A net gain for the nation

John Richards of Cala Homes details the company’s journey so far in achieving the increasingly essential requirement of biodiversity net gain, across its Thames region

According to a 2021 study, it is estimated that the UK has lost almost half of its native biodiversity. As one of the country’s largest housebuilders, reducing our environmental impact is a key priority, which is why we’ve launched our first Urban Wildlife Strategy at Cala Homes Thames. It outlines our plans to incorporate biodiversity improvement measures into every new home in our region, and to achieve 10% biodiversity net gain ahead of the introduction of new Government legislation which will introduce a mandated increase.

Last year, we started working with Hampshire Ornithological Society and Hampshire Swifts, who both provided valuable insight and expertise throughout the development of this strategy. Together, we created a network of interventions which will ensure that our new developments play their part in delivering diverse ecosystems for species such as swifts, bats, bees and hedgehogs to help them thrive in urban areas. This means every new home we build will have bird nesting features, specialist hedgehog fencing, bat boxes or bat roosting tiles and native tree planting.

Our King’s Barton development in Winchester, currently onsite, will be one of the first to benefit from the strategy. We are building 2,000 new homes along with a neighbourhood centre which includes retail, community centre, nursery, pub and care facilities. All of which follows the delivery of a new primary school which opened in September 2020.

The need for initiatives like this has become all the more apparent recently, with research revealing that since 2000, the UK swift population has fallen more than 50% and hedgehog numbers have fallen by around half, as have the number of bats. This illustrates why our Urban Wildlife Strategy is an important piece of work to help Cala Homes Thames deliver houses that will aid in restoring these numbers and making our homes more hospitable for Britain’s wildlife.

For example, ‘swift bricks’ are hollow, rectangular boxes made of a breathable material (called woodcrete or stonecrete). Also known as ‘universal bird nesting bricks,’ they can be integrated into walls but don’t compromise insulation. The only part visible from the exterior of the house is the small entry hole that allows small birds, such as swifts and other species, to nest there. Additionally, we will install hedgehog-friendly fencing in gardens that adjoin other gardens or open green spaces to allow hedgehogs to move more freely.

We’re already developing new ways that will enable us to consistently achieve 10% biodiversity net gain on each new site. By implementing the measures outlined above into our planning applications, our customers are assured we’re doing everything we can to protect the environments they live in. We’re supporting our customers to do their bit too, by providing information on how they can help protect the wildlife living in their communities.

We are at an important point in our sustainability journey at Cala, as we continue to take action to achieve our environmental goals. We aim to formulate a UK-wide strategy and action plan to enhance biodiversity across all Cala sites by the end of this year. Therefore, the Urban Wildlife Strategy does not represent the extent of our aspirations from a biodiversity and habitat creation perspective, but it is a crucial step forward on our journey as a regional business, establishing a baseline of urban wildlife opportunities to be included in each of our housing plots moving forward. Other Cala regions are looking at how they can adapt the strategy for implementation across developments throughout the Cala business in Scotland, the Midlands, and the Home Counties.

We’re passionate about seizing every opportunity to enhance biodiversity in all new developments, and this strategy is another step forward to achieving our goals. Cala Homes Thames is set to deliver 500 homes per year across Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire, west Surrey and Berkshire – we have the capability to deliver tangible impact. We’re grateful to the wildlife groups we have worked with to develop and deliver this strategy and are proud to support wildlife living within our communities.

John Richards is land director at Cala Homes (Thames)