Research and innovation showcase

George Cole from Eunomia introduces research into the wider benefits of sustainable drainage

Building Prosperous Cities was a high-profile conference to consider the role of green infrastructure and natural capital in the success of UK cities. The Research and Innovation Showcase within the conference highlighted a selection of projects that are providing evidence and insight related to the conference theme. The session was facilitated by Dr John Box, Technical Director in Environment & Urban Design Practice at Atkins.

Summary list of projects featuring in the Research and Innovation Showcase (details below)

  • Green Screens Trial - Bristol Street Birmingham Chris Rance (Atkins Global)
  • Tools for planning and evaluating green infrastructure - Bicester and beyond - Dr. Alison Smith (Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford)
  • How can designed urban meadows help to enhance public well-being and urban biodiversity? - Helen Hoyle (University of Sheffield)
  • Birmingham's Multiple Challenge Map - Nick Grayson (Birmingham City Council)
  • My Backyard – citizen science project - Claire Smith (University of Leicester)
  • Realising the Wider Benefits of Sustainable Drainage - George Cole / Chris Sherrington (Eunomia Ltd.)
  • Getting the BeST from SuDS - Bruce Horton (MWH Global)
  • PROSuDs - Providing Real-world Opportunities for Sustainable Drainage Systems - Roshni Jose (University of Portsmouth)
  • Urban forest management, governance and funding - Helen Davies (University of Southampton)
  • Quantifying the role of natural infrastructure in providing hydrological ecosystem services to Thames Basin, and how that may change under future climate - Kelly Gunnell (King's College London)
  • Carbon Capture Gardens: Engineering urban soils for carbon capture, biodiversity and other ecosystem services - Mark Goddard (University of Newcastle)
  • SNH Green Infrastructure Fund - Fiona Strachan (Scottish Natural Heritage)
  • Tree Selection for Green Infrastructure - Andrew Hirons (Myerscough College)
  • Along the continuum of urban greening: The nature and role of integrated green grey infrastructure - Dr. Larissa Naylor (University of Glasgow)

Project summaries with links to posters presented



Realising the Wider Benefits of Sustainable Drainage

George Cole, Eunomia Ltd.

Commissioned by UK Water Industry Research Ltd (UKWIR) Eunomia completed a report that:

  1. Identified and quantified to the extent possible the wider benefits of Sustainable Drainage Schemes (SuDS), including temperature regulation, air quality, biodiversity, pollination, and mental and physical health, and to whom those benefits accrue.
  2. Identified innovative approaches to delivery including the appropriate use of financial mechanisms to implement and maintain SuDS features in the most cost effective manner.

The lessons learnt are more broadly applicable to other green infrastructure features. At a time of increasing strain on public sector budgets there is a strong need to secure both external funding and to ensure funding delivers the greatest possible provision of the relevant eco-system services.

This collaborative project engaged with stakeholders to inform the final recommendations which included how evidence should be presented to investment partners, local residents and third parties. While the initial driver for water and sewerage companies relates to surface water management, the hope is that this report, and the associated guidance will increase the extent to which partnership working on SuDS becomes the norm.

Urban forest management, governance and funding

Helen Davies, University of Southampton

The aim of this project is to propose a new approach to urban forest management, governance and funding in Britain that will enhance the provision of urban forest-based regulating ecosystem services and facilitate climate change adaptation in British cities. Working with Forest Research, the first objective sought to identify the key urban forest parameters that influence supply of ecosystem services and disservices, and critically assess trade-offs and synergies between the supply of these different services. Through interviews with tree officers, the second objective sought to establish and critique the extent to which British local authorities manage their urban forests for regulating ecosystem services, and the drivers for and constraints to taking such an approach. Supported by the council, the next stage of the work will analyse the willingness-to-pay of businesses and citizens in Southampton for urban forest-based ecosystem services (via interviews and choice modelling). The final objective is to facilitate discussion between decision makers (local authority and government agency staff) and those able to pay for urban forest-based ecosystem services (businesses and citizens), in order to identify innovative funding mechanisms and public-private partnerships that can be trialled in British cities to enhance provision of urban forest-based regulating ecosystem services.

Carbon Capture Gardens: Engineering urban soils for carbon capture, biodiversity and other ecosystem services

Mark Goddard, University of Newcastle

Article 4 of the COP21 Paris Agreement suggests we must embrace nature-based solutions to sequester existing atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2).  Recent research shows that urban brownfield soils could make an effective contribution whereby calcium arising from demolition (e.g. concrete dust and lime) reacts with atmospheric CO2 as dissolved carbonate to precipitate calcium carbonate (calcite). This process of “carbonation” can be very rapid, as demonstrated by the rate of 85t CO2 ha-1yr-1 measured at a site in Newcastle upon Tyne. The SUCCESS project combines experimental and field-based research to explore this novel way to sequester CO2 by designing a carbon capture function into urban landscapes, including urban brownfield soils, soils in green space around transport infrastructure, or in remediation of contaminated land. Carbon capture could then be one of a number of ecosystem services included in multifunctional urban design and we are proposing ‘Carbon Capture Gardens’ to deliver carbonation as part of a suite of other benefits including biodiversity conservation, flood regulation and cultural services.  Through our research and demonstration activities we aim to inform artificial soil design, plant selection and vegetation management for optimising carbon capture and the delivery of other ecosystem services, supporting the development of multifunctional green infrastructure.

Birmingham's Multiple Challenge Map

Nick Grayson, joint venture between Birmingham City Council and The University of Birmingham

The poster explains how the city of Birmingham undertook a citywide ecosystem services assessment of the city's natural environment, utilising the same scientific methodology from the UKNEA. This provided a new perspective of the city, but also revealed yet more potential. There were six of the ecosystem services, out of the ten, that were very strongly expressed across the city, and could be mapped each at a time, on the basis of their supply, from the city's natural environment- to the city's population- representing the demand. So for these six services, Biodiversity, Local Climate, Flood Risk, Education, Aesthetic & mobility and recreation, supply and demand maps were created in GIS. These were then all brought together, to form a single Multiple Challenge Map for Birmingham. In one image it captures the multiple dependencies the city's population has upon its natural environment and critically displays- just how well different areas of the city- are being served by that natural environment. This is essential baseline to all future development decision-making. The Birmingham Development Plan, 2031, predicts an increase to the city population of 150,000 over the next 20 years. The challenge is to achieve the growth and an improved natural environment; not growth at the expense of the natural environment.

Quantifying the role of natural infrastructure in providing hydrological ecosystem services to Thames Basin, and how that may change under future climate

Kelly Gunnell, King's College London

This project is using novel methods to measure the water storage capacity of natural infrastructure and associated flood protection services provided to urban watersheds, using the freely available WaterWorld Policy Support System. The project takes an ecosystem services approach to map the role of upstream ‘natural’ green infrastructure in flood risk mitigation to cities around the world. We will present results from the Thames Basin with a focus on the city of London. Our approach highlights areas where the maintenance or installation of natural green infrastructure (such as canopy cover, wetlands and soil) could aid in storing excess water and thus alleviate flood risks in the Basin. We also show how flood risk might change  under different scenarios of climate. Such information is needed by urban planners, city authorities and governments for climate change adaptation planning. We are developing a stakeholder group and training programme and would appreciate feedback on our approach, results and opportunities for application.

Tree Selection for Green Infrastructure

Andrew Hirons, Myerscough College

Trees provide one of the most important structural components of green infrastructure (GI) and they are capable of delivering a wide range of ecosystem services to communities in built environments. These include, cooling of buildings and public spaces, mitigation of flooding, increasing property value and improving psychological wellbeing. However, if trees within green infrastructure are to provide these services, they must be capable of thriving on the site, not simply surviving. A fundamental decision when designing new urban landscapes is, therefore, tree species selection. The NERC funded Tree Selection for Green Infrastructure project aims to provide clear guidance to GI professionals looking to select trees for their projects. The poster would present some key findings from a survey as well as a framework for successful tree selection including examples of how analysis of drought tolerance traits can better inform tree selection for urban environments.

The resilience of many green spaces to a changing climate will be dependent on the decisions made today. This project brings together expertise from Lancaster University, Myerscough College, Trees and Design Action Group and others to develop and deliver guidance and knowledge exchange events to better inform GI professionals on tree selection.

Getting the BeST from SuDS

Bruce Horton, MWH Global

It is widely recognised that sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) can provide a much larger range of benefits compared to conventional drainage, including water quality improvements, reduced peak flows, amenity, biodiversity, recreational, health, air quality and carbon benefits. These benefits are real, but quantifying and monetising them is a challenge. BeST is a new, free suite of resources to aid evaluation of retrofit and new-build SuDS, enabling users to place a monetised value on different benefits. It provides a structured ecosystem services-based approach, beginning with a screening and qualitative assessment, followed by quantification and valuation. This presentation provides an overview of BeST, and how it can be used to support business cases and decisions, illustrated using recently completed case studies from across the UK. BeST has been developed collaboratively, involving and funded by a range of partners, including the Environment Agency, CIRIA and water companies.

Find out more about BeST via the Ecosystems Knowledge Network’s Tool Assessor service.

How can designed urban meadows help to enhance public well-being and urban biodiversity?

Helen Hoyle, University of Sheffield

Urban green infrastructure has the potential to provide aesthetic benefits and habitats for urban wildlife, yet in the UK approximately two-thirds of urban GI is managed as closely mown amenity grass used primarily for recreation.

To test the effect of deliberately manipulating the biodiversity levels of specific urban greenspaces managed as close mown grass, experimental perennial meadows were successfully established at a range of sites in Bedford and Luton, UK, between 2013 and 2015. This was a practical initiative co- produced on the ground in real-world urban spaces with Luton Parks Service and Bedford Borough Council, our two stakeholder local authority partners. With the exception of one urban park these were all incidental green spaces adjacent to where people lived and worked. Following meadow establishment questionnaire surveys were conducted with local residents and site users to assess the aesthetic and well-being effects of these changes, (2013-2015). Findings indicated that many people preferred designed meadows to standard mown amenity grass, and the most popular meadows were those with a large number of flower species. Meadows support many more invertebrates than do areas of mown grass throughout the year, not just when in flower. Practical advice is offered for meadow establishment.

PROSuDs - Providing Real-world Opportunities for Sustainable Drainage Systems

Roshni Jose, University of Portsmouth

The University of Portsmouth has been awarded a NERC Green Infrastructure Innovation Grant to work with RICS and other partners to establish a standardised Toolkit of valuation techniques and guidance that can be used by property professionals to evaluate Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), particularly in housing developments. As multi-functional Green Infrastructure, SuDS provide effective drainage for developments combined with a wide range of environmental and societal benefits. There have been many calls for the wider use of SuDS, however only about 40% of new developments in England include SuDS.  This is in part due to uncertainties in costing, adoption and valuation, compared to conventional piped drainage systems. Our evidence-based tool kit will help address this situation and promote the uptake of high quality SuDS designs that can best deliver multiple benefits.

Along the continuum of urban greening: The nature and role of integrated green grey infrastructure

Dr. Larissa Naylor, University of Glasgow

Urban green infrastructure (GI) includes a range of green and blue spaces that enhance ecosystem service provision in cities. GI definitions often exclude greening of non-building assets (e.g. pavements, walls, piers and bridges) that need to remain primarily grey. This poster introduces the concept of ‘Integrated Green Grey Infrastructure’ (IGGI) to cover greening of ‘primarily grey’ assets that must retain their essential grey function. It also illustrates the important position IGGI occupies in the ‘continuum of greening’ from grey to GI, showcasing how a much larger range of grey infrastructure assets on non- buildings (as well as more conventional greening of buildings) can lead to improved greening in the most urbanized areas of cities, helping to address spatial variations in GI intensity across urban landscapes (as IGGI can green the greyest areas of our cities which are typically overlooked by most GI policy) and help address the challenge of including green space in rapidly urbanizing, compact cities.

A systematic review of 35 GI policy documents found no mention of IGGI, and a survey of 53 practitioners showed that while 64% were interested in applying IGGI, 58% felt that policy and 24% felt that guidelines were needed before implementation could occur. Drawing on recent empirical research, this we present further evidence on the potential multifunctional benefits of a wide range of IGGI approaches (including soft capping free-standing walls, and engineering seawalls to improve habitat provision) for hard, non-building assets.

Green Screens Trial - Bristol Street Birmingham

Chris Rance, Atkins Global

The Atkins initiated trial installation on Bristol Street, Birmingham is testing out the simple but novel idea of fitting green vegetated screens to existing highway guardrailing, which acts as a ready-made support structure. Pedestrian guardrailing is commonly found along urban highways including many town and city centre locations throughout the UK. The idea of trialling the green screens fits well with a streets initiative of the Southside Business Improvement District (BID); the board of the Southside BID has been very supportive of the idea, and the BID with the support of local businesses funded the trial. After installation, researchers at Staffordshire University monitored the amount of particulate matter intercepted by the green screens. The results demonstrated that the screens are capturing particulates from the air and improving local air quality. In fact the researchers found that the quantity of particulate interception by the green screens may be of the order of 145 million particles per square metre a day, with each leaf removing perhaps three- quarters of a million particles per day. The visual improvement to the location is also very obvious, and this piece of new green infrastructure fits well with ongoing regeneration of business activity along this busy street.

Tools for planning and evaluating green infrastructure - Bicester and beyond

Dr. Alison Smith, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

Bicester will double in size over the next 20 years. The rapid pace of development threatens existing green space but also creates an opportunity to plan new, high quality green and blue infrastructure that provides connected networks for wildlife and people, with links to the wider countryside. However, council planners lack suitable tools to design and assess green infrastructure options. Many tools exist, but few are freely accessible, robust, easy to use, capable of assessing a wide range of ecosystem services, suitable at the urban scale and valid in the UK context. We are therefore working with a wide group of stakeholders to trial different methods of mapping and evaluating green infrastructure, including GIS approaches, iTree-Eco, connectivity tools, spreadsheet valuation tools and participatory mapping. The aim is to develop a toolkit of existing or modified methods, together with guidance to enable local authority planners and other end-users to select the tools most appropriate for their needs. We are using Bicester as a case study, but the results will be useful to other local authorities. This poster will present some preliminary results, including GIS maps of ecosystem services based on expert scoring of habitat types.

My Backyard – citizen science project

Claire Smith, University of Leicester

This citizen science project aims to improve our understanding of domestic gardens in Manchester and the benefits that they provide us. Through the development and deployment of the innovative ‘My Backyard’ citizen science tool we are capturing the quantity of green space, including trees, shrubs and grass, which exists in gardens in Manchester. The information provided in the My Back Yard survey will be combined with analysis from satellite images and scientific models to quantify and map regulating ecosystem services (cooling potential, runoff attenuation, particulate reduction) provided by gardens across Manchester. This information will be used to develop recommendations that will aid planning and investment decisions relating to green infrastructure solutions within and beyond domestic gardens, and to strengthen the functionality of ecosystems in areas that need green infrastructure.

SNH Green Infrastructure Fund

Fiona Strachan, Scottish Natural Heritage

The Green Infrastructure Fund which aims to bring transformative change to Scotland’s most deprived urban areas through the creation and improvement of multifunctional green infrastructure. The Fund is managed by Scottish Natural Heritage and will distribute £15 million of European Regional Development Funds between now and 2020. This is a unique opportunity to create green infrastructure at this scale across urban Scotland and provides an exciting chance to deliver tangible benefits to areas where there is identified need. We’re looking for projects which take an ecosystem approach, involving communities right from the start, throughout delivery and into the future. We will fund innovative projects which deliver multifunctional, integrated green infrastructure and contribute to our outcomes:

  • improve nature, biodiversity and ecosystems;
  • address environmental quality, flooding and climate change;
  • involve communities and increase participation;
  • increase place attractiveness and competitiveness; and
  • improve health and wellbeing.

The Green Infrastructure Fund has the potential to make a real difference to people’s lives, as well as to the areas in which they live.

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