Hedgehog hotels and bird-friendly bricks: the new homes that are helping creatures to flourish
The air is rich with the scent of wild flowers. Butterflies and bees fly around and the sound of birdsong rings out. This bucolic scene is not deep in the countryside, but is instead on a rather ordinary housing development.
Some housebuilders have started to build homes for the small creatures who live nearby too, to help struggling communities of critters flourish. Almost two thirds of species in the UK have declined over the past 50 years, according to the People’s Trust For Endangered Species, and there is growing pressure to stop this.
Among developers, there is an increasing appreciation for natural life, with an acknowledgement of the benefits it brings to residents. It’s quite a change, as many housebuilders’ efforts to get on site have been stymied by the existence of rare animals, such as great-crested newts and dormice, which must be protected in the planning process.
In sites of new housing across the UK there are hedgehogs snuffling along wildlife tunnels (and through carefully planned, hedgehog-friendly gaps in fencing), and birds and bats flitting around specially made bat boxes and roosts.
“Bird boxes, hedgehog highways and other wildlife features are things which planners like, and so developers are very quick to offer them,” says Nick Ashe of buying agency Property Vision.
Some of this change is being driven by the government’s 25-year environment plan. One aim of the scheme is to ensure there is a net environmental gain when new housing is created, with the hope that biodiversity and habitats for wildlife will improve as a result of the builders moving in.
Councils are increasingly reinforcing this: Alsager Town Council in Stoke-on-Trent wants wildlife tunnels for hedgehogs and other animals in all newly built solid boundaries, including housing fences. Exeter City and neighbouring district councils have developed rules to protect wildlife where new housing is built, and Bury Council in Greater Manchester wants new homes to be fitted with nesting bricks for swifts.
The birds, which migrate to the UK from Africa to breed, have fallen from 150,000 pairs two decades ago, to fewer than 90,000 now, according to the RSPB. Swift bricks have already been included in some of the homes in the Kingsbrook development on the outskirts of Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.
The scheme, a partnership between Barratt and David Wilson Homes and the RSPB, includes a specially designed brick incorporated into external walls. It provides a home for the nesting birds without damaging the house.