Part of habitat protection is mandatory and part can be insisted on by planners. Then there are, of course the opportunities to enhance habitat or at least mitigate the damage done to it. Building in the countryside is usually more of a risk to rich habitats than building on brownfield sites.
One of the patterns (no. 104) in A Pattern Language is about ‘site repair’ where degraded building land actually ends up better after it has been built on.
Some of the categories where you are obliged to follow the rules are:
- Land may be in a site of special scientific interest (SSSISite of Special Scientific Interest)
- Trees may have protection orders on them
- Various species of birds, animals and plants are protected.
Many of these types of things should show up during the local authority search.
The legislation covering this is the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. There is an introduction on the Joint Nature Conservation Committee web site.
The legislation is extensive and contravening it can result in heavy fines. For instance all bats in the UK are protected, as are their roosts, even if the bats are not present at the time of the offence. Even disturbing bats can result in a fine of up to £5000 per bat and up to six month imprisonment.
Now increasingly coming into force are the EU Habitats Regulations (which cover nature conservation in particularly sensitive areas). See more on the APIS web site
The actual schedules of protected species are listed at the bottom of the JNCCJoint Nature Conservation Committee page and the full list of all protected species (with the various degrees of protection) is on a huge Excel spread sheet which can be downloaded from here. The JNCC has a page titled “Lists based on national legislation“, It takes a bit of figuring out and if in any doubt about the possibility of any listed species being present where you are building then it is probably best to call in an environmental consultant.
If there is any concern about environmental issues on a building site then it is probably best to contact an environmental consultant. The web site of the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Consultants has a professional directory
There are several main possibilities for creating richer habitats –
Bird Brick Houses with openings in various sizes.
and see the Swift Conservation web site
- using living roofs. 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, either sedum or turf, attract birds and insects (with usually the former chasing the latter).
It depends on what is planted but it is possible to have pockets of deeper soil in certain areas providing the structure will carry them. For instance a stone trough placed over a part of the roof above a supporting wall may provide the opportunity to plant buddleia which will attract butterflies
- providing ponds and wetlands These can produce very rich habitats for all kinds of creatures and may form part of a waste water treatment strategy such as reed bed water treatment.
- creating food and shelter. Especially in exposed locations in winter, wild life benefits from shelter belts. Particularly fruiting hedges such as Hawthorn with one side to the south are extremely attractive to smaller birds. This can go hand in hand with sheltering the building itself, which can have a considerable effect on heat loss.
- leaving secluded rough areas of garden which are not disturbed. This works especially well if they are adjacent to fields or routes which animals take as they move around. There is a surprising traffic of wild animals within urban areas but it is usually dependant on there being a ‘through route’ to somewhere else (green fingers within the city).
Green Building magazine did an excellent article on this whole subject in their Summer 2009 volume
The Building Regulations
The Building RegulationsThese are the mass of regulations that cover safety, health, welfare, convenience, energy efficiency etc. in the way buildings are constructed. Not to be confused with Planning consent (which is more to do with whether you can put up the building in the first place) part A covers the structure of a building. This Approved Document goes into a lot of detail for traditional masonry buildings but almost none for timber frame, steel frame, earth building SIPsStructural Insulated Panels - prefabricated (usually in a factory) timber panels often forming part of an integrated building system and aimed at fast site erection. see more on SIPs etc. For these you will need to consult a structural engineer (while SIPs structures are usually handled by the manufacturer)
With most forms of construction there will be implications concerning fire safety. These are covered in the Building Regulations and you can see examples of how to conform with these in Part B (Fire Safety)