The specifics of this section deal with the regeneration of larger open spaces but its guidelines are applicable to any project that affects an area and its ecology. Remember the sustainability of any project in an open space is partly dependent on how well it blends in with the surrounding area.
Don't be alarmed by some of the information below, much of it will be more applicable to larger open space regenerations rather than the more functional and space restricted community projects such as new play equipment, outdoor classrooms or smaller community gardens.
One thing to remember, your project is affecting an open space and whatever you do will alter it ecologically. Many of the ideas and guidelines below even when adopted on a smaller scale will ensure sustainability and also future proof the immediate environment.
Use of plant material
On a site where there is little or no existing vegetation then material may need to be imported. The following guidelines should be followed:
- Try and ensure that plant stock used is of local.
- If possible plant small material rather than large stock. Large material costs more to transport than small plants.
- For an open space try and plant rootstock rather than potted plants.
- How ecological is the Nursery - do they use biodegradable pots and biological rather than chemical pest control methods?
This may seem like it doesn't concern your community project but regardless of how small it is in size or scope every little bit helps. If these guidelines were followed and replicated on every small project the enviromental changes would be substantial and sustainable on a national scale.
Generally native species should be used. Not only will they be appropriate to the locality but they are more likely to thrive in the local soils.
However, in some situations there are likely to be aesthetic considerations and the introduction of non-native species may be appropriate. If in doubt it may be worth checking
Although it will be necessary to purchase some materials for the maintenance of newly planted areas, the emphasis should be on minimising the use of chemical herbicides. For more information on the issues relating to sustainable management see here.
Often on community-led projects there is voluntary labour available to undertake more sustainable methods of maintenance such as hand weeding. Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, there may some instances where the use of some herbicide may be necessary, for example to eradicate established perennials such as Japanese knotweed.
The following materials are recommended to help with sustainable maintenance:
- Bark mulch for shrub beds to suppress competition. You may even be able to source this within the site making the project partially self-sufficient.
- The use of mulch mats around forestry trees and shrub beds. Many environmentally friendly products are now available, for example some are manufactured from recycled timber. For small sites the use of old carpets should be considered as mulch and weed suppressant.
- Design is an important consideration, i.e. using the right plants in the right location. No matter how much time and effort is spent on maintenance, if plants are in the wrong place they are unlikely to survive.
- Use local composted manure and straw for soil amelioration.
I hope some of the information above gives you some ideas and illustates that creating a sustainable and environmentally friendly space doesn't have to be as costly or as time consuming as you may have thought.
It is important you are able to monitor, evaluate and record the environmental sustainability of your project. How you prioritise this will depend upon the purpose and scope of the project. Remember as with all aspects of the project this montoring and reporting will illustrate its success and viability in the eyes of the community and any potential future funders. The original aims and objectives of the project should have addressed some environmental issues and it is important that these are still shown to be a sustainable part of the process. You can find a much more in-depth look at evaluation on the Monitoring and Indicators pages.
As stated the priority you place on enviromental sustainability within the project will depend upon its purpose and scope. Remember if your project utilises an open space you have a duty of care to this landscape that ensures that it is part of a long term vison creating a legacy that is both economically and environmentally sound.
Go to the next section - Economic sustainability