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Sustainability Team

Sweco UK


Healthy ecosystems provide us with ecosystem services that give us oxygen to breathe, provide us with food and medicine, clean our water, regulate our climate, provide recreational benefits and inspire cultures around the world. We need to protect ecosystems to ensure those services continue and ensure our continued survival and wellbeing.

According to the 2019 Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, around 1 million animal and plant species are currently threatened with extinction. A recent Sweco Urban Insight report shows that the health of the ecosystems we depend on is deteriorating more rapidly than ever, in turn posing a direct threat to our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life.

Protecting and restoring our ecosystems and promoting ‘built-in’ biodiversity in urban areas is therefore vital for sustaining life and plays a major role in the fight against climate change. Now is the time for both governments and businesses – as well as those of us who advise and partner with them – to take meaningful steps to protect and restore ecosystems while investing in resilient infrastructure.

The importance of nurturing nature

In order to conserve our habitats and species, everyone in society has a role to play in protecting ecosystems – though at Sweco we understand that we and our peers have a heightened responsibility to lead the way in sustainability by supporting (and challenging) our customers in every project undertaken.

But whether individually or through our professional endeavours, we all need to reduce our effect on ecosystems by considering how our actions affect the environment and change our behaviour to minimise our impact. There are many ways to do this, from minimising our disturbance to habitats and wildlife, to reducing our carbon footprint and getting actively involved in conservation. Here are just some of the reasons why nurturing nature – and prioritising nature-based solutions – should be at the top of our list.

  • Forests remove around 430 million tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide and store 13% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30% and save energy used for heating by 20–50%
  • Trees and vegetation reduce stormwater runoff by capturing and storing rainfall in the canopy and releasing water into the atmosphere through evapotranspiration
  • One third of a tree’s biomass is below ground in the roots
  • Carbon is stored in the soil, which can in turn offset 5–15% of global emissions
  • Parks and urban forests maintain and increase biodiversity in cities
  • The diversity of tree species and presence of dead wood are the
  • key elements for diversified flora and fauna
  • There are 454 native tree species in Europe, of which over 58% are native to continental Europe, and of these 42% of the species are threatened by extinction
  • Almost a fifth (18%) of European dead wood beetle species assessed so far are at risk of extinction due to the ongoing decline in large old-growth trees across Europe
  • Spending time near trees and nature improves physical and mental health by increasing energy levels and speed of recovery, while decreasing blood pressure and stress
  • A mature leafy tree produces as much oxygen in a season as 10 people inhale in a year
  • Conifers are more efficient at capturing small particles from the air than deciduous trees
  • The strategic placement of trees in urban areas can cool the air 2–8°C, reducing the urban heat island effect

Download Sweco’s FREE Urban Insight report on Building for Biodiversity

How climate collaboration can rescue – and reimagine – our ecosystems

The planning and construction industry has a particularly important role to play in helping to protect and restore ecosystems, by ensuring that ecosystems are considered throughout the entire design and build process, end-to-end. This includes ensuring that new developments protect existing ecosystems, creating new habitats and enhancing or restoring existing habitats within their site boundaries.

Drawing on combined influence, insight and resources, urban consultants and stakeholders can:

  • Shift the focus from extracting benefits of natural world to integrating them
  • Plant trees and shrubs to provide sources of food and shelter, and sequester carbon
  • Integrate bioliphic design such as ‘living’ walls and roofs
  • Introduce ‘placemaking’ elements like water features, parks and gardens
  • Mimic ecosystems and natural processes in the urban landscape
  • Eradicate invasive species and cultivate those native to the area
  • Commit larger areas to ‘wilding’ or re-wilding
  • Explore and advance ‘Circularity’ as a default methodology in urban development
  • Prioritise traffic-calming and active travel initiatives
  • Balance green/blue infrastructure design for optimum climate resilience
  • Promote and advocate for initiatives such as the Nature Recovery Network

Sustainability at Sweco

At Sweco our ecology team works with our clients to protect and restore ecosystems through ensuring that developments minimise their effect on biodiversity. Ways in which the ecology team do this include:

  • Undertaking biodiversity net gain and environmental impact assessments to ensure developments result in a net gain for biodiversity
  • Advising on the design of schemes to ensure that sensitive and valuable habitats are retained and enhanced, that habitat connectivity in the area is retained and that new areas of habitat can be incorporated
  • Recommending and ensuring appropriate mitigation measures are put in place during site clearance and construction to minimise disturbance and effects on habitats and species
  • Producing habitat creation and management plans to detail how habitats can be created successfully and how they can be managed in the long term to result in the best outcome for nature.

Three priorities for eco-centric urban design

1. Shifting the focus from merely extracting benefits from the natural world to addressing how we can enhance our surrounding environment based on human needs for interaction with nature.

2. Incorporating local and native biodiversity as natural elements that promote well-being to include trees, shrubs and other vegetation, water features, parks and gardens. Vegetation provides nesting and resting places for animals, buffers noise, offers shade, reduces the effect of heat islands, traps particulates and other airborne pollutants, captures carbon dioxide and mitigates global warming. In addition, parks and other natural areas filter groundwater and reduce stormwater runoff and therefore support public safety.

3. Mimicking natural processes and favouring species that are native to a biogeographical area. This can create more diverse habitats for animal and plant species and create places for recreation. Most cities also have local nature conservation associations where citizens can do voluntary work to preserve an area’s natural values.

Read our 5 seeds for green living blog

Featured Sweco Eco-projects

Pinebanks and Griffin Lane – residential developments adjacent to sensitive habitats and wildlife sites including wetlands and ancient woodland. Sweco worked with the design team and the local Wildlife Trust to ensure that sensitive and valuable habitats were retained and enhanced through the addition of appropriate habitat creation adjacent to these areas, that management measures were put in place to improve the condition of these retained habitats and that effects due to the housing were reduced through creation of green spaces including dog waking routes and excluding access to the most sensitive areas.

Highways Improvement Schemes – Sweco has successfully used the UK’s biodiversity net gain toolkit on National Highways projects in England, providing the contractors with valuable information on habitats of significant or high ecological value, so that designs, access, storage etc can be adjusted to minimise the scheme’s impact on biodiversity, and ensure that the client meets their contractual obligations for biodiversity.

International net gain assessments – Sweco has been consulting internationally with businesses to support biodiversity net gain as a driver for more sustainable development within the international market. The primary purpose of applying biodiversity net gain is to drive forward its principles, such as following the hierarchy of mitigation, replacing habitats on a like for like basis, and avoiding unacceptable losses to biodiversity through the removal of ancient or irreplaceable habitats. When employed early within a scheme’s design, the most valuable habitats can be highlighted and avoided within design, thereby reducing overall biodiversity loss through design change and minimal expense.


How to protect and enhance biodiversity

What can we, both as individuals and collectively as planners, designers and engineers, do to assist in protecting and enhancing Earth’s biodiversity? Here, our ecology consultancy team looks at just some of the ways we can make a difference.

1. Change our biodiversity behaviours

About 40% of greenhouse gases come from agriculture, deforestation and other land-use changes.

As individuals, we are all capable of changing our behaviours to influence demand for different land uses. For example, if we all simply reduce (note I didn’t say remove) our consumption of meat, then collectively we can have a large impact on the rate of climate change. Meat production drives climate change in two key ways: firstly, through cows’ emission of methane (a major greenhouse gas); and secondly, as a result of the deforestation to create grazing land. By eating less meat, we can decrease demand and in doing so reduce both methane production and deforestation.

According to one recent study, if every person in the U.S. alone cut their meat consumption by 25%, it would reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 1%. As well as helping to protect the rainforest, a range of other beneficial effects would be achieved, such as reducing water and fertilizer use, improving biodiversity and safeguarding rights of indigenous peoples.

In our work at Sweco, we can also influence project design to deliver better outcomes for biodiversity. This might be through influencing site selection to avoid development of sites with higher biodiversity value, or with strategic value for the preservation of important wildlife corridors. We can also influence our clients about which important habitats to retain as part of development proposals, thereby reducing the impact of the development on more biodiverse habitats, and work with them to ensure that these habitats remain connected to similar habitats in the wider landscape, again maintaining connectivity and enabling gene flow between populations of the same species. These activities are not only important, but are of high value to our clients, as they allow them to demonstrate that they are building schemes that work alongside nature.

As architects and engineers, Sweco are in a prime position to influence the effects of urban encroachment on biodiverse habitats, through looking at ways to reduce the footprint of residential development and devise novel ways to deliver these sustainably. Furthermore, our ecologists and landscape architect colleagues are working with clients to put back more biodiversity on development sites than was there to begin with. This biodiversity-positive approach to development has never been more important, as we deal with the stresses of population growth.

2. Halt the overexploitation of natural resources

Again, as individuals we can make choices that at a national and international scale can directly improve the situation for global biodiversity. In terms of overexploitation of fisheries, we can choose to reduce our consumption of fish and seafood, or at the very least choose to eat only those species that have been shown to be truly sustainable. In terms of overexploitation of species for the pet trade, we can choose to purchase only captive bred individuals, with the correct paperwork in place where required.

As a business, Sweco has little involvement in activities that would directly lead to a reduction in the effects of overexploitation. However, our work in assessing the impacts of development on protected terrestrial and marine areas serves to safeguard these areas for wildlife that might otherwise experience overexploitation. Our involvement in promoting the use of sustainable materials and reducing the carbon footprint of developments also indirectly reduces the impact on habitats that species which experience overexploitation rely.

3. Take positive climate action

Traffic, construction and the chemical and plastics industry have been described as ‘the holy trinity of traditionally fossil-based sectors’ and removing or at least dramatically reducing our reliance on these fossil fuels can seem like an impossible task. The good news is that innovations in the way we design buildings and cities, the choices we make about our use of materials in construction and fabrication, investment in renewable energy, and new discoveries in biotechnology, are providing us with ways to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

As consumers, we have a moral duty to educate ourselves, so that we can make purchasing decisions that will greatly reduce and perhaps one day remove the need for fossil fuels. This includes supporting the use of new non-plastic materials to make products, sharing those items that currently require a lot of plastic with our neighbours to reduce the demand for such products and using greener modes of transport where possible.

Sweco is assisting in mitigation our effect on climate change across a range of disciplines: our colleagues in marketing raise awareness of the issues through social media posts and thought leadership; our engineering, architecture and ESG colleagues advise clients on the use of sustainable materials and processes, and other means of reducing their carbon footprint; our ecologists and landscape architects help clients to retain and/or enhance biodiversity on site where possible, and where this is not possible, help them to deliver biodiversity off-site. As a business, Sweco is also leading the way, reducing our waste and embracing sustainable practices.

4. Minimise pollution and design nature-based solutions

As with the preceding section, the choices we make as consumers ultimately affect how products are made and how food is grown, which in turns affects the degree of pollution associated with those activities. A classic example is choosing to buy organic produce which, removes the use of chemicals and thus pollution associated with those chemicals.

Sweco consultants assess the pollution impacts of our clients’ projects on a daily basis, with air quality, transport planning, water services and ecology colleagues working together to produce the calculations, models and habitat/species survey data required to understand whether or not significant effects will be felt at important sites protected for their conservation value. In addition, Sweco engineers and consultants are involved in designing ‘nature-based solutions’ to remove pollution produced by our clients’ developments. In the UK this type of work is becoming increasingly important as more and more local authorities are insisting that only developments than can demonstrate nutrient neutrality will be permitted.

5. Control or eradicate invasive species

Sweco ecologists assist our clients in identifying invasive species on their sites, mapping the extent of those species and providing specialist input as to how these species can be either controlled on site, or eradicated.

From the above it is clear that we have a responsibility both as individuals and as Sweco employees to protect and enhance biodiversity, whether it is through our choices or our actions. The good news is that if we make the right choices and act in the right way we can actively play a part in reducing the impact of what is effectively the biggest threat to life on Earth.

Sweco’s ecology consultants and biodiversity experts can manage all ecological aspects of a project – identifying pragmatic nature-based solutions to help protect and enhance biodiversity and the wider natural environment. If you need support with any aspect of biodiversity protection, conservation or enhancement please contact us below.