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Written 21st September 2022

The role of Structural & Civil Engineers in the Biodiversity Crisis


We are currently undergoing a sixth mass extinction event, but unlike previous events, this one has been caused by human activity.

Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2021) - "Biodiversity". Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

Human-induced extinction rates have been increasing for centuries, at a rate too slow for humans to perceive over their lifetime. This ‘shifting baseline’ had made humans unaware of the scale of biodiversity loss. In comparison, the impacts of global heating have been caused and felt over two generations. This short-term change has fuelled the public response to the climate emergency that we see today. The biodiversity crisis is urgently in need of a similar response.

Creating the Future in British Columbia: Recognize and Address the “Shifting Baseline”, 2022

It is often forgotten that modern-day society is intrinsically linked with biodiversity, from the growth of food to the development of medicine. The global response to the climate emergency is an opportunity to make biodiversity a focal point of regenerative change, one that will lead to a more resilient and healthier world.


Biodiversity provides four main types of benefits to humans: nutritional, cultural, health, and climate-related, Landscape News, 2020

Within the built environment there have been several changes in legislation that will help projects become more regenerative. The 2021 Environmental Act, which requires all projects to achieve a net 10% biodiversity gain. Whilst this will be calculated and driven by the ecologist on the project, it will empower the whole design team to drive regenerative design decisions. Local authorities have also introduced separate policy requirements, such as the Greater London Authority urban greening factor, to tackle wider environmental issues, with an emphasis on biodiversity.

The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park has showcased how green urban spaces provide benefits to the local community, visitors, and biodiversity, whilst acting as the keystone to wider regeneration in the area. This has inspired other projects such as the Mayfield development in Manchester, where the ecology consultant on the project has played a key role in helping prioritise biodiversity in the public realm space. Canary Wharf Group, one of the first major developers to have a biodiversity action plan, have recently partnered with the Eden Project, to regenerate their public realm, enhance biodiversity and generate better social value. As more high-profile projects showcase the value of an increased attention on green space and biodiversity, this will push other developers to expand their ambition.

 An artist's impression of new biodiversity-boosting features at Canary Wharf, Canary Wharf Group,2022 

Adaptable green space is often in short supply on our urban projects, so our expertise in designing blue and green roofs is invaluable, as they require no additional green space, can be retrofitted to existing structures and provide many benefits. On our Old Kent Road residential project we discussed biodiversity with the design team at an early stage and green roofs were incorporated in to the design. Whilst it’s great to design sustainable solutions under the tight restrictions of urban developments, other projects, such as a life science research park near Cambridge allow us to explore a broader range of biodiverse SuDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) proposals. Engaging with the Landscape Architect and Arboriculturist, we have focused on preserving the existing biodiversity and enhancing the green corridors and habitats that are so valuable to the indigenous plants and fauna.

Old Kent Road Residential Project, HTS, 2022

We recently held a lunchtime workshop to discuss our role as engineers within the biodiversity crisis and identify opportunities through our design solutions that can address these issues. A focal point of the discussion was how better to utilise our early involvement on projects to encourage the appointment of an ecologist and the discussion of biodiversity from the outset. Resource extraction has a direct impact on biodiversity due to land use change and pollution. This highlights the importance of increasing our work within the circular economy to help reduce virgin material demand. It also highlights the significance of responsibly sourcing the virgin materials that we specify. The IStructE has a great article, ‘Addressing the biodiversity emergency: what role can structural engineers play?’, which highlights actions that engineers can take to ensure this.

Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2021) - "Biodiversity". Published online at Retrieved from: '' [Online Resource]

Changes in land use have been a major driver in the biodiversity crisis, but this doesn’t alleviate our responsibility, or that of other built environment professionals, to have a positive impact wherever possible. In an urbanising world, it is essential to provide and protect green spaces that allow people to engage with biodiversity and all the multitude of benefits that brings.

A piece co-authored by Alex O'Hare, Jack Scarr, Laura Batty and Will Rayment.