Concrete Compass: Biodiversity
The UK concrete industry makes a significant contribution to biodiversity and the natural environment.
Quarrying or mineral extraction is a temporary land use, once extraction has finished the land can be restored to a range of end uses. Some, such as restoration to nature can deliver multiple benefits including landscape and nature, recreation, and a range of wider ‘ecosystem services’ such as water storage and flood management, landscape enhancement, and carbon sequestration.
Concrete can also be used to support regenerative design and nature-based solutions in development projects. New products are evolving to provide conditions suitable as a natural habitat on or in the concrete itself. This Compass aims to help navigate towards the range of related resources and guidance.
Local, responsibly-sourced materials
The UK has an established local supply chain for the constituents of concrete. Over 95% of UK concrete is produced in the UK.
Extraction of materials, and the manufacture of concrete and cement in the UK has well established regulation with strict environmental and procedural processes in place. This includes controls related to air quality, impacts on biodiversity and landscapes, transport, health and safety as well as permitting sites of aggregate extraction, including aggregates used in concrete.
The local nature of the UK concrete industry means that traceability and an ethical supply chain can be demonstrated. During 2020, 91% of UK Concrete produced was BES 6001 responsible sourcing accredited. Responsible sourcing certification, as well as Environmental Management through ISO 14001, and Quality Management through ISO 9001 can be found in the UK Concrete Sustainable Construction Strategy annual performance reports. More information about on responsible sourcing can be found here.
Concrete’s support of biodiversity and nature-based solutions in the built environment
For buildings and structures of all types concrete’s inherent stability, robustness and resilience to water makes it ideal to support all types of green walls, blue/green and green roofs. It is the structural material necessary to take accommodation, transport routes and other essential infrastructure below ground, necessary for freeing up space to create and connect parks and green spaces at the surface. Concrete is therefore essential for the development of green infrastructure and nature-based solutions in built up areas.
Grey Supporting Green is an article, originally included in CONCRETE magazine, which explores the important role that concrete plays in supporting green infrastructure in the UK and its strong biodiversity credentials.
According to the Green Roof Code of Best Practice for the UK, where a flat roof is to act as a roof terrace or roof garden (i.e. an intensive green roof) they should only be used in conjunction with concrete decks. In other words, concrete is essential for the creation of accessible roof gardens to provide the associated amenity, and physical access to plants and fresh air.
The benefits of green roofs and the key role of concrete in creating a biodiverse roofscape are explored in Concrete Quarterly, summer 2015 article, ‘The growth of the green roof’.
A common thread in nature-based design is the approach to water and opening up access to this natural resource and replacing hard barriers in favour of ‘softer’ edges such as beaches, or floodable green spaces.
Many existing hard coastal and flood defences are constructed using concrete, and where space constraints dictate, remain the most durable, robust and cost-effective material of choice whether cast in situ or as precast elements. There are opportunities here to use concrete that delivers both flood protection and benefits marine and coastal biodiversity. Examples of projects and research in this field include:
Bio Blocks in Plymouth Harbour: created to contain multiple habitats to offer shelter for creatures that need to keep wet when the tide is out.”
The Concrete Futures webinar ‘Bio-receptive concrete’ explores concrete’s role in supporting marine biodiversity around the world, as well as presentations by Ecostructure and their work off the coast of Ireland and Wales, and other innovators presenting their bioreceptive concrete solutions.
Mumbles sea hive project is presented in this Concrete Futures webinar ‘Embracing ecological principles in infrastructure design’ presented by the marine ecologists and concrete manufacturer collaborating on the project for the development of eco-marine mix designs in use in Wales.
Shaping better places - Creating habitat for biodiversity using concrete is the recording a live stream from the workshop of Artecology demonstrating their work to enhance the beauty and biodiversity of artificial coastal structures and river flood defences.
Innovative solutions for creating habitat using concrete include bee and bat boxes and ‘bioreceptive’ concrete.
Poikilohydric living walls are a type of bioreceptive concrete is specially designed to encourage the growth of cryptogams, poikilohydric organisms such as moss, algae and lichens, with the capacity to tolerate dehydration and therefore requiring no irrigation.
More information about these innovations and other topics related to concrete and biodiversity can be found in the ‘Remixed’ edition of Concrete Futures magazine.
UK Concrete Sustainable Construction Strategy
Biodiversity has been a key performance indicator of the Sustainable Construction Strategy since the Strategy’s initial inception in 2008, and is part of the annual progress reports here. This is aligned with the MPA Biodiversity Strategy.
For more information on the concrete industry's biodiversity achievements and targets in the first 10 years of the strategy, see This is Concrete: Ten Years, Ten Insights.
The refreshed strategy, will include a renewed focus on the natural environment, with commitments to develop solutions for a regenerative built environment, incorporating natural capital in decision making and deliver wider ecosystem benefits.
Quarries and nature
Biodiversity provided through quarry management and restoration is significant, with around 90km2 of priority habitat already delivered, with plans for delivery of around a further 110km2 priority habitat in place. More information on the MPA’s National Nature Park can be found here.
The MPA Biodiversity Strategy includes biodiversity objectives to protect and enhance biodiversity and deliver net gain wherever possible. It also seeks to increase the area of priority habitats through quarry restoration, with a target for 100% of extractive sites to have a Biodiversity Action Plan in place by 2025. MPA also work in collaboration with stakeholders such as the planning authorities, RSPB and Nature after Minerals (NAM), wildlife trusts, and Natural England.
The MPA Quarries and Nature Awards celebrate and showcase the best examples of site management and restoration delivering landscape-scale benefits, demonstrating innovation and planning for nature recovery in the future. Many of these are included in the publication and film celebrating 50 years of this work.
From next year in England, all new developments including quarries will be legally required to demonstrate that a minimum of 10% biodiversity gain has been delivered – so more biodiversity after the development than before. While the approach has been developed primarily for housing and commercial built development, the minerals industry is well placed to deliver this.
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