Stand your ground! by Robyn

The pressure is on. Your latest project requires a BREEAM rating of excellent to achieve planning. Credits are critical; many will be impossible. Yet again the Landuse and Ecology credits are seen by others as an easy gain. The SQE (suitably qualified ecologist) leads the way and is guided to judge your design by the LE04 commandment: ‘To gain credits, thou shalt only plant native plants or those with a known benefit to local wildlife’.

You ponder the options. The dilemma of designing the perfect landscape strategy that then could be compromised by LE04, the SQE or even a planning officer interpreting the standards with a limited understanding and requiring a fully native scheme. Or … a difficult discussion with the team about losing the all-important credit that could make or break the project in rating terms by keeping to that original concept that actually works on all levels.

Could you get away with Box hedging? Would the ecologist accept Yew – they are native after all but the biodiversity benefits of this evergreen monoculture approach? Can you squeeze a native hedge in round the back that won’t look too out of place in your urban plaza scheme? Ivy on the fences? Could you get away with a carefully picked cultivar of a native species like Acer campestre ‘Streetwise’? Would anyone really notice?

A mix of native and non-native plants can be more beneficial – seasons of interest can be extended (most native plants in the UK have finished flowering by August) and plantings can provide a better range of food sources for birds and bugs (many gardens in the UK are highly biodiverse despite a far higher proportion of non-native plants). Native plants may be more suitable for local soils and climates, but non-natives might be far better for that city centre location with the unique microclimate and a requirement to be tolerant of drier conditions.

I say “Stand your ground!” Let the M&E consultant work harder at credits for Energy. Persuade the client and design team to accept some of the other sustainability aspects that can feed into BREEAM such as SUDS or recycling of materials or rainwater.

BREEAM is being revised in 2014. BRE have stated that the working groups looking at the best way of improving the standards will be reviewing the issue of plant species. Let’s hope that this moves forwards from the current dogmatic approach. We need a standard that champions the design of not only biodiverse landscapes, but sustainable and attractive landscapes with flourishing plant palettes designed to the benefit of all, whether they have two legs or six.

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