Habitat Creation Case Study, Lucite, Billingham

Building biodiversity into the planning stage of a construction project can reap tangible benefits for wildlife, as exemplified by this case study.

In 2012 MCIS (part of the Mitsubishi Chemicals Holdings Group) began production of the electrolyte used in lithium ion car batteries at their Lucite International site at Billingham.   The early stages of constructing the plant in 2011 involved excavating foundations, a process which generated a substantial amount of substrate.  Removal of this material would have incurred substantial costs so the company wished to create a positive on-site use for the substrate. As part of its ongoing relationship with the Lucite team, the Industry Nature Conservation Association (INCA) was asked to give ecological advice.   INCA is a non-profit making organisation based in the Tees Valley which has provided ecological advice to its industrial membership, including Lucite, since 1989.  The creative solution agreed was to use the substrate to create a ‘green screen’ comprising a wildflower area which would be of benefit to biodiversity and would be aesthetically pleasing.

The principle used in creating the ‘green screen’ was to lay down the nutrient rich top soil at the bottom of the mound, and the slag-rich, nutrient poor, subsoil at the top.   The top of the mound was profiled using the excavator to give a varied topography, providing a range of microhabitats for the various invertebrate species which would eventually utilise the newly-created habitat.

Slag-rich soil is perfect as a substrate for many of the interesting and specialised flowers which grow on brownfield sites.  Natural colonisation of vegetation is the approach usually preferred by INCA to create such habitat but in this case a more immediate visual impact was required so the area was seeded using an appropriate perennial wildflower mix, importantly of native provenance.  Seeding was based around encouraging the specialist insect species which occur on brownfield sites.  The direct costs (ca £3000) associated with this first phase of the project were largely associated with the purchase and planting of wildflower seeds and trees while excavation equipment and associated operator were available on-site.  The wildflower seed mix comprised of 30 kg of Emorsgate seeds ‘clay wildflower meadow mix’, 6 kg of ‘calcareous seed mix’ and 1kg of bird’s-foot trefoil; while the 62 trees planted include 7 Rowan, 25 Silver Birch, 10 Goat Willow, 10 Blackthorn & 10 Hawthorn, as a mixture of small standards and large whips.

Creating the meadow at Lucite – March 2011

Established first phase of meadow – July 2012

Project first phase showing profusion of Bird’s-foot trefoil

Later excavations in the form of a smaller second phase of the project led to a southwards expansion in the area for planting and substrate was applied in the same manner.  Again there were no costs associated with movement of substrate. INCA’s partnership with Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust, brought an exciting opportunity via funding to purchase a range of wildflower seed and plug plants.  This was all made possible due to Buglife who obtained SITA grant funding to create habitat for scarce brownfield invertebrates across a number of project areas, including the Tees Valley.  As before it was decided to plant the additional area but the strategy this time was to use wildflower seeds and plug plants which would to lead to a more rapid establishment of vegetation.  This involved a volunteer team planting around 750 plug plants and several kilograms of wildflower seed.

The botanical mix which has been used across the whole project includes nectar-bearing species that are native to the region, including Kidney vetch, Common Toadflax, Yarrow, Ox-eye daisy, Black knapweed, Mugwort, Red clover, Upright hedge parsley and Wild carrot.

Lucite has now included the 0.8 hectare ‘green screen’ within the scope of their Site Biodiversity Action Plan.  The area created now contains a range of plants and supports a large colony of the Dingy Skipper butterfly, a species of conservation importance for which brownfield sites are of great importance.