Better planning for wildlife needed in estate developments

By Rob Fowler, town and regional planning consultant

The benefits of living and/or working in a green and leafy enclosed and secure estate is a privileged lifestyle that is enjoyed by only a few in South Africa. 

Enclosed residential estates are more-often located in areas of above average environmental quality to start off with. Sensitive developers working with ethical environmental practitioners will hopefully have understood the environmental sensitivity of the land they are working with right at the beginning of the initial planning stage and should preserve and even enhance the inherent values of those irreplaceable environmental elements that are present in the land.

However, while this might all be good and well for the wildlife inside the estate the outer security walls and fences could have probably cut across natural pathways previously enjoyed by small animals.  Electric fences at ground level are a killer for any small animal trying to pass. Solid walls and security fencing are totally impenetrable. There are just so many impacts here.

Improving the value of wildlife

I believe that residents of secure estates are however, in the main, well aware of the very special role that they can play in improving the value of all wildlife within their estate. Planting suitable indigenous trees, adding natural water ponds and dams, the consistent and genuine protection of wetlands within the estate, the preservation of natural and undisturbed grasslands, to name but a few positive interventions, will all add great value not only to the overall environmental quality of the estate but also provide better and safer habitats for all manner of birds and animals.

A sensitive understanding of the environmental elements outside of the estate walls will encourage the management and residents in enclosed estates to look outside of their own walls and gates to engage with property owners outside and find innovative ways to extend their own little Eden so that the special qualities of their own environment can be extended to outlying areas. The promotion of safe corridors for the movement of animals should be a key element in any planning initiatives.

Urban birds and animals in a fight for survival

To say that our urban animals and birds are under increasing pressure in their fight for survival would be a total understatement.

Enclosed residential estates and any residential area for that matter has a very significant impact on our urban landscape. Sadly the natural features of the site itself and it’s wildlife populations are often totally ignored by developers as if they never existed.

The fact that enclosed estates are generally occupied, however, by residents who want to live closer to nature and already have a passion for wildlife is a big step towards creating an overall environment that is as balanced and animal friendly as it can be.

We have seen some great successes where man, in his urban cocoon, has been able to live in harmony with nature. That being said we need to be a lot more vigorous in our planning efforts to ensure that there is a far more harmonious environmental character throughout our cities and towns so that everyone – including our precious wildlife can live in a safer and more protected green urban habitat.

Planning for wildlife in an estate should be a norm

Well planned and environmentally sensitive estates are leading the way in making this possible for our urban wildlife.  This should be a norm for all urban planning in South Africa and not happen only because it is demanded and enforced by legislation.

Doing the “right thing”, irrespective of all the limitations at local government and provincial level, should be the mantra for every developer because what they create – for better or for worse – will be in place for decades.

We have seen the urban failures and there are sadly too many. However, now is the time to learn from our past mistakes and really plan with nature and not against it.

Our urban future depends on it.

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