Projects: Freshwater Fields

We’re firm believers in the potential of the built environment to provide wildlife habitat, especially so for those species dependent on human dwellings. In fact we see it as a necessity.

Top of the target list comes the swift, our iconic bird of summer. UK populations have declined at an alarming rate, in part the result of the dwindling supply of accidental nooks and crannies in and around roofs. Modern houses are just too well-sealed and older properties become renovated. All for the good in improving energy efficiency, but disastrous for the wildlife that used to share our homes.

So when we were asked to help design-in ‘wildlife encounter’ at Spectrum Housing’s new Freshwater Fields development we were very keen to flag up the plight of swifts. Thanks to the tremendous enthusiasm of Spectrum’s project manager, Liz Evans, and the help of the RSPB’s swift expert, Stephen Fitt, 50 swift nestboxes were built into the brickwork of the new properties – discrete, safe, self-contained and a whole new habitat for a bird that everyone knows. And of course this means that the first signs of interest from birds returning from their long migration in May will be quickly spotted by keen-eyed residents who in turn will become a vital part of the project’s future.

One of the most exciting things about Freshwater Fields has been the combination of built habitat and public realm. A small copse, bought by Spectrum as part of the site acquisition, but closed off and unused for years (conserved largely thanks to a tree preservation order) has provided the perfect public greenspace, somewhere which will give new residents a chance to enjoy local wildlife as well as a reason to participate in its conservation. We wrote simple, effective management prescriptions, designed new path layout, organised contractors and programmed volunteer days to help with a planting scheme that is all about ‘maximum edibility’!

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