Balancing conservation and design for a greener Guernsey

As you are likely aware, we’re at a critical moment in human history, where great change to our way of life is needed to preserve the environment we rely on to survive. While the issue is grand and multi-faceted, the solutions most widely explored typically address our consumption of resources and materials, but a broader perspective will be needed to achieve a holistic response to the crisis; a perspective which prioritises the maintenance of the current wildlife landscape.

Guernsey’s location in the Channel means that it boasts a uniquely diverse range of wildlife both on its shores and in the surrounding waters. Wild terrestrial habitats on the island are being gradually eroded, and this issue is being compounded by the trend of converting agricultural land to domestic use. While the evolving demands of the island’s landscape may mean that much of this land is now more suited to domestic utility, typical garden landscapes offer habitats of low ecological value.

The States are legislatively taking action to enforce and maintain a biodiverse landscape in the Bailiwick. Their Strategy for Nature identifies the utilisation of land as an area for improvement, outlining that their objectives will be partly measured by the “extent of private land managed under effective conservation measures” and the “number of planning applications that include Biodiversity Net Gain”. Likewise, sections of land have been designated as Areas of Biodiversity Importance are subject to assessment and conditioning, aiming to protect and enhance biodiversity.

Clearly, architectural development is not exempt from responsibility in preserving wildlife habitats. There are many factors that can be managed or proposed to either mitigate impacts or enhance the current environment.

In most cases, an effective approach will be to protect and enhance the existing habitats on the site. The beneficiary species will already be present on the site.

Wildlife habitats can be integrated into proposed developments through solutions such as bird boxes, green walls, and effective landscaping. The subsequent interaction with wildlife will likely result in an increased appreciation and affinity.

Sustainable construction practices can reduce the overall deterioration of the environment. This can be encouraged at the design stage through the considered specification of building materials and construction techniques.

We have experienced a direct effect of the implementation of the States’ legislation, through the Planning Service’s treatment of our Extension of Domestic Curtilage applications. In recent times, we have been required to demonstrate the environmental benefits of the proposed landscaping in respect of biodiversity, and measures which will be taken to maintain the relevant features.

While this legislative approach is effective in binding applicants to a conservational duty, there are drawbacks to the design development process. Conditions on the use of land have put some of our clients in positions to commit to landscaping details at an earlier stage in the project than anticipated.

Whilst the need for conservation of wildlife habitats is generally a shared idea, more synergy between planners and designers could help accommodate the design process allowing for more innovative and suitable means of protecting our environment, adequately satisfying all parties.

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