three types of activity which may require a licence: Development, surveys and conservation issues. Where developments affect species that are protected only under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 there is generally no provision for granting licences except in rare circumstances where human health is in danger or there is possibility of serious damage to livestock.

If habitats or species that are protected under the Habitats Regulations 1994 (e.g. great crested newts, bats, otters) are to be affected a “development licence” must be obtained. Appropriate surveys must be carried out to ensure that proposed work is based on accurate information. If development will interfere with badgers in anyway a licence will need to be obtained from the relevant statutory nature conservancy organisations (SNCOs).

A “conservation licence” for a development may be awarded where doing so will be of a conservation advantage. SNCOs will issue licences.

Planning Policy
Planning policy statement 9 – Nature Conservation gives guidance on the importance that government attaches to aspects of wildlife conservation. This assists local authorities in making decisions that may affect wildlife within their own area.

See the UK legislation page and the EU legislation page for more information.
An extremely useful resource, with information on all planning guidance and wildlife legislation relevant to the construction industry is available in a CIRIA “Working with Wildlife – a resource and Compliance and beyond in construction” training pack”.


For construction businesses, working for biodiversity generally means good business practice. It helps to secure licenses to operate from official authorities as well as the local communities in which construction is been undertaken. There are potential cost savings to be gained by thinking ahead and planning for biodiversity. Having green spaces and areas for wildlife will also add value to certain developments such as housing projects. Biodiversity is also a useful means of engaging these communities in the industry and helping to strike a balance between social, economic and environmental needs of sustainable development.

A mixture of legislative pressure, market forces, investor concern and client demand are moving companies towards identifying and reporting on their environmental and social impacts. It is becoming clear that the reputation of construction industries is not good in many quarters. Ignore biodiversity and your reputation, access to licenses and access to capital could be threatened.

Case Studies

Click here to view case studies from the construction sector

Polar bears



CIRIA Working with wildlife. A resource and training pack for the construction industry. It provides useful information to anyone responsible for managing a site. Contains habitat and species briefing sheets, induction video, tool box talks, Powerpoint presentations, as well as general guidance, information of legislation and sources for specialist advice.
Association for Environment Conscious Building
Achieving sustainability in construction procurement
• Information from the Department of Trade and Industry.
• Developing Naturally - A Handbook for Incorporating the Natural Environment into Planning and Development (Michael Oxford, December 2000) is a comprehensive guide covering: planning procedures, design principles, how to establish key characteristics of the natural environment, assessment techniques, techniques for incorporating nature conservation into new development, environmental management systems, management plans and monitoring.

Useful contacts

• The Department of Trade and Industry - www.dti.gov.uk
• Office of the Deputy Prime Minister - www.odpm.gov.uk
Construction Confederation: an umbrella body representing 8 constituent organisations which between them have 5,000 member companies which are responsible for over 75% of construction work in the UK.
Considerate Constructors Scheme: Aims to raise the standards of construction design and management above statutory requirements by minimising the impact of the construction process on the surrounding area and people.
Confederation of Construction Clients: set out the minimum standards they expected in construction procurement today, their aspirations for the future and a programme of steadily more demanding targets to drive up standards.
The House Builders Federation: The Federation provides advice to house builders on land use, planning, technical, legal, taxation and employment matters, the housing market, social housing, marketing, public relations and political affairs.
Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA): a leading provider of best practice information. CIRIA have teamed up with Ecology Consultancy Ltd to provide wildlife training for construction practitioners. See website or contact martin.hunt@ciria.org
Construction Industry Environmental Forum (CIEF): The Forum is an industry network dedicated to the development and promotion of sustainable construction practices.
Constructing Excellence: achieves its mission by influencing Government in the formulations of policy, working with key stakeholder groups and by being the catalyst for the implementation of innovative processes, strategic business improvement, advanced systems and state of the art technologies.

Biodiversity and construction industry environmental guidance

ENGAGE is a new resource to enable clients to make informed decisions about improving and monitoring the social performance of construction projects that they initiate. Engage is made up of two complementary parts: a guide and a web-based navigator. Practical tips, specific project tools and best practice case studies are examples of what is available from the online navigator.
CIRIA Working with wildlife. This resource and training centre is designed for the construction industry and provides useful information to anyone responsible for managing a site.
Building a better quality of life (DETR, April 2000) The Strategy concentrates on planning, resource conservation, climate change and pollution in the Chapter on Managing the Environment and Resources. These objectives are supported by ten themes which give the industry some pointers for practical action. ‘Preserve and enhance biodiversity’ is one of the 10 themes for action and organisations are asked to ‘look for opportunities throughout the construction process - from the extraction of raw materials, through the construction phase, to the landscaping of buildings and estates - to provide and protect habitats.’
Towards Sustainability – A Strategy for the Construction Industry (Sustainable Construction Focus Group April 2000). The Report lists a number of practical measures which it believes organisations can implement straight away in order to start ‘climbing the sustainability ladder’, including – preserve and enhance biodiversity. As a case study it refers to the Bovis Cambourne house-building project. Amongst other environmental aspects, the development was built on ‘farmed arable land of low environmental value. When finished, the area will be a community with a rich diversity of additional wildlife habitats, providing almost 500 acres of new public green space.’
• Environmental handbooks for building and civil engineering projects. Publication C512. CIRIA, London (2000). This publication is split into three parts – Part 1 Design and Specification, Part 2 Construction and Part 3 Demolition and site clearance. All three Parts cover consideration of ecological and nature conservation issues in a variety of places in the construction process, although there is no specific reference to biodiversity or biodiversity action plans.
• Achieving sustainability in construction procurement. Produced by the Sustainability Action Group of the Government Construction Clients’ Panel (June 2000). This document sets out how Government, as a construction client, will respond to its own strategy for more sustainable construction as set out in Building a Better Quality of Life. A theme for action is to ‘Preserve and enhance bio-diversity – look for opportunities throughout the construction process – from the extraction of raw materials, through the construction phase, to the landscaping of buildings and estates – to provide and protect habitats’.
• Environmental good practice on site. Publication C502. CIRIA, London (1999). This publication provides practical guidance for site managers, site engineers and supervisors on how to manage construction on site to control environmental impacts. Amongst environmental issues considered are wildlife and natural features. These are dealt with in some detail from the point of view of practical on-site measures to protect wildlife. There is less said regarding positive aspects of nature conservation and increasing biodiversity.
• Environmental good practice on site – training pack. Publication C525TP. CIRIA, London (1999). This publication includes coverage of wildlife and why it is important to protect it at site level. Also included are some brief case studies that are used to demonstrate how wildlife issues are taken into account at site level. These case studies include Minehead Sea Defences, Somerset, where rare bulrushes (sic) were translocated and the NEC Phase 3, Birmingham, where wetland and badger protection were key issues.

Photo Credit: Peter Wakely/English Nature
Jane Waterman, Polar bears

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