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“We’re too green” says leading entomologist

by Rose Crompton

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credit: Richard A. Jones

Rare flora and invertebrates found on urban brownfield sites are being put at risk simply because “brown isn’t cool” according to entomologist Richard “Bugman” Jones.

Speaking at a public lecture at Birkbeck, University of London last week, Jones argued that ‘green’ has become a powerful brand: companies promote their ‘green credentials’, people aspire to ‘green living’ and open spaces are prized because they’re green.

Brown, on the other hand, isn’t appealing: “Brown really isn’t a cool colour; it is the colour of dirt, the colour of excrement. Brownfield conjures up the image of ugly and dangerous places, but most importantly, brown isn’t green,” said Jones.

This stigma often leads planners, businesses and the public to misunderstand the importance of brownfield sites. Seen simply as wastelands or eyesores in and around cities, they have become the primary focus for development in the UK. And yet, the best brownfield sites have a more diverse flora than chalk downland and more Red Data Book and nationally scarce insects than ancient woodlands. “In much of London and the Thames Gateway, brownfield sites are the most important wildlife sites on offer,” Jones said.

Composed of rubble, crushed brick and concrete with only a thin layer of topsoil, brownfields are very warm, dry sites with patches of bare ground that provide an important habitat for rare annual plants and insects such as the shrill and brown-banded carder bees and the phoenix fly – all spotted on sites around London.

Jones said there are some examples of companies and councils making efforts to protect these species and their habitat from development. He gave the example of the brownfield site near the Thames barrier where the streaked bombardier beetle, often referred to as Britain’s rarest insect, was discovered. When flats were built on the site, the landowners agreed to create a tiny nature reserve there using rubble from the area so that the insects could continue to flourish. But according to Jones, the future of this reserve is not necessarily guaranteed and there have also been recent examples of major setbacks for brownfield conservation, such as the Olympic site in Stratford.

“Many London brownfield sites are there because they’re torn up areas left over after the war and damage from bombing. Once these areas have gone, then they have gone forever,” he said.

Find out more at Richard Jones’ blog: www.bugmanjones.com

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