Built for creature comfort

While homeowners construct their own little nests, Jenny Knight looks at housing developments with wildlife in mind
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The Independent Online

I t's not just families who are turning to new developments for their ideal homes - they are increasingly being joined by the local wildlife, which is moving into purpose-built accommodation created by builders who are fast realising that new developmens nowadays means also taking care of the local wildlife.

I t's not just families who are turning to new developments for their ideal homes - they are increasingly being joined by the local wildlife, which is moving into purpose-built accommodation created by builders who are fast realising that new developmens nowadays means also taking care of the local wildlife.

Whether it's purpose-built bat homes, nesting boxes, specially constructed badger sets, or even a snail sanctuary, builders know they need to respond not only to public pressure but also to new plannning laws by putting money and ingenuity into making developments more wildlife friendly.

Environmental writer David Nicholson-Lord said: "It is encouraging that builders are creating new habitat for wildlife. Globally we are experiencing a wildlife crisis with extinctions happening at a faster rate than ever. For wildlife to survive, the people who buy new homes have to help by creating small patches of wildlife gardens instead of tidy lawns and flower beds and by realising that if they don't there will soon be very little wildlife left to help."

Money and ingenuity go into providing perfect new homes for foxes, newts, birds and otters. At the very least, the builders' efforts give buyers a cosy feeling that they are living in harmony with nature. But re-homing wildlife is not always successful; many creatures prefer their old slum to a shiny new home. Wheezes to persuade animals to stay in their new surroundings include piling their soiled bedding outside their new front-doors and scattering delicious foods around the area.

At Croudace Homes' small development at Holm Oaks in Hawkhurst, Kent, tempting treats like peanuts are being sprinkled around the new badger set, which includes tunnels, nesting chambers, soil heaps and numerous entrance holes.

At Exevale Hospital in Devon, new hedgerows have been planted so the endangered cirl bunting can live alongside 112 new homes on the newly created Devington Park. To make sure the birds have something to eat as well as somewhere to live, special grasses were planted to attract grasshoppers, which are the birds favourite meal. Paradoxically, wildlife has a better chance of thriving in neglected parts of cities rather than the over-farmed countryside. Greenwich Millenium Village in East London, built on urban shrubland, has tried to protect its resident wildlife by building a bat tower for pipistrelles, one of the smallest species of bat. Its four-acre ecological park includes wetlands with man-made banks, tunnels and perches to attract kingfishers. Shingle-covered rafts have been provided as nesting areas for the common tern.

More often than not, developers build new homes for wildlife because the law forces them to. Yet wildlife, like the rest of us, moves on if they don't like the neighbours. The best way to ensure that creatures stick around is to buy surrounding land to stop more development. At Swan Hill's development of £24m-plus houses at Lockestone, in Weybridge, Surrey, residents jointly own more than 30 acres of green belt.

The land, formerly derelict farmland, is being planted with new woods, wetland and rough grasses to nurture the existing foxes, deer and birds. An outbuilding will be converted into a bat roost.

Barratt re-homed hundreds of common lizards on a golf course near their new development at Bishop's Stortford, while at Turner Mews, in Sutton, Surrey, homeowners were given bat boxes and "loggeries" were built in the ground to encourage beetles and other insects.

In fact no creepy-crawly is considered too slimy or nasty to be offered new housing. At St George's Kew Riverside Park, buyers paying upwards of £659,950 for a property will doubtless be pleased to know that some of that purchase price will go towards recovering the costs of the new snail sanctuary housing the rare two-lipped Balea Biplicata snails, originally introduced by the Romans and now found at only a few sites along the Thames.

Crest Nicholson have provided dormice with nesting boxes for their long sleeps and rope bridges to help them reach their feeding grounds at Bolnore Village, in West Sussex. The builders also fitted newt tunnels under the new relief road so newts can move from woodlands to ponds.

Otter homes, hibernation sites for great crested newts and ditches for water voles as well as trefoil meadows for the dingy skipper butterfly are being laid on at Newcastle Great Park, three miles north of the city centre. About half of the 1,200-acre park is being turned over to woodland, meadows, hills, vales, reedbeds and rivers. The rest is for housing, priced from £100,000 to £500,000 and for a business park.

Tom Robinson, a landscape architect for the project, said: "This was an area which had been farmed to within an inch of its life. We have managed to take the residents with us by explaining that traditional green spaces in towns with mown grass and a couple of cherry trees are sterile and about as much use as concrete for wildlife. "

Croudace Homes 01883 346 464; Devington Park 01392 824647; Greenwich Millennium Village 208 293 6900; Bolnore Village 01444 440052 ( www.bolnorevillage.com); Lockestone 01932 850665 or FPDSavills on 01483 796810; Kew Riverside Park 020 8878 8800; Newcastle Great Park 0191 2173860.

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