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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 May 2007, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
BBC Springwatch: Concrete gardens
By Nick Higham
Ealing, West London

Town house in London
A space to park your car - but nowhere for wildlife

As part of his BBC Springwatch series on changing habitats in the UK, Nick Higham considers whether wildlife can be attracted back to urban areas despite so many front gardens being turned into parking spaces.

Britain's suburban front gardens are disappearing, paved over to provide off-street parking for cars. In the process, an important, if unlikely, habitat for wildlife is vanishing too.

In London, an area equivalent to a vast car park 12 miles square has been concreted over, to the despair of environmentalists.

Responsible concreting?

Arid deserts have replaced the roses and pinks, lawns and shrubs of earlier decades. In the north-east of England almost half the front gardens are now paved.

A study in Sheffield found almost 800 different species of insects in the city's front gardens

In Ealing in West London, two-thirds are now reckoned to be wholly or mainly covered over.

Queen's Walk and Glencairn Drive are typical.

Jeff Neslen in Queen's Walk had his garden done last year after 27 years, driven to distraction by the difficulty of finding on-street parking for his two cars.

He tried to do it responsibly - his new paving is porous, so rainwater does not run off and add to the risks of flash flooding - but green organisations like Natural England and the London Wildlife Trust say that does not make up for the loss of habitat for birds, insects and other animals.

Best of both worlds

The trees and plants in the average front garden are home to a host of bugs and beasties. A study in Sheffield found almost 800 different species of insects in the city's front gardens.

Take the greenery away and all that diversity is threatened; indeed, some species which used to be common in the countryside have been driven out by intensive farming, and now survive mainly in gardens.

The green organisations say if you must park your car off the road then pave as little of your garden as possible.

The Royal Horticultural Society publishes a leaflet with suggestions for garden designs that accommodate the needs of both wildlife and cars.

New trend

But if gardens are disappearing at street level, why not build them on roofs instead?

"Green roofs" or "living roofs" on everything from garden sheds to prestige office blocks are increasingly popular with environmentalists.

Roof Garden
Could "living roofs" attract wildlife back to urban areas?

With the right planting they can mimic not just suburban front gardens but the urban wastelands which are disappearing almost as fast, under pressure from developers, but which are an equally important habitat.

And, as we found on the roof of law firm Allen & Overy's new headquarters in the City of London, wildlife really does like them.

In the space of just a few minutes, green roofs campaigner Dusty Gedge found spiders (which "balloon" to the top of high buildings by throwing out a thread and letting the wind catch it), greenfly and a snail, and spotted a blackbird.

Green roofs keep buildings insulated too, so Dusty claims everyone wins... provided someone can be persuaded to pay for the installation and the upkeep.

The BBC's Springwatch Season 2007 begins next Monday, 28 May, on BBC Two, and runs for three weeks. Bill Oddie, Kate Humble and Simon King will be reporting from across the UK on British wildlife.

Do you have a question you would like to put to Springwatch presenters Bill Oddie and Kate Humble?

BBC Springwatch: Recovering fish
21 May 07 |  Science/Nature
BBC Springwatch: A greener games
22 May 07 |  Science/Nature


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