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Boosting ecology in BREEAM

A rich ecology can enhance our communities and improve the health and wellbeing of building users.

A rich ecology can enhance our communities and improve the health and wellbeing of building users. BREEAM has developed a framework for guiding the future development of its ecology assessment criteria which will help project teams to take practical actions that protect and improve the ecology of buildings and developments. Cary Buchanan and Yetunde Abdul of BREEAM explain.

Real benefits to be gained

Pocket habitats of annual and perennial wildflowers and nectar-rich species on the roof of 7 Air Street provide value for invertebrates and birds. Photo by Agnese Sanvito
Pocket habitats of annual and perennial wildflowers and nectar rich species on the roof of 7 Air Street provide value for invertebrates and birds Photo by Agnese Sanvito

The BREEAM Outstanding rated office building, 7 Air Street, is part of The Crown Estate’s £1 billion Regent Street regeneration in London. Its extensive green roof and pocket habitats of wildflowers and nectar-rich species, form part of The Crown Estate’s Central London Ecology Masterplan that includes an aspirational target to deliver a hectare of new green space across its West End portfolio.

Whist not all projects can be this ambitious, they can take steps to protect and enhance the ecological value of buildings and sites, such as preserving natural areas, maintaining ponds, bee-friendly planting and very many others.  Protecting and improving the ecology can contribute greatly to the environmental quality of our increasingly urbanised world and – as a growing body of evidence shows – improve the health, wellbeing and even productivity of building users.

However, ecology is a complex and highly interrelated discipline. Ecological practice has developed rapidly over recent years and it is important that BREEAM keeps up to date with best practice in a practical and achievable way.  Without a clear forward looking strategy, opportunities to conserve and enhance a site’s ecological value can be missed, and measures taken to add ecological value may not perform as well as expected.

A strategic approach is needed

With that in mind and following extensive feedback from a wide range of stakeholders, including ecology and landscape professionals and others commonly engaged with BREEAM assessments, the BRE team behind BREEAM concluded that the scheme should take a more strategic approach to encouraging high ecological standards.

The treatment of ecology in UK BREEAM schemes has therefore been extensively reviewed in order to develop a Strategic Ecology Framework (SEF) for improving and evaluating the ecological performance of buildings, assets and developments. The key aims of the SEF are to help project teams to:

  • understand the existing ecology of a site to identify the best approach,
  • identify, protect and enhance key ecological features,
  • remove or limit existing features that are negatively affecting the site’s ecology,
  • mitigate unavoidable impacts and compensate against residual impacts,
  • enhance the ecological value of the site and surrounding areas by encouraging other ecological features.

“The new Strategic Ecology Framework will significantly contribute to strengthening the important role ecology now plays in the built environment, particularly in the areas of health and wellbeing and infrastructure services,” says Peter Johnson, Group Environmental Manager of the Kier Group, which participated in developing the SEF, “and will ensure that effective long-term maintenance and monitoring programmes are put in place.”

Consulting the stakeholders

Before drafting the SEF, the BREEAM team extensively consulted with wide ranging stakeholders, including ecologists, landscape architects, policy makers, specifiers, contractors and BREEAM assessors. More than 150 responses to an online survey were considered in preparing the SEF’s draft scope, which was refined by stakeholder focus groups and then distributed to the BREEAM assessor network for comment.

The finalised Strategic Ecology Framework, the first document of its type to be developed for BREEAM, is launched this month.

“The launch of the SEF provides a significant shift in how future BREEAM methodologies will be updated,” says Ben Kimpton Principle Ecologist of The Ecology consultancy, which has been working with BRE since 2007 as part of the task groups set up to advise on biodiversity.

“It has been designed in consultation with a broad range of stakeholders in both the landscape and ecology sectors. As such, it promotes more collaborative work within design teams and takes account of current approaches on how to deliver high quality environmental and sustainable features in a robust yet pragmatic way. The construction industry and our clients are set to benefit from these changes.”

How it works

Whilst the SEF does not itself present ecological assessment criteria, it provides a framework of common objectives and actions to guide and align their development.

All BREEAM schemes are regularly reviewed and updated to ensure that they remain in line with new developments, evolving legislation and feedback from users, and continue to drive higher sustainability standards. The SEF will now be part of this process. It will guide the development of balanced ecology-related assessment criteria – which take account of real-world practicalities and the functionality of the building/asset being assessed – when the following UK schemes are updated:

  • BREEAM UK Communities
  • BREEAM UK New Construction (non-domestic)
  • Home Quality Mark (new build domestic)
  • BREEAM UK Refurbishment (domestic and non-domestic)
  • BREEAM In-Use
  • BREEAM Infrastructure
Bouygues' BREEAM Outstanding Challenger HQ building at Guyancourt, outside Paris
Bouygues BREEAM Outstanding Challenger HQ building at Guyancourt outside Paris

The SEF has been designed to deliver assessment criteria which provide incentives that encourage project teams to consider ecology issues throughout a project’s design, construction and operational life cycle stages. Some aspects of the SEF will not be appropriate to all life cycle stages but relevance will be considered as each scheme is updated.

The SEF is organised into six Tasks, each accompanied by their objectives and supporting detail to demonstrate how the objectives can be met. The six Tasks cover

  1. Assessing and evaluating the site’s existing ecological value and condition.
  2. Establishing the ecological goals for the site.
  3. Identifying and selecting the options for achieving the goals.
  4. Developing the action plan.
  5. Implementing the action plan.
  6. Monitoring and reviewing action plan implementation.

Initial response to the SEF has been positive. A ‘renewed and integrated vision to measure the environmental, social and commercial benefits of green infrastructure, promoting the enhancement of the ecological value of projects’ is how Rita Margarido of Canary Wharf Contractors, one of the stakeholders in the project, describes the SEF.

Helen Newman, Senior Associate of Tuffin Ferraby Taylor, also a stakeholder, said “The new Strategic Ecology Framework is a significantly more considered and holistic approach, which should better reflect the complexity of practical and commercial considerations, and professional judgement in benchmarking ecology. The SEF also recognises the diverse range of interrelated benefits associated with enhancing biodiversity within the built environment including health and wellbeing, air quality and surface water attenuation. We look forward to seeing how the SEF is translated into BREEAM credit requirements and anticipate a more effective method for benchmarking ecological value and recognising biodiversity design improvements.”

Further information on the SEF can be found at