The RSPB's Rupert Masefield describes how nature might thrive alongside development ... 

Three years ago, I put up a new nest box in our tiny terrace gardenBy the start of this year it had sat empty for so long I’d nearly given up on it. Then, just as I was beginning to wonder if I should put up a “derelict” sign, a pair of blue tits finally decided to move in this spring. Last week the chicks hatched, and the coming and going of the parents with beaks full of food has been a source of entertainment and fascination for the family, including our toddler-aged daughter, while we’ve been confined to our house during the coronavirus lockdown.  

 Our new neighbours’ arrival was a timely reminder that when we make space for it, nature can thrive alongside people and the mass of buildings, roads, railways and other not-so-natural structures of our advanced economy and modern society.  

This seems especially important now. People pulling together to stay at home, save lives and support the vulnerable are also finding a renewed love for nature in their communities and what it does for them, especially in a time of crisis. We have a reputation as a nation of nature lovers and since the lockdown started there has been a surge in people sharing their appreciation of nature and the comfort and relief it brings them wherever they are able to enjoy it. Thinking of my own situation, how many parents of young children must be counting their blessings if they are lucky enough to live within five minutes-walk of a park or woodland? 

Unfortunately, an appreciation of the value of nature is not something we have historically demonstrated in the way we have planned, designed and built the places where we live, or the roads, railways and other infrastructure that serve themLots of people are feeling the effects of this historic oversight more acutely now, when time outdoors in nature is at such a premium. How many people do live within five minutes-walk of a park or woodland?  

Large-scale development, whether it’s housing or major infrastructure, can be (and has been) extremely damaging for nature, but it doesn’t have to be. As a society we have the knowledge, experience and tools to minimise any harmful environmental impacts, and we can and should take steps to deliver benefits for the environment and nature as well as people. For instance, by building nature and natural greenspace into new communities (and yes, nest boxes can be part of this), by creating wildlife corridors and by building green bridges and cycling routes across new roads and railways to connect habitats and people. 

That’s why last month, the RSPB responded to an inquiry into Government management of “Major Projects” to highlight the need for major infrastructure projects to make nature and the environment a priority consideration from their first inceptionThis response includes a set of principles for major and large-scale infrastructure that if adopted by Government in their approach to planning major infrastructure would help to ensure the environment and nature were protected and enhanced. They are also the principles we use to assess major projects and their impact on nature – thereby allowing us to identify best and worst-practice examples. 

Taking the time to consider the environment up front in these major development projects is essential if the communities of the future are to enjoy the benefits of more and accessible nature and a healthier environment. If we do, we will be one step closer to everyone living 5 minutes-walk from a woodland, or a park or wetland or some other nature-rich place they can enjoy with their family. 

For now though, I’m grateful for the little slice of nature we have managed to give a home in our garden. 

Find out more: 

See our full response to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the management of the Government’s Major Projects Portfolio. 

RSPB Response to major projects inquiry_FINAL.pdf