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Biodiversity, BREEAM and LEED

by Mel Starrs on April 6, 2009


The UKGBC released a report called “Biodiversity and the built environment” on 31 March 2009. The portal was a couple of days late but was available when I checked on 3 April. I would recommend reading the full report (a quick read at 38 pages, mostly appendices). Below, I pull out the pertinent information regarding BREEAM and LEED.

Biodiversity and ecology are the areas I am least qualified to talk about under sustainable buildings, so it’s good to see some more guidance.

The report focuses on new build, rather than existing sites, but most of the advice seems suitable for both scenarios. There is a useful section on page 14 which covers UK Biodiversity Action Plans – the portal has much more information on this:

The UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) has established the framework and criteria for identifying priority species and habitat types for conservation. National priorities and targets are set and action is to be taken at a local level. Today there are over 160 Local Biodiversity Action Plans (LBAPs) in England, Scotland and Wales and LBAPs are currently being set up in Northern Ireland.

The BAP system classifies priority habitats into broader habitat groupings. The most relevant broad category for the construction industry is ‘Towns, Cities and Development’. However, within this category there is currently only one priority habitat, which is ‘Open Mosaic Habitats on Previously Developed Land’ applicable to some brownfield land.

The task group recommends that further additions should be made to the broad ‘Towns, Cities and Development’ category, in order to ensure that features of the built environment are recognised as important in their own right.

The group recommends that features of the built environment that provide vital habitat to species and plants should be recognised for their importance such as living roofs and walls and other biodiversity features. This would recognise industry efforts to provide for building-reliant species in new structures where traditional roosting or nesting places would no longer be present due to the need to employ techniques to reduce carbon emissions from housing, such as swift nesting and bat roosting features incorporated into new housing projects.

Part of the report reviews existing tools, including BREEAM and LEED and assesses the quality of the biodiversity credits within each. From page 11:

Each of these tools incentivises the consideration of biodiversity in new construction, and tools are therefore a significant driver for changing industry practice.

In summary, the task group found:

  • There is no common approach to assessment of biodiversity across the principal sustainability tools.
  • Sustainability tools could be improved to assess biodiversity in a more meaningful way, which better assesses the value of habitats that are gained and lost.
  • Improvements could be made to the tools which focus users on making a genuine contribution to local ecological value, rather than unintentionally encouraging a ‘tickbox’ approach.
  • Sustainability tools do not encourage the industry to appropriately monitor and therefore meaningfully maintain and manage habitats created through development.

The results of the review of BREEAM and LEED is below:

Scheme Advantages Disadvantages
BREEAM & Code for Sustainable Homes
  • Rewards sites that build on land of low ecological value
  • Rewards protection of existing ecological features
  • Awarding credits for ecological enhancement has dramatically raised the profile of ecology in the built environment and is partially responsible for the increased prevalence of green roofs on new buildings.
  • The credits are relatively simply to calculate.
  • Requires an ecologist to recommend enhancements measures that contribute to Biodiversity Action Plan targets and to promote best practice amongst contractors and asset managers.
  • Requires a maintenance regime to be implemented for those habitats created
  • Complying with the wildlife law contributes to achieving a credit.
  • Determining what is ‘land of low ecological value’ can be done by the assessor without having an ecologist appointed by using a checklist
  • Credits for loss and gain of ecologically valuable habitats are score based on change in native vascular plant number and do not take into account the addition of valuable, non-plant habitats (e.g. brown roofs, bird/bat roosting locations). This does not represent ecological value.
  • The change in species number calculations can result in tokenism.
  • Credits are awarded on the value that is
  • installed on ‘day one’, and don’t take in to account the development of habitats over time.
  • Requires an erosion and sedimentation control plan to be implemented, so protecting soil and water resources.
  • Rewards development on previously developed land, avoiding habitats for protected species.
  • Encourages reducing the footprint of the development and minimising the spread of constructions works.
  • Encourages the use of water efficient landscaping
  • The plan does not extend to cover wildlife on site.
  • Only protected or threatened species are considered in site selection, general habitats are not considered.
  • There is no assessment of site ecology before or after development.
  • There are no incentives to increase ecologically valuable habitat on site.

A comment in Appendix 5 covers some concerns regarding the need for a professional ecologist:

During initial consultations both parties raised strong concerns over the task group’s suggestion that a professional ecologist should be appointed to the project team as a pre-requisite to achieving credit for biodiversity. The inclusion of an ecologist could potentially increase costs and not be a viable option for smaller projects.

Anyone looking at the list of letters after my name can work out I am a fan of professional qualifications. Whilst a small job may be able to ‘get away’ without an ecologist, I would agree that suitably qualified and experienced ecologists should be used on most BREEAM projects. And as I say above, it is the area I am least qualified to do myself.

It is possible to roughly map the land use and ecology credits in BREEAM to LEED in order to compare the two. This covers more than just diodiversity and ecology, with land use intrinsically linked:

BREEAM credit Description LEED credit Description
LE1 Reuse of Land SS1 and SS2 Site Selection

Development Density & Community Connectivity

LE2 Contaminated Land SS3 Brownfield Development
LE4 Ecological value of site AND Protection of ecological features No LEED equivalent
LE5 Enhancing site ecology SS5.1 Site development – Protect or restore habitat
LE6 Long term biodiversity No LEED equivalent
No BREEAM equivalent SS5.2 Site development – maximise open space

The other credit in LEED which indirectly affects biodiversity is SS7.2 Heat Island Effect – Roof which has no BREEAM equivalent. This credit could encourage the use of green roofs, which will have an effect on biodiversity.

As the UKGBC note, LEED does not promote habitat and wildlife as well as BREEAM. I’m not sure why this might be, but I do expect the two schemes to continue to converge in the next few years. Perhaps LEED 3.0 will address this shortcoming.

There are plenty of opportunities to improve biodiversity in new build projects – the portal looks a great resource for finding out how. It also looks as if other topics will be added in the future.

edit: I was clearing out some old drafts when I came across this nugget of information which has relevance to the above: “From 1st October 2006, all public sector bodies, from the police to the BBC, will have to consider biodiversity in the work they do. The new duty comes under Section 40 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act.”

For further details, search on the portal.

  • Chris Tweed

    Really interesting Mel, and from my point of view, very timely. I am involved as part of a large consortium in preparing a tender bid which will probably require a detailed ecology report for a new building complex. Thanks to this post, I realise we will need specialist help with this aspect.

    Thanks again.


  • Chris Tweed

    Really interesting Mel, and from my point of view, very timely. I am involved as part of a large consortium in preparing a tender bid which will probably require a detailed ecology report for a new building complex. Thanks to this post, I realise we will need specialist help with this aspect.

    Thanks again.