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Social housing provider pledges 30% of its land to nature

Orbit, leading social housing provider and developer, has announced it will be committing to managing at least 30% of its huge estate for nature by 2030. The announcement comes as Orbit unveils its new biodiversity approach.

Orbit's approach will enhance outdoor spaces for wildlife and customers

Orbit plans to achieve the 30% target by strategically planning how and where to enhance habitats across its estate to maximise the benefits for nature.

Improvements will include planting hedgerows, shrubs, and wildflowers to benefit insects and other wildlife. Orbit will dedicate some outside areas to nature and, where space is limited, look to create artificial habitats including bird boxes and bug hotels. These enhanced outdoor spaces will also improve customers’ wellbeing by providing better and more local access to nature.

The approach aligns with the core target of the proposed framework of the UN Convention on Biology Diversity and with that of The Wildlife Trusts’ vision to protect at least 30% of our land and sea to allow for nature’s recovery by 2030 – making more space for wildlife to recover and thrive again. Orbit has worked with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust on pioneering projects to look into the viability of the 30 by 30 approach. Wilder and more natural areas will help people connect with nature in their daily lives and help to tackle climate change by storing carbon as well as reducing flood risks for communities.

Jessica Marshall, Environmental Change Manager at Orbit, comments: “We are proud to be leading the housing sector with the launch of our biodiversity approach which will improve the outdoor environments within our communities and estates. As an organisation, we recognise our responsibility to tackle climate change and support the enhancement of wildlife and nature, and we want to create sustainable communities for the future in which our customers are proud to live. By making our communities more biodiverse, it will increase opportunities for our customers to connect with wildlife on their doorstep and encourage them to spend more time outside, which we know supports overall mental health and wellbeing.”

Pilot projects inform pioneering partnership

In the run-up to today’s announcement, Orbit has worked with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust to develop detailed habitat surveys at four of its estates in Coventry, Leamington, Rugby, and Stratford-upon-Avon.

Projects have seen customers work with colleagues from Orbit and Warwickshire Wildlife Trust to plant hedgerows and shrubs, climbers like honeysuckle, clematis and dog rose, and pollinator-friendly plants like lavender and heather. Plans have also identified how areas can be managed better to create more attractive habitats for insects and other wildlife.

Learnings from these schemes has been used to inform our approach and will continue to be used as the 30 by 30 approach is rolled out across Orbit’s estate. This forms part of Orbit’s wider environmental sustainability programme, Orbit Earth.

The pilots have revealed how the scope of opportunity for creating habitats varies considerably depending on the site. Warwickshire Wildlife Trust helped Orbit identify how to make the best use of outside space for wildlife, taking into consideration other uses of outdoor areas, such as for recreation.

Jessica Marshall continues: “The approach aligns with our net zero carbon roadmap and demonstrates Orbit’s commitment to reducing its impact on the environment. We will use the learnings from our initial project with the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust as we implement the approach and continually review how we can best enhance our outdoor spaces to benefit the environment and our communities.”

Ian Jelley, Director of Living Landscapes at Warwickshire Wildlife Trust, says:

“The brilliant projects in Warwickshire have shown the massive potential for improving residential sites by planting native shrubs, establishing wildflower areas, and creating rich and varied habitats for wildlife.

“In some instances, it’s about changing how areas are managed, such as reducing mowing of grassland on verges or cutting of hedges. This kind of approach can save money, reduces Orbit’s carbon footprint, allows resources to be focused elsewhere and supports nature’s recovery. The projects have also reinforced the importance of planning and assessing sites individually to see how to make the best improvements for wildlife.”

As part of its environmental commitments, Orbit is also a founding member of the Green Spaces Advisory Board, a group of seven social housing leaders and Ground Control, the country’s largest landscape and maintenance contractor. The board is committed to sharing its learnings with the whole sector in order to maximise the value of nature within the context of climate change, placemaking and resident wellbeing.

Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, adds: “We’re delighted that Orbit is pledging to manage 30% of its estate to benefit nature. We desperately need businesses and landowners to play their part in helping to restore nature at scale.

“Habitat creation and less intensive management is critical to reverse alarming downward trends of UK wildlife and to actively put nature into recovery. Wildlife doesn’t belong only in nature reserves but where we live our daily lives – throughout our towns and cities, in gardens, parks and playgrounds. We urge other companies to pledge to 30 by 30."

To view Orbit’s biodiversity approach, visit https://orbitgroup.org.uk/our-esg-strategy/environment/