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Regardless of what particular style you have in mind for your garden and surroundings there are several opportunities to enhance the ecological value of the site
- protect and enhance the fauna and flora
- avoid damaging protected species
- do the least damage possible to rich habitats
- create even better habitats
- maybe you can grow food (and hence do less trips to the supermarket)
- it can be an area to recycle domestic waste
- you can use the site for surface water drainage ( SUDSSustainable urban drainage systems. Various ways of holding back rain water and allowing it to percolate into the ground instead of taking it to a drain and sewer. This helps prevent flash flooding. See Surface rainwater and SUDS )
- you may be able to harvest energy ( grow fuel for heating or use hydro or solar)
- you may be able to use on-site or local materials for the landscaping. Failing that, look out for recycled materials .
the first thing is to make sure you are not endangering protected species. There is considerable legislation in the form of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended) which can be seen on the Natural England Natural England is the government's advisor on the natural environment. It 'provides practical advice, grounded in science, on how best to safeguard England's natural wealth for the benefit of everyone' web site .
If you are converting an old building or repairing a roof then the most likely challenge is probably bats. Also breeding birds must not be disturbed. If there is any concern about causing harm to protected wild life then you may need to employ a consultant ecologist. If you have any concerns it is worth investigating them as soon as possible because your work might get delayed or halted while a survey is carried out. It may be a good idea anyway to get in touch with a local naturalist society and ask if anyone is interested in giving informal advice about not only what species you have on the site but also what the surrounding area offers. You may find, for instance, that you are on or close to some type of wild life corridor which is worth respecting and enhancing.
The Shared Earth Trust explain the principle well. Awareness has been growing over how important urban gardens and certain other urban areas are becoming for wildlife, especially when so much farm land is composed of huge areas of monocultures.
- Birds welcome trees which provide winter berries.
- Butterflies have favourite flowers and bushes.
- Ponds will attract frogs and newts and a whole variety of other species.
- Living roofsA roof with a covering of soil or growing medium and plants. They tend to be divided into turf roofs with a 150mm layer of soil and sedum roofs with a thinner layer (about 40mm). see Living RoofsA roof with a covering of soil or growing medium and plants. They tend to be divided into turf roofs with a 150mm layer of soil and sedum roofs with a thinner layer (about 40mm). see Living Roofs can be much friendlier to wildlife than concrete tiles.
- Shelter belts can dramatically improve windy locations.
Not everyone wants a vegetable garden but there is a slightly different approach. The PermaculturePermaculture is the practice of a sustainable way of living in all its forms. In the UK the coordinating body is the Permaculture Association movement has the notion of an ‘edible landscape‘ and particularly with trees this can be rewarding. Why not plant trees and bushes which bear fruit? Meals can be tastier with less trips to the supermarket if herbs are grown.
A compost heap achieves two ends. It saves a great deal of road transport in the form of carting away organic waste and it also provides a good source of nutrition for the garden – saves on buying bags of peat. There are good ones on the market made of recycled plastic or they can be easily built using short bits of waste timber nailed together with a bit of old carpet on top to prevent smells and keep it warm in winter.
It is a good idea to build in some mesh at the bottom and sides to prevent rats getting in. Plasterer’s lath is cheap and easy to use for this. Build two side by side so you can be digging one out while filling the other. The plastic drum types on metal stands seem good in theory but seldom seem to measure up in practice.
Reed beds can be used to process grey water from the house and this may be useful for keeping ponds filled, watering the garden, flushing toilets or, in combination with composting toilets, there may be no need to connect to main drainage. See below. They may also act as a tertiary treatment for water from a septic tank. Reed bed design is quite specialized and requires professional help.
Composting toilet waste can be used as a fertilizer provided it is not applied to growing vegetables. Use around the base of fruit trees, bushes etc. or dig it into the ground.
Surface water drainage
SUDS (sustainable urban drainage systems) can play a useful rôle in preventing flash floods and stopping sewers overflowing. However it may require careful site design to make it work.
If you happen to have timber on your land which you intend to use for fuel then it is worth putting effort into designing a set-up for handling the timber. This may include rough stacking, sawing, splitting, drying and storing. The means of handling between the various stages should be considered and also the proximity to the stove or boiler.
Try to use materials which are least ecologically damaging and with the least embodied energythe total amount of energy it takes to make a material (or a building). See more on embodied energy (including the plants you use). Try to resist the instant ‘Chelsea flower show’ approach which relies on bringing in all sorts of exotic materials followed by endless trips to garden centres. Often there are materials left over from the building of the house and these can be used in the landscaping. Fences, gates, pergolas, shelters sheds and small outbuildings can utilise timber offcuts, as can the construction of bin stores and compost heap enclosures.
Drainage – for land drainage, both conventional and strip, clayware products are available and are preferable to PVC. Using porous paving made from recycled polythene fits in well with SUDS
Soil – when possible use the soil from the site rather than carting it in
level changes – avoid concrete, bricks and blocks (see gabionsThese are containers made of wire to hold rocks in place. You see them protecting river banks, acting as retaining walls and, more recently as walls in buildings for retaining walls). Check out reclaimed railway sleepers, reclaimed bricks and old stone (which is often of a quality too low for use in house wall building)
hard surface finishes / paths – try to avoid large areas of concrete, paviours and asphalt because of embodied energy (and see SUDS ). Investigate recycled porous polythene paving systems with grass or recycled gravel infill.
planting – if you can grow from seed this avoids the need for sourcing and transporting peat. It also removes the need for plastic plant pots. Similarly for lawns, growing from seed means that turf doesn’t need transporting and the soil doesn’t need replacing at the turf farm. Remember with trees and bushes that small plants (around 300mm) usually achieve faster establishment and new growth than larger transplants so they soon catch up.