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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 July, 2003, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
Green roof solution to lost habitats
Canary Wharf: credit Mathew Frith/English Nature
Canary Wharf has one of the existing English green roofs
A solution to the problem of lost urban wildlife habitats could be found right above our heads, according to English Nature.

It wants developers and homeowners to turn roofs into meadows, to provide an environmentally friendly alternative to "drab" asphalt or traditional tiles.

It says the idea could help replace many of the habitats lost in the push to regenerate derelict land in Britain's towns and cities.

Early "green roof" projects have already seen rare species of insect normally found well away from the city turn up in central London, the UK Government's conservation body said.

The roofs are constructed with a waterproof layer and barrier to stop water and invasive roots, then topped with materials like brick dust and soil to encourage plants to take seed.

'Quite traditional'

English Nature said green roofs were already popular in many European countries, particularly as a way of soaking up water in flood prone areas.

Green roof in Deptford: credit Dusty Gedge
The green roofs replace existing structures and are then planted
In Britain they are still few and far between, but some have started to sprout at locations including Canary Wharf, the Horniman Museum in south-east London and a Devon zoo.

English Nature spokesman Pete Massini told BBC News Online: "The reason they're not widely used in this country is that perhaps we're quite traditional and conservative with a small 'c' in terms of our notion of what a roof should be."

But he said there were many benefits for those willing to make the change.

"They can cool down cities in summer, filter dust out of the air and regulate the temperature of buildings," he said.

"One of the other reasons that we're suggesting this is for aesthetic quality.

"With the need for denser and more high-rise developments more and more people are going to be living in tall buildings and at the moment they will be looking out at quite drab views."

Lower costs?

Developers had the best opportunities for creating green roofs because they could feature in the original plans for little more than the cost of a standard roof, Mr Massini said.

Bedzed roof: credit Gyongyver Kadas
The idea is popular in Belgium and other European countries
But he expects the current cost of 15 to 30 a square metre to convert existing roofs to drop as they become more popular.

Homeowners could cheaply convert garage, shed and extension roofs, he said - as long as they took advice on the weight bearing properties of the structure.

"We should be seeing them everywhere - they are very valuable," Mr Massini said.

Bugs and beetles

Exactly what species of plants and animals turn up on roofs depends on what they are made of and the local area.

He said: "Some very rare bugs and beetles have been found so far.

"They are species which are normally found on sand dunes and shingle beaches, but are now turning up in urban areas."

In other areas, species of bumble bees, whose numbers have declined, have been attracted by the abundance of plants.

The BBC's Robert Nisbet
"English Nature says we should be turning our grey roofs into green havens"

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