Brownfield-inspired urban green infrastructure: a TURAS PhD completion

SRI researcher, Dr Caroline Nash, has successfully completed her biodiversity conservation PhD studies. Caroline investigated the potential for using key features of the conservation priority habitat Open Mosaic Habitat on Previously Developed Land as inspiration for urban green infrastructure design. The study was part of the EU FP7 project TURAS.


Figure 1. Canvey Wick SSSI – an example of the kind of habitat that can develop on post-industrial (brownfield sites). This urbanised wildspace can represent an oasis for insects, birds and other wildlife that thrive on early successional, open, wildflower-rich sites that have otherwise been lost from the landscape (Image © UELSRI)

Brownfield (post-industrial) sites can support nationally and internationally important biodiversity that is being lost from the broader landscape. Caroline’s research was undertaken in response to the need for targeted solutions to compensate for the unsustainable loss of brownfield habitat mosaics to development. The research investigated innovative approaches to urban green infrastructure (UGI) design, based on ecomimicry of brownfield habitat mosaics. The aim being to support new developments in meeting sustainability goals in terms of no-net-loss of biodiversity.

The research project comprised three main studies: an experimental investigation of the feasibility of creating novel wetland habitat mosaics on extensive green roofs (EGRs); a habitat niche study of a novel biosolar brownfield roof; and an innovative brownfield landscaping experiment that incorporated a brownfield habitat mosaic approach to formal landscape design. For each experiment, monitoring captured the development of plant and invertebrate assemblages in key habitat niches to explore community development and evaluate the effectiveness of the brownfield mosaic ecomimicry approach to UGI design. Elements of the research were co-created with a development company, Barking Riverside Ltd, to facilitate knowledge sharing.

Wetland roof

Figure 2. Ephemeral wetland green roof experiment at Barking Riverside. Image shows in the foreground a roof temporarily pooling water following a rain event, mimicking the adjacent ground level brownfield habitat (top-left corner of image). (Image © UELSRI)

The novel EGR drainage design successfully created ephemeral pools, and substrate heterogeneity produced a vegetation mosaic. Invertebrates recorded on the roofs included key conservation priority species, and important brownfield assemblages, including a limited representation of wetland species. This novel design has the potential to augment existing EGR typologies. The biosolar brownfield roof study demonstrated that PV panels influenced vegetation development, and that PV ‘edge’ zones were more diverse, contributing to enhancing the overall habitat mosaic. The roof provided resources for several target endangered species and some evidence was generated to indicate that invertebrates groups responded differently to the presence/cover of PV panels. The experimental brownfield landscaping supported key conservation priority brownfield species and assemblages, and a much richer plant and invertebrate community than comparative traditional landscaping.


Figure 3. Biosolar roof at the London Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, UK. A roof design that combined a biodiverse green roof and photovoltaic panels to provide a multifunctional solution to habitat creation and sustainability. (Image © UELSRI)

The results validated the ecomimicry approach as a foundation for achieving multifunctional and biodiversity-rich UGI design. The innovative measures investigated could make a valuable contribution to compensating for brownfield habitat loss in the region.

Caroline’s thesis can be downloaded here. Her first papers and knowledge transfer reports from the study have been published:

Nash, C., Clough, J., Gedge, D., Newport, D., Ciupala, M.A and Connop, S. (2015) Initial insights on the biodiversity potential of biosolar roofs: A London Olympic Park green roof case study. Israel Journal of Ecology & Evolution: Green Roof Ecology Special Edition.

Connop, S. and Nash, C. (2016) Ecomimicry for Barking Riverside: Achieving locally contextualised biodiversity-led multifunctional urban green infrastructure. TURAS report: University of East London.

Connop, S., Vandergert, P., Eisenberg, B., Collier, M., Nash, C., Clough, J. and Newport, D. (2016) Renaturing cities using a regionally-focused biodiversity-led multifunctional benefits approach to urban green infrastructure. Environmental Science & Policy 62, Pages 99–111.

There will be more papers to follow and more blogs to introduce them……but for now, big congratulations from the SRI team to Dr Caroline Nash!


Figure 4. Barking Riverside brownfield office landscaping. Urban formal landscaping designed to incorporate habitat features typical of the region’s conservation priority habitats – Open Mosaic Habitat on Previously Developed Land. (Image © UELSRI)

By Stuart Connop


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