Dream on indeed. To a time such as now when property developers are more keenly aware than ever of the effects of climate change and the benefits of limiting biodiversity loss, of planning for periods of drought and realising that all these things can certainly make a difference to the bottom line. So much so that many are now seeking to integrate best practice into their developments, and some even opting for biodiversity certification.
The sceptics will say this is a pipe dream, but environmental sustainability pioneer John Masson would disagree. So passionate is he about environmental sustainability that he envisioned a world where biodiversity would be the foundation, the core element guiding all decisions in all forms of land use. Even at a young age his passion for the natural world was evident as he devised an integrated land-use plan for his father’s farm in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, followed by a career in the formal conservation arena involved in game reserve management, research, and sustainability planning for rural communities.
The question of ‘how to get conservation principles beyond natural conservation areas’ led him to establish a multidisciplinary environmental services company that focused on applying biodiversity restoration and self-sustainability principles to the landscaping industry. This was in stark contrast to the conventional horticultural approach, which was often highly destructive and resource consuming. John believed that, by restoring local fauna and flora to a specific area, selfsustainable life could be achieved. The award-winning design he implemented at the Randburg facility of global pet food manufacturer Royal Canin proved just that.
Having shown that biodiversity-centric land management works consistently across different forms of land use – including commercial, industrial and residential – John felt that a standards-based approach to the restoration of biodiversity within the human footprint would better serve the needs of the ‘green industry’. This led to the creation of the Local Biodiversity Council, of which John is CEO. This non-profit organisation has a growing international footprint, and is committed to promoting best practice environmental standards across all forms of land use. Crucial to this was the development of its Biodiversity Area Standard (BAS) through a collaboration with Ecocert, the large multinational organic certifications body.
So this brings us back to property developers – commercial, industrial and, more specifically, residential – and how they can help redress the issues of biodiversity loss and climate change by implementing ecologically beneficial approaches to their developments. By partnering with the Local Biodiversity Council and making use of their ground-breaking BAS, developers are able to integrate their site with its surrounding outdoor footprint in a way that promotes best practice biodiversity management, mitigates environmental impacts and reduces consumption of natural resources.
In simple terms, this is ensuring that the new development blends into its surroundings, that the developer puts appropriate local fauna and flora at the heart of the development, manages the site with no chemical fertilisers or pesticides, and follows an environmental management plan. This is the minimum requirement to qualify for an Ecocert certification audit.
So how do we do this? Not just by thinking ‘green’ and going for an ‘indigenous style’ – that’s a good start, but it goes way beyond this … to the Local Biodiversity Model. Which is best portrayed by the Royal Canin Eco Industrial Park, where an abused tract of land with non-existent topsoil was transformed into an ecologically diverse area with countless species of birds, insects and a variety of small animals such as hedgehogs, mongooses and porcupines.
The land was rehabilitated by recreating a self-sustaining landscape as close as possible to the once naturally occurring Highveld environment centred around existing natural topographical features. The plant communities in the park include grassland, open woodland, woody boulder outcrops and a riparian zone with rocky cascades, moisture-loving grasses and herbaceous plants, wetland areas and open water. It’s not just decorative – it’s also used as a natural treatment system for water from the effluent treatment plant, which reduces capital, operation and maintenance costs. One huge benefit of implementing the Local Biodiversity Model compared to just a ‘green space’ is the substantial reduction in water usage. A ‘green space’ would generally require 1,000,000 litres per hectare per month, whereas a ‘local indigenous’ space would require zero water after the first two years of development.
An environmental management plan ensures adherence to sustainable natural resource principals, such as recycling and reusing water, a non-chemical approach to weed control, programmed burning, and the maintenance of all natural features and processes critical to healthy, functioning ecosystems. By moving its thinking from ‘green’ and ‘indigenous style’ to creating its own local biodiversity land-use model, the Royal Canin Eco Industrial Park set itself up to be awarded the prestigious international Eve® Ecological Area Certification from Ecocert in 2013 – ten years after it committed to putting local fauna and flora at the heart of the development.
‘Yes,’ says John, ‘there can be hope for a better world. The nihilistic philosophy that “once lost, never to be regained” may be accurate in a number of instances, but in many cases, within a decade, humans can bring about biodiversity restoration sustainability.’
So gazing upon rolling hills of pristine grassland abuzz with bees, birds and butterflies may not be a pipe dream after all …
For more information – www.localbiodiversity.org