Biurbs - Biodiversity in the City: project wins successful funding bid

UK Research and Innovation funding has just been confirmed for Biurbs, a two a half year research project which will empower communities, built-environment professionals and local authorities to protect and enhance the natural capital in urban areas.  It is one of 9 projects funded by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

A collaborative research project co-conceived by Stolon Studio, Biurbs will bring together researchers from three universities - The University of Manchester, the University of West England, and the University of East London - to explore the value of biodiversity in multi-functional urban developments through exemplary real world urban sites.  Consulting with leading developers, the team will assess the wider benefits of biodiversity using cutting-edge economics and state-of-the-art industry tools.

As an integrated part of good design and placemaking, biodiversity can add value through environmental gain, climate resilience, health and well-being, but due to the complexity of capturing those benefits, the economic value of biodiversity is undercounted in existing planning tools.  Stolon Studio’s role as ‘impact co-ordinator’ will interface between practice and research, assessing the efficacy of biodiversity at different scales and for different land uses, with the aim of creating clear guidance for policy makers and industry.

Preserving and nurturing opportunities for biodiversity is critical, and may also help to combat the effects of climate change, and help social well-being and mental health.  Despite increasing awareness of the social, environmental and benefits of access to biodiversity, the UK is one of the most nature depleted countries in the world (source: 2016 State of Nature report), in part due to rapid urbanisation and densification. 

Biodiversity may benefit other eco-system services, such as sustainable drainage, outdoor recreation, and noise and heat attenuation, yet the economic value of biodiversity may be undercounted in existing planning tools.  Furthermore, there is a need to understand the spatial needs of the eco-system services and different types of biodiversity to ensure that they function as intended and are resilient over the long-term. Such an integrated approach will recognise both synergistic benefits and trade-offs that will be critical in understanding local vs national or global benefits.

Biurbs will consider different approaches to introducing and conserving biodiversity as part of an integrated suite of eco-system services, and where these approaches may be best implemented through new development/regeneration. It will cover spatial scales and various land-uses including residential, industry & commerce, community & public buildings, transport & infrastructure, outdoor recreation.  20 recent urban sites will be examined, to assess the challenges and opportunities that stakeholders have experienced with integrating and sustaining bio-diversity.  Two sites will be examined in-depth to assess how a state-of-the-art approach to biodiversity gain can be integrated into planning and how this impacts the economics of urban land-uses. The project involves extensive collaboration with UK stakeholders to ensure the work is relevant to decision making in practice and addresses the nature conservation and greening objectives as well as wider societal factors including adapting to climate change and social cohesion.

The Government’s ‘Nature Positive 2030 Report’ recommends that businesses, organisations, cities and local authorities to treat biodiversity loss as equal to climate change and adopt targets to redress this. Improved understanding of the economics of biodiversity within greenfield and brownfield spaces will empower decision makers including communities, built environment professionals and local authorities to protect and enhance the natural capital in urban areas.

As the Government’s Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) policy is expected to become mandatory from November 2023 and will apply to almost all planning applications, Biurbs will contribute to real transformative change in how we value and manage our landscapes, closing the significant gap between ambition and implementation.

Robert Barker, co-founder of Stolon Studio

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