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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
• 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
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
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
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
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.
Click here to
view case studies from the construction sector
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
for Environment Conscious Building
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.
• The Department of Trade and Industry
• Office of the Deputy Prime Minister - www.odpm.gov.uk
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.
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
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.
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 email@example.com
Industry Environmental Forum (CIEF): The Forum is an industry
network dedicated to the development and promotion of sustainable
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
Biodiversity and construction industry environmental guidance
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.
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.’
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
• 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