Building Nature In: An urgent call to action

On 18th May, Earth Trust is bringing together the expertise of a diverse panel of industry leaders to explore what ‘Building Nature In’ to the places where people live, work and play could look like and discuss how key challenges can be overcome.  Speakers include, Mark Beard of Beard Construction, Matthew Battle of UK Property Forums, Jane Houghton of Natural England, and our own CEO (Jayne Manley) with expert audience members including people such as Bev Hindle, Director of the Ox Cam Arc and Nigel Tipple, Chief Executive of OxLEP.  (Event information here.)

Jayne Manley explains…

It starts with a story

Last September, I found myself standing on a platform with people from the built development and construction industry. As the CEO of Earth Trust – an environmental influencer and charity – I’m more used to being in my wellies than a dress suit, but these were unusual moments in more ways than one. To say the least this was not my usual habitat.

I had just accepted an award for Most Innovative and Sustainable Initiative of the Year, at the UK Property Forums’ OxPropFest Awards, in recognition of our new learning and skills development building – Earth Lab. Earlier that day I’d been invited to challenge perceptions of climate and nature emergencies on a panel exploring the significant role that the development industry has to play in our lives and ‘ecosystem’.

Our aspiration for Earth Lab was to create a vision into the future, working with design and construction partners that shared our ambition to create a truly special building, For us, the UK Property Forums’ Oxfordshire event was an important opportunity to demonstrate the value – and possibility of – “Building Nature In”. An opportunity well worth taking my wellies off for!

As climate change rises up public and corporate agendas, this award signified an important milestone for us and our partners, in designing and constructing a building that demonstrates and encourages future sustainable construction and may inspire future generations.

Big picture problem

The climate and biodiversity emergencies are at the top of the built environment agenda, particularly in terms of carbon, changing climate and ecological loss. Increasing the part that people can play in both these emergencies is being recognised, alongside the benefits that being close to nature can have on people’s mental health and physical wellbeing.

Located in the South East and Oxfordshire – one of the most rapidly developing UK counties – Earth Trust is positioned at the sharp edge of thinking through the challenges of creating and managing spaces that enable both people and nature to thrive in balance.

Our mission is to champion access and engagement with green spaces for everyone so that together we take action for people and planet. Along with our supporter community, we are already guardians of some extremely special and inspiring places, rich in nature and heritage. We use these amazing places to engage and inspire people and to demonstrate nature-based solutions that we hope others will take and use elsewhere. Through our projects, we strive for sustainability balancing people’s access and dependency on natural resources such as food and water with thriving biodiversity and healthy ecosystems.

Our demonstration

Building Nature In is about truly integrating nature and ecosystems with the built environment, enabling deep connection between people and nature in the places where they live, work and spend their leisure time.

Building Nature In to people’s lives and communities creates a virtuous circle of mutual benefits for environmental and societal wellbeing, including:

  • Improved physical health and mental wellbeing of communities
  • Natural solutions for nature recovery and the biodiversity
  • Climate change mitigations such as reduction and locking up of carbon, reduced energy use, emissions, temperature regulation and water consumption

Earth Lab is a living demonstration of ways in which industry and developers can think and act differently as we tackle the challenges we face and strive to build sustainably – whether climate and carbon, ecosystems and biodiversity or health and access to nature. But, we urgently need to scale up in order and embed ecosystem thinking and action and strengthen the connection between people and nature.

While emerging planning and environmental policy and regulations consider these challenges, there is no joined up approach to lever and support people, nature and climate through the planning, design and construction process.

The pillars of  Building Nature In

We see 6 fundamental pillars for supporting a Building Nature In approach.

Green Infrastructure Standards: Green space provision at different scales within homes and communities, including green links between communities and green spaces, along with policy drivers to enable and support these standards.

Nature integrated in ‘built’ infrastructure: Built infrastructure that is designed and built for nature, climate and people (and with each in mind from the outset). For instance, integrating homes for wildlife within architecture and construction, including designing in green corridors, roadside verges and roundabouts.

Green landscaping for climate, nature, health and wellbeing: Building infrastructure for natural environment solutions within roads, streets, SUDs to minimise carbon and engage people in their environment. For example, the use of materials, natural landscaping and tree planting for cooling and temperature regulation as well as healthier air quality.

Greening urban space network design and operations for leisure, play, engagement and building skills: For instance, using natural materials and design for leisure and play spaces, community food growing; allotments; enhancing parks and gardens for people as well as nature.

Modelling green spaces for sustainability, where the full community has greater ‘ownership’ and engagement and where the funding needed to establish and then maintain green spaces is identified and available. Policy changes will soon be encouraging offsetting, habitat banking and Biodiversity Net Gain and we need to consider how these funding opportunities can support Building Nature In and shaping places for people and nature.

Putting people at the heart of developments: Addressing what needs to be ‘built in’ to support more diverse and equitable access to nature as well as ensuring that everyone has real opportunities to engage with it. This means, supporting healthy places through intergenerational, diverse and inclusive access and understanding the important role of volunteering in community cohesion.

Co-developing and co-designing the future

Putting people, wildlife and climate at the heart of development requires a more creative and collaborative approach to how natural capital and the built environment integrate. To be successful, it has to be a co-creation between the public, private and third sectors.

To achieve this and make real change happen, we need multiple skill sets and expertise across sectors that may not be used to working together – with people venturing beyond their usual natural habitats!

On 18th May, we are bringing together a range of expert and industry leaders who can influence, shape and deliver this vision – local authority policy makers, advisory bodies, planners, developers, investors, social enterprises, public, private and third sector representatives.

Our Building Nature In event comes at an important time when the whole country is gearing up – and levelling up – to tackle the global crises impacting our planet and life as we know it. We all have an important role to play and are required to work and act in a way we have not done so before.

So whilst at the Earth Trust we are now well used to wearing a hard hat along with steel toe capped boots, these won’t be needed for this event! Instead we will be focused on hard thinking required to build nature in to all our futures.

Please see our event page for more information on the agenda and panel. The event is now full however we will share outputs from the day on our news pages so do check here again, and on our social media channels, after the event.

If you want to join the conversation please get in touch with [email protected] and we will include you as we co-design and support ambitions to Build Nature In.