Could Housing Developments Fund Nature Reserves?

Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve photo

Image credit: Avon Wildlife Trust

Lloyd has noted that sprawl is the death of us all, and we know that managing sprawl is more about proper planning than it is about fancy LEED-certified buildings. But given the fact that new housing continues to be built, often on previously unused land, how do we manage the pressure on wildlife and habitats? One housing development project in the UK is charging each resident an annual fee in return for management of a wildlife sanctuary on their doorstep. Could this be a model for others to follow? Writing over at The Guardian, Ruth Stokes reports that residents at the Portbury Wharf housing development near Bristol, England, are asked to pay for management of a nearby nature reserve as a condition of purchase. The model is thought to be the first-of-its-kind in the country, and was adopted after the local council specified creation of a nature reserve, to be handed to a reputable wildlife organization, as a condition of granting planning permission.

The developer paid for the establishment of the site, but ongoing management was always going to be an issue. With most conservation organizations over-stretched as it is, it was decided that each resident would be asked to pay an annual fee of £60 (about US$90) for the maintenance and management of the wetland habitat by the Avon Wildlife Trust. The Trust welcomed the initiative as an innovative way to fund conservation, as a representative told The Guardian:

"Steve Micklewright, director of community programmes at AWT, explains that without public contributions, the charity would have been unable to take the site on at all. Portbury Wharf is also the only reserve with staff devoted exclusively to a single site. "The problem we always have is ongoing costs of managing reserves," he says. "And to have one and half members of staff to manage it and involve the community is brilliant. We own 36 nature reserves and yet really struggle to involve the community because we don't have enough staff."

The site has since become home to water voles (apparently Britain's most nationally threatened animal) great-crested newts, otters, woodpeckers, curlew, hawks and dragonflies.

Of course, no amount of wetlands, meadows or bat boxes can offset the negative effects of bad planning or sprawl. But—as long as it is used in tandem with sensible transportation infrastructure, rigorous efficiency codes, and other measures for sustainable, livable communities—integrating conservation into every new housing project seems like an eminently sensible thing to do. Having grown up near this site, I know that a light rail link has been planned for decades. Whether it will ever materialize remains to be seen. (Perhaps residents of the next development could contribute to that instead...)

More on Green Communities, Planning and Sprawl
Why Tackling Urban Sprawl is More About Planning than Green Building
Ten Things Wrong with Sprawl
Putting the Green Back in Community Development

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