Biodiversity roadmap for neighbourhoods where both people and critters thrive

Biodiversity, and especially biodiversity loss, has been in the spotlight recently. SATO’s biodiversity action aims to curb biodiversity loss and improve biodiversity in construction. But what does the promotion of biodiversity mean in practice, and how can it be seen in the everyday lives of residents?

The little birds that used to be everywhere when you were a kid have suddenly become rare visitors around people’s homes. Meadows are no longer filled with flowers or buzzing with pollinators. This is what biodiversity loss is about: the decline and disappearance of living things. When a habitat changes rapidly, nature and species are unable to keep up.

Biodiversity loss is a global phenomenon and regarded as one of the biggest current environmental threats.

“Construction and housing have a lot of environmental impacts,” says Project Development Manager for Investments Kirsi Ojala from SATO, one of Finland’s largest rental housing providers. “That’s why the way you carry out construction makes a big difference. The authorities’ regulations govern the design of properties and outdoor areas and may at times even slow down biodiversity action. But, as a major property owner, SATO is still well-placed to influence things.”

This is why sleeves have been rolled up at SATO and a Biodiversity Roadmap has been produced. The roadmap is a collection of practical actions to curb biodiversity loss and improve biodiversity in construction.

“SATO’s sites are part of the network of urban habitats. We want to do our share to bring nature to urban neighbourhoods and enable people to experience nature right outside their homes,” Kirsi says.

Biodiversity is important to SATO home residents

People living in SATO homes have also become aware of the changes that have taken place in their local environment.

A survey conducted by SATO in winter 2023 shows that more than half of the respondents had noticed a decline in species over the long term, and a large number (63%) of respondents had paid attention to an increase in invasive alien species.

Corrective measures were also called for. More than 70% of the respondents hoped to see more pollinator-friendly plants in their living environment. In addition, respondents wanted to see more areas in their natural state and were in favour of residents’ communal work gatherings to, for example, make bird nest boxes.

“We received more than 1,200 responses to our survey,” Kirsi says. “We were very pleased to see how interested and active the residents of our rental homes were regarding the topic.”

“The large number of respondents shows that SATO home residents are interested in biodiversity and sustainability,” Project Engineer Sami Pekuri continues.

Making more space for nature

What can SATO and other constructors and developers do in practice to promote biodiversity?

According to Kirsi, they can do a lot. Biodiversity can be taken into account in land use planning, landscaping as well as the design of building grounds. The most important thing is to preserve as many existing trees and other plants as possible.

“For example, if we have a site featuring a steep rocky outcrop, we won’t design a large flat lawn there. Instead, we’ll leave the site in its natural state.”

Nainen pitkässä talvitakissa ja mies tummanvihreässä toppatakissa seisovat vantaalaistalon lumisella pihamaalla vanhan puun vieressä ja katsovat kameraan hymyillen.

“We can create small pockets of lounging areas on the site on spots that are naturally the flattest. This helps to avoid major earthworks involving cutting, with the aim being to adapt construction to the existing contours of the terrain. As soon as you opt for cutting the bedrock or creating large embankments, you lose features such as any delicate gnarled Scots pines and other trees.”

Biodiversity can also be fostered in the design of grounds and planted areas.

“Instead of lawns and plant containers, we could introduce deadwood structures for insects. Instead of asphalt concrete, we could use paver blocks with holes or gravel, and instead of lawns there could be meadows for greenery,” Kirsi says.

When choosing plants, species that are well-adapted to Finnish conditions should be favoured.

“Instead of meadowsweets, we could choose shrub species that are native to Finland. These will provide habitats for our indigenous organisms. This helps to support species that have adapted well to our conditions.”

“On the other hand, garden escapees such as the lupin, Himalayan balsam and knotweed overpower native species and therefore cause degradation of nature. The actions listed in the SATO Biodiversity Roadmap seek to achieve impacts in the positive direction.”

There are, however, some solutions that are good from the biodiversity perspective but cannot be implemented as such.

“For example, trees growing too close to a building may cause dampness in building structures and should therefore be removed. This means we need to find a balance between biodiversity and housing health,” Sami points out.

What are invasive alien species and how can they be controlled? Visit the information site on invasive alien species to find out (in Finnish) ›

What have building materials and puddles got to do with biodiversity?

Materials used in construction play a major role in efforts to support biodiversity.

“When there’s a choice between several material options, going forward, SATO will seek to choose the one with the smallest adverse nature effects,” says Kirsi.

The recovery of materials is also important. The higher the degree of recovery of old building materials, the fewer virgin raw materials need to be excavated and the lower the rate of destruction of natural habitats.

“The best solution is to minimise construction. This is why we seek to construct buildings with very long lives,” Kirsi continues.

Hakunilaan valmistuneen kerrostalon pihalla kävelevät mies ja nainen lumisena talvipäivänä. Talon parvekkeissa punaista väriä ja pihatien vieressä istutuksia ja penkkejä.

The maintenance and upkeep of existing buildings and sites also makes a big difference. Measures against biodiversity loss can, for example, be seen in how rainwater is conducted through the grounds.

“Instead of steering rainwater to areas covered by asphalt concrete and then having the water rush down the ditch and drain system, you allow puddles to form every now and then in indentations designed for the purpose in planted areas. This allows for richer nature values, as it creates more diverse habitats for plants and animals,” Kirsi explains.

Sami underlines the importance of communication in this context: “It’s SATO’s responsibility to not only develop new solutions that increase biodiversity but also to communicate about them and how they work to the residents. Otherwise, the actions taken may be perceived as solutions that do not work.”

“So that people know the puddle’s not in the planted area because of a design error but because it was specifically designed to be there,” Kirsi says with a smile.

Residents included in brainstorming for ideas

It is important for everyone at SATO to develop their competences and make sure that, going forward, SATO’s partners will also have the sufficient competence in biodiversity issues. The aim is also to encourage residents to take part in biodiversity promotion.

“SATO staff are not the fount of all wisdom,” Kirsi says. “That’s why we’re keen for our residents with their wealth of ideas to join us in brainstorming for ideas on how to improve biodiversity.”

“Our aim is for the SATO Biodiversity Roadmap to be visible in the residents’ everyday lives as pleasant grounds and environments as well as rental homes that withstand wear and tear and time. We want to organise annual events where residents get to do things like building bird nest boxes or coming up with ideas for insect hotels for the grounds of their home buildings.”

Sami continues: “We hope to include residents and hear their thoughts. We want to offer things that are interesting specifically to our residents and that will get them involved.”

“SATO’s current and future residents can count on us keeping up with development – whether it comes to biodiversity, sustainability or residents’ wellbeing. We’re determined to do our very best to ensure the comfort of our residents.”