A workshop at Palmstead Nurseries will tackle the vexed question of using native plants to score points in a BREEAM assessment.

Palmstead Nursaries
Widely admired planting at the Olympic Park, designed for sustainability, drew on plants from a wide range of countries. Photo; LDA Design

The company’s annual Soft Landscape Workshop, to be held on 25 September, will take as its topic ‘Native or non-native, which one’s best?’.

Nick Coslett, marketing and sales manager at Palmstead Nurseries, has written, ‘I have become increasingly concerned that the Building Research Establishments BREEAM point system is limiting the plants which are approved for use by planting designers. Part of the problem is that BREEAM insists on use of native plants only (without any justification that they are the right plants in the right place). The principle behind the Code for Sustainable Homes and BREEAM – that development sites will offer better biodiversity after development than before – is not in question. However, designers wanting to use non-natives for their longer display season and in many cases higher ecological values have to work hard to justify their inclusion. I have heard from many top landscape architects and designers who are frustrated by this state of affairs and would welcome the topic getting a good airing.’

Professor Nigel Dunnett of the University of Sheffield, one of the planting experts who worked on the Olympic Park, will speak at the workshop. He has said, ‘If a non-native species is used, its value for biodiversity has to be justified.  The use of a native species does not have to be justified, regardless of its suitability or greater wildlife value. For buildings that include a green roof to get BREEAM excellent rating, they are recommended to use at least 16 native species, and non-natives are discouraged. So we are seeing designers specifying species that are not suitable, purely to be able to get a list of 16 native species together.

‘This tick-box approach, and simple delivery of a total number of species, regardless of their form and function is potentially disastrous. But more importantly, this approach is misinformed, and not based on the scientific evidence for what makes a sustainable landscape, or what is best for biodiversity.  Crucially, it takes no account of the human experience of landscapes.  It would be good to explore the inconsistencies in the arguments, and in particular pick up on a lot of the latest scientific research to indicate that this simplistic or ‘”one size fits all” approach is not appropriate.’

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