Renovations and Extensions that Don’t Cost The Earth: Doing It Sustainably

How to create you dream home whilst remaining sympathetic to your surrounding natural habitats.

When renovating or extending your home, you need to operate responsibly within the environment it sits – but realistically, unless your property is situated in a designated AONB or conservation area, such concerns may not tangibly impact on your project; or at least, not in a way you consider. The effect that house renovations have on the environment is much more than a little mud and mess when excavating into the garden. There’s certainly lots that can be done to go the ‘extra mile’ in acting responsibly around wildlife, ecosystems and natural habitats when you do embark on a property project, and not all of these activities require large investment or effort.

Regulations governing building work and wildlife

It can be easy for homeowners to dismiss wildlife concerns unless they live somewhere particularly rural but they affect more areas than many expect. In reality, any renovation or extension work that takes place outside or encroaches into outdoor space, requires the developer, architect or garden designer to ensure that there are no protected species or habitats that could be negatively affected as a result of it. The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 is one of several pieces of legislation in existence to protect bats, wild birds and other species; and these regulations must be adhered to with a site assessment completed before any work begins.

What if a site assessment does find a species or habitat requiring protection?

Should any such species or habitats be identified, specialist advice should be sought to influence how (and sometimes even if) the project can be carried out. Disruption to these species is illegal and so any approach needs to be taken with great care. The Refresh Renovations team have vast experience in these fields and can help make recommendations on the best practice methods to take in such circumstances.
Protected species aside, it must also be considered how best to protect any other existing wildlife to keep disruption to a minimum. Ideally, any outdoor space that is long-established, rich in wildlife or difficult to replace should be avoided. Mature trees, hedges and ponds are rife with wildlife and often provide good examples for areas where renovation may not be viable. Hedgerows in particular are often contentious in their presence as they provide shelter, food and places to roost for a huge variety of birds as well as navigation aids for bees and bats.
However, despite being brighter and perhaps appearing more ‘live’ as a result, lawns, vegetable patches and flowerbeds tend to be younger and have more mobile wildlife communities and so can be shifted and moved easier.

Timing your renovation/extension

For property projects taking place in rural areas, there may be better times of the year to work on your renovation than others. Although most homeowners will want their build to take place in the summer to take advantage of warmer weather when part of the home will be open to the elements, bird breeding season takes place predominantly between March and August (dependent on the breed) and so this may need to be taken into consideration. For seasonal migratory birds, no building work can be permitted to take place during their nesting season (again, dependent on the breed at hand). In the event of there being bats at the property or in the surrounding area, nesting season should also be avoided so as not to disturb the roost.
The Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (mentioned above) makes it a crime to intentionally damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it’s in use or being built, with similar legal protection for bats. Whilst the former is perhaps more obvious, any structure or place being used by bats for shelter or protection are included in these restrictions – and so may need more thorough investigation before any work begins. There are certain times of the year where these issues are more likely to be presented, but a renovations expert will be able to advise.

Rules and regulations around trees

Tree Preservation Orders often make the news when a new development or building threatens one and local conservation groups or activists get involved in the campaign to save them or to enact the legislation. These orders prohibit the cutting, uprooting or wilful damage to the relevant tree and although they usually apply in public spaces, they can also apply to trees on private land in certain circumstances. To find out if such an order applies to a tree on your property, you should contact your Local Planning Authority.
Tree Preservation Orders are also wider ranging in their restrictions than just impact on the tree directly. If work will affect the tree roots (even if the tree will be kept in-tact), or the access of nesting or roosting habitats for bats or birds within it, this too must be avoided.

Future planning regulations regarding the environment

Although there are no planning regulations yet set in stone for the future, it is expected that larger developments will soon be expected to deliver a minimum of 10% biodiversity net gain; that is, 10% more wildlife and environmental growth than there was before it was built. It seems unlikely that such a stipulation will fall to small residential extensions and renovations but it’s certainly a solid foundation to begin from for projects of any size or scope – and will only benefit the project overall in the long run.

How can I avoid affecting any wildlife or habitat?

The best areas of a garden to extend onto are those already covered by hard landscaping. There’s no real guarantee that this won’t throw up anything unexpected but it certainly gives the lowest possible chance.Get in touch with the Refresh Renovations team to discuss your options to extensions and renos – we’re always happy to do a home visit and provide advice and recommendations!

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