A surveying surprise…

“we recorded 60 floral species in total across the 7 roofs with the highest number being 46 species on a single roof…”

With COVID19 lockdown restrictions beginning to ease in the UK, we were given the opportunity to re-emerge for some socially distanced surveys. Supporting the nature-based solutions company Green Roof Shelters, Caroline and I made a trip to IKEA in North Greenwich to survey some green roof bicycle shelters. What greeted us was a very pleasant surprise.

Green roof bicycle shelters outside of IKEA at North Greenwich, London, UK. Image by Stuart Connop

Like most people in the UK, the SRI has been in lockdown for the past few weeks. We have shifted our working model from one of a buzzing office and frequent fieldwork to one of Teams/Zoom meetings and staring at the same four walls for hours on end. We have still been able to effectively deliver outputs for many of our projects, but government easing of lockdown restrictions recently gave us an opportunity to restart the fieldwork aspects of our project delivery.

The ARENA project is an ERDF-funded three-year business support programme led by us at the Sustainable Research Institute, in partnership with Barking Riverside Ltd. By matching ERDF funding with UEL and Barking Riverside funding, it is enabling us to 100% finance business support for London start-ups, spin-outs and SMEs that are seeking to develop and commercialise their innovative ideas, products and services in the areas of resource efficiency, urban green infrastructure, and nature based solutions for urban resilience.  These sectors are exhibiting significant global growth. ARENA aims to build on innovation strengths within these sectors to contribute to London’s aspirations of being a world leading low carbon city in harmony with the natural environment.

One of Green Roof Shelters’ products featuring green roof and habitat panels for insects and birds. Image by Stuart Connop

One of the companies that has signed up to ARENA is Green Roof Shelters, a company that is innovating with methods for greening common urban grey infrastructure such as bin covers, bike shelters, and freight containers, to create nature-based solutions. Their products increase urban biodiversity whilst providing an array of social (access to nature, active travel solutions) and economic benefits (more attractive retail and residential areas, bike parking for customers) to the locations into which they are installed.

The green roof shelters in full bloom, providing nectar and pollen resources for pollinators, food for birds, and ground nesting opportunities. Image by Stuart Connop

The ARENA team at the SRI are supporting Green Roof Shelters by feeding research expertise into company designs and providing evidence of the biodiversity benefits of installing their green roof bicycle shelters. To do this, we are carrying out surveys of seven green roof bicycle shelters that were recently installed at the new IKEA store at Bugsby’s Way in North Greenwich. The easing of the lockdown enabled us to get out last week and begin this work. Using social distancing protocols (hazard tape to separate us from the general public, maintaining a two metre distance between us at all times, and plenty of hand sanitiser!), Caroline and I spent a fabulous day in the London sunshine recording the biodiversity utilising the green roofs.

Green roof shelter information board explaining what is planted on top and why. Image by Stuart Connop

We carried out floral surveys to compare the species colonising the roofs with those planted in the initial seeding mix (we recorded 60 floral species in total across the 7 roofs with the highest number being 46 species on a single roof). We recorded any easily identifiable invertebrates visiting the roofs in the field, and collected other species for later identification. We also counted the number of holes in the nesting blocks that appeared to have been colonised by cavity-nesting bees and wasps, and used a scope to check whether any of the bird boxes had been used, and a very pleasant surprise awaited us when we went to check. Not only was there evidence of use in some of the nest boxes, with grasses and twigs inside, but several of the boxes had been more comprehensively moved into, with eggs in some and blue tit chicks in another!

Blue tit chicks in one of the Green Roof Shelters’ nest boxes at IKEA. Image by Caroline Nash

As the survey season continues, we will continue the visits. Hopefully, by the end of the summer, we will have generated a comprehensive assessment of the biodiversity that is benefitting from the innovative nature-based solution designs of Green Roof Shelters. This evidence will support the company in designing, marketing and selling their products. In the short-term though, the green roof bicycle shelters are providing wonderful visual and biodiversity benefits in their new location, and there seems to be something very appropriate about little blue and yellow birds making a home at the new IKEA store. I wonder if it is because of the camouflage opportunities…?

If you are part of an SME, not-for-profit, large industrial company, or even an individual involved in resource efficiency, urban green infrastructure, or nature based solutions in London, why not contact us to see if we could support you through the ARENA project too?

By Stuart Connop

The ARENA project has received funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government (and in London the intermediate body Greater London Authority) is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding


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