Biodiversity Toolkit: Increasing Biodiversity in Urban Green Spaces
Background and how to get started
The project aims to give estate care teams the information they need to support more wildlife on sites and improve local biodiversity networks.
This part of the toolkit will help you choose the most appropriate options to improve biodiversity on your estate.
Before you start any work on your estate, please read through the information on how to get started:
What is biodiversity and why it is important?
Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth, in all its forms and all its interactions. This includes everything from microorganisms, plants and animals to the natural systems that support them. Biodiversity describes our natural wealth, which makes up the living landscape around us, sustains ecological systems and enhances our quality of life.
Biodiversity enables our natural systems to function properly by providing many important
services such as soil formation and nutrient recycling, and pollution breakdown and absorption, as well as biological resources such as the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat.
In short, human survival is dependent upon these vital ‘ecosystem services’. Ecosystem services can be defined as the benefits that people derive from nature. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (1) categorised these as: provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural services.
A really good example of how nature provides valuable ecosystem services to humans is by showing the importance of trees in towns and cities (2).
Trees cool the surrounding environment through shading and evapotranspiration, a process where trees take up water from the ground and release it through the surfaces of their leaves, cooling the surrounding air. This helps
to reduce the heat island effect in urban areas (built-up areas with temperatures higher than surrounding rural areas).
Trees also play an important role in combating climate change by capturing and storing carbon from
the atmosphere. The roots of trees help improve soil quality through protection from erosion and aeration. They also increase infiltration of rainwater into the soil, reducing runoff from floods.
The leaves of trees improve urban air quality by removing harmful pollutants and filtering dust from the air whilst also providing a barrier to noise. They provide nesting, shelter and food for local wildlife such as birds and invertebrates.
The presence of trees in urban areas provides people in towns and cities with daily access to nature on their doorstep, helping to relieve stress, improve emotional well-being and strengthen their connections to nature (3).
Biodiversity and wellbeing
What is well-being?
Human well-being is a very broad and complex concept and can mean different things to different people. Well-being includes both subjective (e.g. how happy you feel on a scale of 1-5) and objective measures (e.g. access to resources). A simple definition from the Oxford English dictionary describes well-being as ‘The state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.’
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes human health (4) as ‘A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’A more complex assessment takes into account the numerous aspects of health as well as the environment in which humans live; for example, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (1) identifies five basic elements of human well-being as:
- an adequate supply of basic materials for livelihood (like food, shelter, clothing, energy)
- physical health
- good social relations
- personal freedoms
This approach outlines the interdependence between human health and well-being and a healthy and stable ecosystem.
Nature, biodiversity and well-being
There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating a connection between engagement with the natural environment and improved well-being (5). Numerous studies have found that daily contact with nature is connected to better health through reductions in obesity (6), stress levels (7) and improved concentration (8). Although the effects of ‘green space’ are increasingly well understood, little is known about the importance of variation in the quality of green space, in particular differences in biodiversity, for benefits to human well-being.
By working with established wildlife groups and your local council, you can benefit from existing conservation, training and community engagement expertise. It may even be possible to pool resources, and work together to link up areas of urban habitat. Local groups might include natural history and conservation volunteers, as well as special interest groups focusing on particular groups of species like birds, plants and bats.
Local wildlife organisations can also contribute volunteers and practical skills. Local councils (county, district, town and parish) are important stakeholders as they control decisions about how many urban green spaces are managed.
Examples of these organisations are discussed here, but there are many more. We recommend a flexible approach to make the most of those who have time to share with you.
Involving local residents with projects on site
Local Environmental Records Centres
Local Environmental Records Centres (LERCs) are organisations that collect, collate and manage wildlife data to support the conservation, understanding and enjoyment of local biodiversity. LERCs provide a ‘one-stop-shop’ for on sites, habitats and species in their region. LERCs by region can be found via the Association of Local Environmental Record Centres (ALERC) website at: http://www.alerc.org.uk/lerc-finder.html.
The Wildlife Trusts
There is a good opportunity to form links with a local Wildlife Trust who can provide expert help with delivering resident engagement schemes. Wildlife trusts can also provide the expert advice on the specific wildlife-friendly actions. http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/find-wildlife-trust.
Local authorities in England and Wales have a key role to play in the conservation of biodiversity, recognised in Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006, where:
‘Every public body must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity’
One of the ways councils can contribute to delivering this duty is through partnerships with environmental organisations and other local community groups http://www.gov.uk/find-local-council.
Getting local residents involved
It’s vital to involve local residents from the beginning and throughout the process. As the studies show – both exposure to nature, and the opportunity to volunteer and get involved are beneficial. Getting residents involved at an early stage will also help to overcome any potential objections to the project.
Engagement is key for all types of green space improvement and retrofitting projects. Different types of engagement may be required to communicate with residents.
Read our Putting the Bee in Bracknell case study for examples of how we worked with residents.
Involving local residents with projects on site
It’s really important to involve local residents from the beginning and throughout the process. Studies have shown that both exposure to nature, and the opportunity to get involved are beneficial. Getting residents on board at an early stage can also help to overcome any potential objections to the project. Keeping everyone informed will help to create a sense of community ownership over green space, vital for its long-term sustainability.
Different types of engagement are useful to work with residents
• Recording wildlife
One of the simplest ways to get residents involved is to get them to tell you what they have seen around the site and/or to submit records to local and national recording schemes.
• Information boards
Use signs to tell residents about wildlife on site, explain the benefits to biodiversity from management practices or the installation of wildlife features, and address potential concerns. Suppliers include Nature Sign Design.
• Newsletter / fliers
Volunteer residents could to help disseminate information through fliers and newsletters.
• Social media
Volunteer residents could help to disseminate information through social media. Local social media groups are a great way of enabling a wide array of people to participate in exploring wildlife, by sharing their pictures and asking questions.
Social media can support community social cohesion, like arranging events and getting people together.
• Local resident wildlife group
Engage with resident wildlife group, if one exists, or help support the set up.
• Monitoring success
Resident questionnaire surveys, feedback through local residents’ wildlife group
To assess whether the options you have implemented have been successful, measuring the outcomes is important. It can also be a great way to get Estate Care and Environment teams and residents more involved in the work you are doing and help them to engage more with nature on your site to help improve their well-being.
Here we discuss some simple ways to do this. Some management options can take several years before the full benefits are seen. So monitoring how things change over longer time periods is important.
Every record counts and will not only help you get a picture of what wildlife is on your site, but can contribute to recording schemes who use the data to tell how well different plants and animals are doing over time. Not every record needs to be identified to species level and no prior experience is needed: everyone can get involved.
https://www.inaturalist.org is a network of naturalists, citizen scientists and biologists. Records of any wildlife (with a photo) can be submitted with a provisional identification to whatever level the recorder feels comfortable. They are then identified by the online community after which they can become part of national and regional recording schemes. This approach not only means residents can start to learn about the wildlife they see, but can also help others learn about the wildlife by helping them identify records as they gain experience themselves.
General recording is appropriate for helping to monitor the success of the biodiversity management options presented in this toolkit. There are also more specific recording schemes targeting particular types of wildlife or to submit records where the recorder has more experience and confidence in the identification of what they are recording.
Further details can be found on the Biological Records Centre (BRC) website at: http://www.brc.ac.uk.
This type of recording is listed as ‘General recording’ under the ‘Monitoring success’ section for each biodiversity management option in this toolkit. Estate Care and Environment teams and residents could also be encouraged to take part in more structured biological recording which help us record wildlife in a standardised way so that we can assess changes to animal and plant populations over time. The schemes provide advice on how to carry out simple and fun surveys and often have free identification tools and mobile apps to submit records of wildlife. They are a great way to monitor changes to wildlife over time on your site and can help to measure the success of any management options put in place.
Examples of information for residents who want to get involved in green activities:
Advice and support for individuals or groups who want to become involved in organic gardening, including local community groups who want help to set up and run organic community gardens http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk.
Government’s adviser for the natural environment, helping protect England’s nature and landscapes for people to enjoy and the services they provide.
Social Farms and Gardens
A UK-wide charity that supports communities to farm, garden and grow together. They offer a wealth of information, in-depth knowledge and advice for groups planning to start a community garden, with a comprehensive Resources Section: http://www.farmgarden.org.uk/resources.
Community Growing Resource Pack
A comprehensive guide to setting up, developing and sustaining a community managed farm, garden or related community growing space: http://www.farmgarden.org.uk/resources/community-growing-resource-pack-england.
Green Flag: Community Green Space Awards
Social Farms & Gardens are a partner in the Green Flag Awards Scheme, working with Keep Britain Tidy, and its respective organisations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales http://www.greenflagaward.org.uk.
The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) Green Gym
TCV created and runs Green Gyms across the UK and offers a number of ways for public sector organisations and local community groups to establish a Green Gym http://www.tcv.org.uk. They also have local volunteer groups
who do practical tasks and they also publish practical guides on habitat management and sell trees for planting.
- Resident information brochure
Projects and case studies
Biodiversity Toolkit and Biodiversity Strategy projects
Together with the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and other partners, we have launched a ‘Biodiversity Toolkit’ to help housing providers and residents support more wildlife on their estates.
It provides a guide on some of the best ways to improve the quality of green spaces for wildlife while involving residents in key decision making.
This project was funded by Natural Environmental Research Council grant NE/ S013989/1.
We called this case study ‘Putting the bee in Bracknell’
Urban development, along with climate change and the effect it has on our environment is at the forefront of everyone’s mind…
As part of the project to develop a Biodiversity Toolkit, and as we work towards our new Biodiversity Strategy, we used our site in Bracknell (an estate made up of Mount Pleasant, Orchard Court and Jubilee Court) as a case study to put into practise some of the management options that would go into the toolkit to encourage a wider range of plants and animals, and to improve engagement of the residents in the green spaces, around the estate.
We called this case study ‘Putting the bee in Bracknell’.
After identifying available resources and the green spaces around the estate, ecologists from the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) and Thames Valley Records Centre (TVERC) undertook some baseline ecological surveys in the summer of 2019 to see what plants and animals were already present on the site.
Around the same time our Estate Care and Sustainability Team held a series of events, including a Bioblitz and coffee mornings, in which residents of Mount Pleasant, Orchard Court and Jubilee Court in Berkshire were encouraged to join our staff and ecologists from UKCEH, TVERC and the National Trust to learn about what wildlife was present around their homes, how the green spaces around the site could be improved, and background to the project to develop a Biodiversity Toolkit.
An important part of Putting the bee in Bracknell was gathering the opinions and thoughts of our residents on how they’d like their green spaces to look and feel. There was a great turnout from residents who came equipped with some fantastic ideas to help. It was clear from the customer feedback received in Bracknell that the residents’ priorities were more flowers and attracting more birds to the area.
Following this, our Estate Care Team were busy the following spring, working hard to implement some of the management options around the estate including; planting plug plants, putting up lots of different bird boxes, filling gaps in hedgerows with native hedgerow plants, creating piles of dead wood and bug hotels important for lots of different creatures, and creating an entirely new wildflower meadow on the land adjacent to Orchard Court!
Ongoing management thereafter included reduced mowing in selected areas to allow different plants and grasses to flourish and produce flowers, attracting more insects and other wildlife.
Although COVID-19 meant we couldn’t do as much as we would have liked in 2020, ecologists from TVERC and UKCEH managed a visit later in the summer to survey some of the areas around the estate where management options had been put in place.
Hopefully we will start to see more and more different plants and animals around the site following this fantastic work at Bracknell, and get residents and staff recording what wildlife they see.
Biodiversity Toolkit: Biodiversity management options for urban green spaces
Below is a summary of the 26 management options and links to more detailed breakdowns of the individual options.
We hope you find this information useful and can make some great changes for your local area.
- Birds and mammals
- General biodiversity
The Biodiversity Toolkit (PDF)
The Biodiversity Toolkit is designed to help estate managers choose appropriate management options to help improve biodiversity and engage residents in green spaces on their estate(s).
The following biodiversity management options are drawn from many sources from different organisations, societies and scientific research. This is not a comprehensive list of all the possible management options there are, but rather a shortened list covering many of the most simple and effective management options which have been shown to help improve the quality of urban green spaces for wildlife at relatively low cost.
The biodiversity management options are broken down into six themes:
Many of these options have benefits for a wide range of wildlife and are placed within the themes based on the where most evidence of benefits has been documented and to make the options easier to use.
Each management option includes information on:
- Suitability for different housing densities
- Benefits and costs of implementation
- How to implement and ongoing maintenance
- How to monitor success
Download the Biodiversity Toolkit PDF here .
Biodiversity Toolkit overview
- Pollinators and other invertebrates
Plants: grassland and flowers
This section is for estate care teams to review the possible options. Advice on suitable species to plant depending on your soil type, can be found on the Royal Horticultural Society website.
We also recommend talking to your Local Records centre or Wildlife Trust to plant species good for promoting species in your area.
Plants: grassland and flowers
- Plants: trees and shrubs
Sources of information
The Biodiversity Toolkit was put together using research and scientific studies from a range of different organisations.
We’ve referred to some of these studies throughout this website.
If you’re interested in seeing more about where the information comes from please check out the following:
1. World Health Organization
World Health Organization. (2005). Ecosystems and human well-being: health synthesis: a report of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. Geneva: World Health Organization.
2. Forestry Commission Research Report
Davies, H., Doick, K., Handley, P., O’Brien, L. and Wilson, J. (2017) Delivery of ecosystem services by urban forests. Forestry Commission Research Report.
3. Trees, People and the Built Environment - Proceedings of the Urban Trees Research Conference
Johnston, M. and Percival, G. (2012) Trees, People and the Built Environment - Proceedings of the Urban Trees Research Conference, 13-14 April 2011.
4. World Health Organization
World Health Organization (2020) Basic documents: forty-ninth edition (including amendments adopted up to 31 May 2019). Geneva: Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
5. Days Wild: Development and Evaluation of a Large-Scale Nature Engagement Campaign...
Richardson, M., et al., Days Wild: Development and Evaluation of a Large-Scale Nature Engagement Campaign to Improve Well-Being. PLoS one, 11(2): p.e0149777
6. Childhood obesity and proximity to urban parks and recreational resources: a longitudinal cohort study
Wolch, J., et al. (2011) Childhood obesity and proximity to urban parks and recreational resources: a longitudinal cohort study. Health & place, 17(1): p.207-214.
7. Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function
Li, Q., (2010) Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 15(1): p.9-17
8. Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park
Faber Taylor, A. and F.E. Kuo, (2009) Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park. Journal of attention disorders. 12(5): p.402-409
9. Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and well-being
White, M.P., et al., (2019) Spending at least 120 minutes a week in nature is associated with good health and well-being. Scientific reports, 9(1): p.1-11
10. Psychological benefits of green space increase with biodiversity
Fuller, R.A., Irvine, K.N., Devine-Wright, P., Warren,P.H. and Gaston, K.J., (2007) Psychological benefits of green space increase with biodiversity. Biology letters, 3(4), pp.390-394.
11. Creating better cities: how biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
Taylor, L. and D. F. Hochuli (2015). Creating better cities: how biodiversity and ecosystem functioning enhance urban residents’ well-being. Urban ecosystems, 18(3): 747-762.