Sunday 25 March 2012

Ten Reasons to Save Brownfield Sites

What is a Brownfield Site? - A brownfield site is any land, which has previously been used for any purpose (e.g. industrial or quarrying) and is no longer in use for that purpose.

We are losing them and we should value them more.

his article is just one pebble in encouraging people to value them more for Nature Conservation. It was written the day after after the Yorkshire Naturalists Union Day Conference on Brownfield Sites held at York on 24 March 2012, attended by naturalists from all over Yorkshire


  • The biodiversity and nature conservation value of a brownfield sites may be high. 
  • The public mostly has not appreciated this and we are in danger of losing a valuable resource 
  • Each site needs to be considered on a case by case basis. 
  • Greenfield sites in comparison often have very low natural history and wild life interest - a green field of ryegrass or a lawn, or an arable crop, have very low biodiversity value. 
  • We have a large heritage of brownfield sites which are rapidly disappearing - We should value them and save and manage the best, and be aware of the value and potential of new ones that arise.
See the peacock butterfly sunning
itself on the tufa by the stream
Red orange-peel fungus

(Whilst writing this on 25 March I just nipped out to my neighbouring brownfield site - the Hoffman Kiln and former council waste disposal dump - on this day with mid summer temperatures -

1. What evidence is there they are good for wildlife?
e.g. 12-15% of rare and scarce invertebrates live on brownfield sites - there is great biodiversity per square foot - on a par with ancient woodland

2. Why are they so good for wildlife? (i.e. why do they have so many different plants , mammal, birds, bees, butterflies and other invertebrates?) 

  • complex habitats 
  • nutrient poor, 
  • stressed 
  • disturbed 
  • bare ground give a hot microclimate which insects like 
  • The variety of flowers gives a variety of nectar source for insects 
  • There is spatial variety - different types of substrate 
  • There is temporal variety - different successional stages

3. They mimic habitat associated with many rare species. They mimic grassland, heathland and coastal scrub which are now rare habitats.

4. They mimic successional stages - they ARE successional stages. As the ice retreated 12,000 years ago from UK it would leave bare rock and cliffs and lakes that would silt up - rather like quarries. Special plants and animals would colonise these. Some of these habitats are recreated in quarries and even the concrete of old aerodromes..

5. Why are they under threat?
  • Brownfield sites are undervalued by the public and even by environmental consultants 
  • To keep the vegetation and communities "as it is" - could need a lot of management. 
  • But we can value them as they are whilst they exist in that stage 
  • We can look to find other brownfield sites as quarries and factories are decommissioned - but much of our factory and quarry land was made during the industrial revolution, and already much of the industries and quarries have stopped. The reservoir of future "brownfield land is much less now. 
  • We can lose them by building on them - Brown field sites are built on in preference to greenfield sites 
  • We can lose them by "reclaiming them" - as has happened on many former colliery heaps. The parkland or agricultural land produced is often not at all interesting from a biodiversity standpoint. 
  • Often "reclaiming" involves planting wildflower seed with seeds that are not of native stock - they come form Europe. Or planting with trees that are not suitable for the special soil type. Bare ground is good for insects - but this is lost when the place is covered with thick rich topsoil.
6. Why do the UK nature conservation planning laws not save them?

Is there not a safety net to protect good sites?

Our safety net is:-

  • SSSIs - Sites of Special scientific Interest 
  • Local Wildlife Sites 
  • The planning system should protect most important sites from development 
But new brownfield sites are not given SSSI status. There is just one example of a brownfield site that is an SSSI. (Having said that many SSSIs are "old brownfield sites" such e.g. old quarries - e.g. Quarry Moor at Ripon.) . In planning decisions, greenfield land is protected in preference to brownfield land. Land that has planning permision to be built on has higher monetary value than land that cannot be built on.

Who knows how the laws will be changed next week.

7. Brownfield sites often have historical interest

8. Many current Sites of Special Scientific Interest were once former Brownfield sites.

9. Going to extremes, one could consider all of Britain a complex of former brownfield sites. Simon Warick pointed out, The mesolithic henge at Nosterfield was an early example of a brownfield site.. (he said this after describing the amazing natural wildlife developments at the Nature reserve at Nosterfield in a former gravel quarry)

10. How can we raise awareness?
How can we encourage people to stick up for the biodiversity and wildlife potential of brownfield sites - against the perception that it would be better if it were all planted with ryegrass, or else built on?

The talks from this conference will be put on the YNU web site

Buglife Website is going to have a section on advice about Brownfield Sites

Thanks to all the speakers and organisers and especially to Sarah Henshall, Conservation Officer of Buglife, from whose talk I collected many of the above points.

Phil Wheater led a discussion on Local Nature Partnerships. These are supposed to benefit Nature, People and the Local Economy. There are about 50 of these. They have received some money to meet. but not to do anything. They are committees made up of Health people, Nature people and Business people.


1. I've made this webpage.

2. And at Coffee after Church this morning I raised it in conversation..

WM replied The Dales Hay meadow round here used to be full of colour 50 years ago- they are just green now.

H replied to me "Well brownfield sites should be filled in shouldn't they. They are toxic. I pointed out that the Hoffman Kiln, a local reserve was a brownfield site, she looked surprised. Then we jointly laughed at my efforts to try and publicise the plight of brownfield sites.

Here are some pictures from Saturday's YNU  Conference

YNU Conference on Brownfield Sites
 - Coffee Break
Discussion at YNU Conference
on Brownfield Sites

The Speakers answer questions.
Outside the Natural Centre -
JA holding a
Field Studies Council Program

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