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Ecologist Jodey Peyton tells us more about a new project to help housing associations and their residents manage their sites for wildlife...

There’s a growing body of evidence that shows access to high-quality green spaces and an environment rich in biodiversity brings benefits for human health and well-being. But what if you live in an estate where there is a lot of housing? Or an urban area dominated by road infrastructure? It might be difficult to even see a green space, let alone spend time in one. Everyone should have an opportunity to support wildlife in their local area and get the same benefits associated with urban green space.

It’s an issue that I’m excited to be addressing through a project involving the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) and the Southern Housing Group to link people with nature and increase wildlife in local areas. The project is also hugely benefitting from the experience and expertise of the Association of Local Environmental Records Centres (ALERC), Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre (TVERC), Berkshire Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) and Bracknell Forest Council (BFC).

Our collaboration will ultimately develop a toolkit of materials and simple approaches that will allow housing association estate managers to better manage their sites for biodiversity. It will help them better understand how their sites link into the local environment, as well as list ideas and opportunities to help residents interested in wildlife engage more with nature.

The toolkit is likely to include simple measures such as:

  • Planting native wildflowers and tailor species selected to help support any local wildlife areas
  • Advice on ways to increase flower species and engagement through mosaic mowing and wildlife walks
  • Putting up nest boxes for bird species known to be in the local area
  • Helping make insect homes through pollinator hotels, deadwood piles and increasing the structural diversity of grasslands through mosaic mowing
  • Installing hedgehog houses
  • Encouraging biodiversity “champions” among estate staff
  • Showing estate care staff and residents how to access the local expertise on their doorsteps with links to local Council, Environmental Records Centres and Wildlife Trust activities and wildlife sites

Crucially though it’s also about getting people involved. We’ll be encouraging residents and staff to contribute to wider environmental monitoring by recording species on the sites where they live and work!

I know from chatting to residents at our case study site in Bracknell, Berkshire that many of them are strongly interested in improving their homes for wildlife. Some of them are particularly interested in planting wildflowers; others are keen birders; and others wanted to help hedgehogs in the area.

At the time of writing (October 2019) we’re about six months into our eighteen-month project. Undoubtedly my highlight so far was a fantastic wildlife day we held on our case study site a couple of months after the project started. Residents were able to attend plant and insect walks, learn more about wildlife and outdoor activities happening in the local area, and receive free plants for their home gardens.

Along with my CEH colleague Helen Roy, I was also able to attend a Southern Housing Group coffee morning where residents shared their urban wildlife stories and sightings. They were also able to suggest their own great ideas to help wildlife on site. I’ll be returning to the lovely residents at the end of the month to talk more about wildlife in the local area.

At these events I saw at first hand the enthusiasm from everyone concerned and the desire to bring about wildlife-friendly improvements. It is a wonderful time to be running this project and the local expertise and enthusiasm from TVERC, BFC and BBOWT have been fantastic. This, alongside the support from ALERC and the interest of the Housing Quality Network to help biodiversity (where I recently attended a conference) makes me very excited that our work will have impact nationally through helping to show the brilliant people across the country, all looking to make a difference, how they can!

"I saw at first hand the enthusiasm from everyone concerned and the desire to bring about wildlife-friendly improvements."

I would like to thank our partners at Southern Housing Group who have been truly excellent collaborators and have a fantastic range of ideas of how to help support their residents to make their homes a home for nature too. Ian Scott, their Interim Estate Care Director, told me they are excited to be working with CEH and really pleased to have the chance to develop a scientifically-proven approach to biodiversity on their estates.

This project will not just have immediate benefits for biodiversity in and around Housing Association sites, but will have the potential to improve the quality of life of the residents. I’m very proud to be able to play a part in this with my fantastic CEH colleagues.

Watch this space for more news from the project!

Jodey Peyton

Additional information

The project team comprises CEH’s Helen Roy, Oliver Pescott, Jodey Peyton and Marc Botham alongside Southern Housing Group’s Patryk Szczerba, Ian Scott, Emma Barnett-Warden (and others). The project is also working closely with the Association of Local Environmental Records Centres, Thames Valley Environmental Records Centre, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust and Bracknell Forest Council.

The project is funded by the UKRI Natural Environment Research Council.

Update August 2020

Read the project newsletter (PDF) with details of some of the changes introduced around the site to encourage wildlife and boost biodiversity.