Rosie Whicheloe of the Ecology Consultancy gives an ecologist’s view on BREEAM
In responses to the pieces that appeared addressing the question ‘Is BREEAM bad for landscape?‘ Whicheloe has written as follows:
‘As a specialist trained in ecology and landscape planning, I have undertaken a number of land-use and ecology assessments using the BREEAM methodologies and I share the frustrations with the current system. Particularly with the formulaic approach of ‘species numbering’ to determine changes in biodiversity value under LE03 Mitigating Ecological Impact. For this credit, the methodology assumes all plant species have the same value – regardless of whether it refers to a patch of common nettles or a mature oak tree.
Similarly, the creation of a habitat is deemed only as valuable as the number of different species it contains. As such it fails to recognise the intrinsic value of structure, and plant associations, in forming habitats of known value to wildlife. For example, the creation of scrub or reed-bed habitat would score low in plant species (as they are dominated by only a few species), but they are highly valued Biodiversity Action Plan habitats, which are important for a range of uncommon and declining bird species and invertebrates.
It is therefore some conciliation for me, since I’ve started working in London, to be given the opportunity to assist BRE, through the Ecology Working Group to improve guidance for 2014 editions and beyond.
There are however other positive aspects of the BREEAM methodology that are less publicised but worth pointing out. Firstly, in the Land-use and Ecology Assessment, to achieve the required number of credits, a development needs to go beyond the compliance criteria for current EU and UK legislation relating to protected species and habitats.
This is a step in the right direction as it encourages cross-disciplinary discussions that would not necessarily be required on some projects. In particular, those located in the seemingly unnatural concrete jungle that characterises parts of our cities. Early consideration of ecological issues also ensures that enhancements marry landscape and architectural considerations rather than having them as last minute add-ons that are seldom meaningful or successful (e.g. token bird boxes).
Secondly, ecologists are given a more authoritative voice in persuading the client to maximise credits. For example, by specifying options such as biodiverse green roofs, rather than the poorer equivalent of a sedum blanket roof, which benefits other ecosystem services beyond just ecology. At the same time, Suitable Qualified Ecologists (SQEs) are given the flexibility to assess sites in a pragmatic manner, to decide whether they are of low ecological value (LE02), such as cases where trees have a trunk diameter greater than 100mm, and to recommend enhancements (LE04) based on professional judgement, local context, and the scale and nature of the development.
Since moving back to London I have become particularly conscious of the complexities of urban ecology and I fully appreciate the value of non-native species, to visual amenity and wildlife in the urban context as Nigel Dunnett pointed out.
While I’m sure BRE is aware that there is still room for improvement in the current methodologies, I am hopeful that, with better understanding across disciplines, ecology and landscape will benefit in the long term.’