Greening And Urban Regeneration: Managing Brownfield Sites for Biodiversity

Greening And Urban Regeneration: Managing Brownfield Sites for Biodiversity

Following on from our recent article about the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre regeneration proposals in Nottingham city centre by the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, Dr Peter Shepherd and Kirsty Kirkham reflect on a Study Visit of nature reserves in the City of Nottingham they undertook in summer 2019 and review the lessons learned about incorporating biodiversity into urban regeneration.

Peter and Kirsty started their academic and professional careers working for the Nottingham Urban Wildlife Scheme (NUWS) in the early 1990’s during which time they were closely involved in promoting the incorporation of biodiversity into development and the creation of a number of nature reserves in the city.  To see how a number of city nature reserves had fared over the last 25 or more years, they undertook a study tour in June 2019 in the company of Professors Jack Rieley and Sue Page, who were both instrumental in the establishment of the NUWS and the promotion of urban nature conservation and research into plant and invertebrate communities of urban environments in the UK.

This article focusses on King’s Meadow Nature Reserve which was created 30 years ago as part of a mitigation scheme for the re-development of the former Wilford Power Station close to the centre of Nottingham just 1500 m from the Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. The former power station supported a range of habitats of post-industrial land and structures including lagoons of settled PFA, grassland, brick rubble scree, railway cinder beds and the lower stretches of two watercourses, the Tottle Brook and the River Leen. In 1991 this was Nottingham’s major urban regeneration site which was redeveloped for a mix of office, retail, and industrial uses. The development retained and incorporated the river and stream corridors and other green links maintaining connectivity with the wider green infrastructure around the site. It’s centre piece however, was the creation of a new nature reserve aimed at conserving the special interest of this major brownfield site.  The new reserve was comprised entirely of post-industrial substrates and habitats including translocated orchid-rich turves of PFA, brick rubble scree and railway track cinder beds.  At the time, the translocation of PFA was entirely novel as a conservation technique and there were few examples of the creation of purpose built post-industrial/brownfield habitats. We were interested to see how the site had developed and if there were any lessons to learn.

The key features that the project was seeking to conserve included: (a) species-rich grassland characterized by a hybrid orchid swarm comprising southern marsh (Dactylorhiza praetermissa), common spotted orchid (Dactyorhiza fuchsia) and their hybrids (Dactlyorhiza x grandis) on a former PFA lagoon; (b) stands of bush-grass (Calamagrostis epigejos) and associated invertebrate interest; (c) species-rich post-industrial communities of railway clinker and railway cinder habitat.

Flower-rich railway cinder beds
Kirsty Kirkham inspecting the hybrid orchids

During the visit in 2019, a number of observations were made which demonstrate that with careful design and on-going management it is possible to retain much of the interest of brownfield sites and to incorporate them successfully into a biodiverse rich green space open to the public. Of particular note was the continued presence of the orchid swarm of common spotted and southern marsh orchids and their hybrids. In addition a range of new species were recorded including bee orchid, hairy St John’s wort, common broomrape and cowslip – all rare species or species with a restricted distribution in the City according to the Flora of Nottingham. Intense rabbit grazing had converted what was a tall grassland community to an almost grass-heath like sward and it appeared that kidney vetch and bush grass had been lost or greatly reduced on site. What this might mean for one of the rarer invertebrates thought to be associated with bush grass the true bug Chorosoma schillingii is unknown. However, it is interesting to note that this species has been recorded on grass heath sites in central Nottinghamshire, so it may still be present at King’s Meadow.

The continued success of King’s Meadow as a nature reserve after 30 years demonstrates that well planned, well executed habitat design and implementation, plus a positive mechanism for long term protection and management are key to successful habitat creation and translocation schemes. The site is also a good example of how even in the most urban of environments wildlife can be established and thrive.

Given the rise of biodiversity gain as part of the planning process and the forthcoming mandatory requirement to deliver 10% biodiversity gain within the emerging Environment Act 2020, it is critical that, as professional ecologists, we have the skills, knowledge and experience to deliver similar outcomes to that demonstrated by King’s Meadow if we are to consistently create and sustain habitats of biodiversity value over a 30 year period.


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