What if Wildlife Has Made a Home Where You Want to Build a Home?

Wildlife can enhance a project rather than cause delay or an increase your costs.

Hazel Dormouse. photo credit: Tony Wellbelove

Being aware of any wildlife activity and subsequently preparing is key when considering a project which is likely to be home to a protected species. A specialist ecologist may be required to carry out a survey or report.

Knowing which flora and fauna may be present on your site is essential to a successful, time efficient planning application so it’s worth checking with your ecologist, local authority or architect in the first instance for any insight into what may be present. If you’re prepared then knowing what time of year surveys should be carried out is helpful when planning your schedule and time frames. Wildwood Ecology has created this brilliant infographic detailing the optimum months for surveying protected species here in the UK. The People’s Trust for Endangered Species have several long-standing monitoring programmes so may be able to provide information on the likely occurrence of an endangered species being present in the area you are hoping to build on.

Millar + Howard Workshop’s architects have worked on several projects where wildlife and protected species have been present and have learned that the projects which work symbiotically with the animals and plants in terms of design or timings have been enhanced by their presence rather than hindered.

Stories of our architects working with nature:

Sir Peter Scott’s House, Slimbridge

Millar + Howard Workshop is lucky enough to be the architects responsible for the transformation of Sir Peter Scott’s former home at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) site in Slimbridge into a brand new museum. Sir Peter was the founding father of conservation so it’s no surprise that wildlife and specifically the preservation of several types of wildfowl have been integral to this project. The timings of the construction phase and even the site visits have been meticulously planned yet still require complete flexibility as wildlife abides by its own, unpublished schedule. The Bewick’s Swans have been of particular focus for this project.

The Bewick’s Swans are renowned worldwide for their annual visit to Slimbridge each winter and have done so for several decades, yet these birds remain very timid around humans. They are easily frightened and could become unsettled if they see an unfamiliar person or even a silhouette of a person, so it’s imperative all construction workers are clear of the external site before they arrive for the winter here in the UK. Their reaction is unknown but any disturbances or disruptions to their normal patterns of behaviour is likely to have major implications for the survival of this already endangered species. As a result, every possible scenario has been thought through and suitable contingencies have been put in place to avoid unexpected occurrences, which could cause delays and increase costs. One of the strategies is maintaining open communications with a specialist in The Netherlands who is on standby 24 hours a day, watching out for the swans which are due to land there as part of their 7000km migration from Siberia back to the UK. Once they have landed on the feeding grounds in Holland the birds will spend some time gaining sustenance and strength before completing their final leg and arriving at the lake in Slimbridge.

From the moment the first swan arrives, the external work on the lake side of the building must be finished or have to be halted until they fly back to their Siberian breeding grounds again in the spring. This has meant a short window for this phase of the project and could mean that if the scaffolding is not down before their estimated arrival, it will need to stay in place until the swans leave again in approximately five months’ time. So far, the project is proceeding in accordance with the schedule and the external work is most likely to be completed in time for the Swans’ return to Slimbridge.

Bats and Moths Evolving to Out-Compete Each Other

While on a site meeting with an ecologist, one of our founding partners Tomas Millar learned of the arms race between bats and moths. Aware of the fact bats use a type of sonar for detecting and capturing their prey, Tomas was told by the ecologist on site how moths are evolving to out-compete their predators. Bats use echolocation to detect moths (and other prey) at a wave frequency previously within a range that was inaudible to moths. Moths first adapted ears and then their hearing to include this range allowing them to dodge being seized. As a counter-adaptation bats then altered the echolocation frequency to be inaudible again and the arms race began. Research has shown that some moths have now developed ultrasonic clicks which forces the bats to halt its attack but only momentarily, the bats have since developed the skill to release a second sonic assault which enables them to swoop down below the falling moth and ensnare it. It’s possible to see this in action by rattling keys near a moth (usually found by a light bulb) which makes a similar ultrasonic sound made by the metal. If the moth drops to the floor in response to what it assumes is a bat it has indeed developed ears and can as such escape predation. This evolutionary war dance will no doubt continue for millions of years beyond the life of the building but it’s also increased our regard for the bats and the moths immeasurably.

A Micro Ecosystem

The Marsh Fritillary butterfly which is present on another site Millar + Howard is working on, is widely threatened, not only in the UK but across Europe too and is, therefore, the object of much conservation effort. The long-term survival of this specific species of butterfly is dependent on extensive grazing by animals which are able to maintain its favoured habitat in optimal condition. The best sites are open, unimproved, lightly-grazed grasslands with abundant patches of Devil’s-bit Scabious — the only food plant of the Marsh Fritillarys’ caterpillars. Donkeys, enjoy grazing on many flowering plants yet will not touch the Devil’s Bit Scabious causing a beautifully balanced symbiosis to exist between the donkeys, the butterflies, and the flowers. It would make sense to introduce donkeys to the site allowing the proliferation of Marsh Fritillary butterflies to ensue.

Bird Houses in Norway

Our former colleague Gabriele Ziliute, wrote of her time working for a firm in Norway. She was there specifically to assist in the design of bird hides. The buildings needed to accommodate birdwatchers to gather and observe the seabirds in quiet and stillness whilst also carrying out research for days at a time so required all the necessary facilities. The hides also to had to be conspicuous within their arctic, wilderness landscape. Gabriele said “there is something contradictory about the way we treat wildlife; on the one hand invading the natural environment in every possible way but on the other hand trying to protect it from ourselves by isolation. I always hoped there was an alternative where we gain the trust of nature by bringing wildlife and humans closer and treating nature sensibly, with care and respect.” At Millar + Howard Workshop, we agree wholeheartedly. For her full article click here.