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J Environ Manage. 2002 May;65(1):95-108.

Conserving biodiversity that matters: practitioners' perspectives on brownfield development and urban nature conservation in London.

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Environment and Society Research Unit, Department of Geography, University College London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1H OAP, UK.


Policies designed to conserve sites of nature conservation importance are an important aspect of city planning in the UK. London has led the way in putting in place a spatial hierarchy of sites of nature conservation importance designed to protect wildlife habitats from development. Some wasteland habitats associated with derelict and vacant land receive protection in this way but development pressure on these so-called 'brownfield sites' is high and is likely to continue. This paper examines how conservation professionals in the private, public and voluntary sectors are responding to the threats of biodiversity loss and opportunities for habitat creation posed by re-development of brownfield sites. The study draws on in-depth interviews conducted with conservation professionals and the practices employed by ecological advisers employed by developers seeking to re-develop wasteland sites. It finds that practitioners are negotiating their role in the re-development process in different ways. Key issues relate to the role of ecological science in codifying wasteland habitats, uncertainties about how best to evaluate the conservation importance of such sites and the strategies and tactics employed by different practitioners as they seek to mobilise a range of knowledges and practices to secure ecologically sensitive proposals. Scientific knowledge about wasteland habitats has not stabilised in ways that can consistently inform conservation policy and practice. As a result biodiversity issues of wasteland sites are often discounted in the re-development process. Investment in studies of the basic ecology of urban wastelands could provide a firmer scientific foundation on which conservation policies could build. At the same time, many conservation professionals involved in urban re-development are struggling to promote a pro-active approach to secure environmentally sensitive development. The knowledge and co-operation networks being mobilised to support this approach are fluid and unstable, and favourable development outcomes as yet are few. Formalising these networks to achieve more effective engagements with developers and the construction industry could consolidate ecological practices designed to conserve and re-create the biodiversity of wasteland habitats.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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