Make your Eco Home Even More Eco Friendly

By Edward Mayer on November 14, 2011

So you’ve taken the big decision, you are going to build yourself an Eco home. Well done! As well as reducing your carbon footprint, you’ll have economy and comfort at a time when fuel prices are soaring and the economic future looks very uncertain. But while you will be warm and protected, what will be happening to the wildlife all about your new home?

A flock of Swifts screaming over the roofs.

The answer is that it won’t be doing well at all. Our wildlife is declining at an alarming speed. By some estimates we have lost 90% of our bats in the past century or so, certainly we have lost about half our birds in the past 40 years, some species crashing by as much as 70% or more.

The reasons are many and complex. Insecticides, new farming methods, human population increases and pollution are all taking their toll, but one problem has been very much overlooked, and that is the way we are building our houses, because that has changed a lot.

When we deforested England, then Europe, then the world, we destroyed the nest places and food resources of many bird and bat species. Reforestation with commercial forests did not help; the new forests are all too often monocultures of alien species, planted and harvested before they can grow old.

Bialowieska Forest in Poland: a primeval forest where 30% of the biomass is dead wood.

A modern forest has little or no dead wood in it, no trees with holes and cracks that birds and bats can nest in. Compare that to the untouched primeval Bialowieska forest in Poland, where 30% of the biomass is dead wood, and countless species can flourish on this massive supply of living places and food resources, and you can see what the problem is.

Those bird and bat and insect species that could adapt to deforestation moved into our gardens and even into our homes. So successfully, that many a green and leafy urban area now has far better biodiversity than many a farm or forest. That of course is also a sad comment of just how far we have depleted wildlife in the countryside.

But the advent of new building methods and materials has changed everything. One way of looking at the Eco Home is to perceive it as a sealed box, sealed to keep the heat in and the cold out. Modern houses are sealed, insulated, even mechanically ventilated, whereas older buildings had open eaves, and open gables, and in many cases apertures around pipes and drains where birds and bats could rest and breed.

 Modern buildings like these apartments are generally incapable of supporting bird species other than Feral Pigeons – a tragedy as with minor changes and additions they can be useful sites for attractive and beneficial species.

For those species of wildlife that have grown to rely on our homes for their homes, this is a disaster. Bats, Swifts, House Martins, Swallows and Sparrows, as well as to a lesser extent Wrens, Flycatchers, Wagtails and Robins, all rely on us providing them with nest places in or on our homes. No holes = no birds or bats, and this has the makings of a real tragedy. Not only are all these species charismatic, life-enhancing and beautiful, but they eat masses of harmful insects, some at the rate of thousands every day. Without them we’ll need more insecticides, more poisons, more degradation and pollution of the natural environment.

So on every count they are worth helping, and in fact it’s an easy thing to do if you have the right information to hand. Your Eco Home can support bats and birds, all beneficial species that you will enjoy having around, if you can fit places for them to rest and breed.

 Schwegler Swift Bricks installed at a sheltered apartment complex in New Barnet, North London.

It’s easy to do, and it won’t cost much either. And they can be fitted without compromising the insulation of the building. You just have to get the right items, and fit them in the right places, as every species has its likes, its dislikes, and its needs, and they are all different. Swifts for example need our help really badly if they are to survive, and making places for them is really easy. They are just about the cleanest guests you can have in your home, and they can thrive right in the centre of many cities, as well as in many towns and villages, but only if the nest places are there for them.

Diagram showing where to install Swift Bricks

The simplest option is to fit nest bricks into the structure of the Eco Home. These are usually made of concrete or recycled materials and should be designed in at an early stage. Nest bricks are available for a very wide range of birds and bat species, and are now made by at least 4 manufacturers, 3 of them here in the UK and the other in Germany.

Schwegler Bat Tubes installed in a Housing Association project in Scotland

For Swallows and Martins there are artificial nests, looking like the real mud ones, but made of cement. These can be fitted under gables and eaves, as well as in porches and outbuildings, to give these birds a helping hand too.

A  House Martin artificial nest in use. They can be fitted much more neatly than this!

So why not give our wildlife a helping hand when you build your Eco Home? Make it a home for attractive and beneficial wild creatures too, and help keep our natural world intact and there for your childrens’ children and hopefully even beyond.

Edward Mayer
www.swift-conservation.org

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Useful information and contacts for advice and suppliers:
Conservation advice:
Swift Conservation www.swift-conservation.org
Bat Conservation Trust www.bats.org.uk
RSPB www.rspb.org.uk/
Nest box suppliers:
Jacobi Jayne Ltd www.jacobijayne.com
EcoServ Ltd www.ecosurv.co.uk
Ibstock Brick Ltd www.ibstock.com
Filchris Ltd www.filcris.co.uk
Gardenature Ltd www.gardenature.co.uk
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