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Greening Urban Infrastructure

Green roofs
Researchers at UEL are helping to enhance biodiversity within urban areas by developing alternative green roof designs that mimic local conservation priority habitat.

In cities where space at ground-level is limited, adding vegetation to roof tops can provide significant environmental and economic benefits.  However, due to industrial standardisation, many of the green roof installations in London, across Europe and beyond feature shallow systems which are designed predominantly for stormwater attenuation and aesthetic purposes. This standardisation approach to vegetation is not a reflection of natural ecosystems and restricts biodiversity and its associated ecosystem service benefits.

Researchers from UEL’s Sustainability Research Institute have been investigating alternative green roof designs for London’s new Barking Riverside development which mimic the natural habitat of the brownfield site on which the new community is being developed. The work is being carried out in partnership with the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, the Institute for Sustainability, Barking Riverside Ltd, and Livingroofs.org, and forms part of a larger EU project called TURAS (Transitioning Towards Urban Resilience and Sustainability).

Using trial green roof test systems, the team have been carrying out experiments to compare the effects of moving away from an industrial standard sedum system to a more biodiverse green roof system comprising wildflowers typical of the Barking Riverside area and of value to regional biodiversity and national conservation importance.

Initial research has so far demonstrated that switching to more biodiverse systems can help to provide better water attenuation, heat insulation and an increased variety of flora.  

One of the lead researchers Dr Stuart Connop says: “Unfortunately, the majority of green roof installations are ‘off-the-shelf’ industry standard systems and an assumption is made that by installing something green a range of additional ecosystem services will be restored. These green roof systems offer restricted biodiversity and associated ecosystem service benefits and mean that opportunities are missed for supporting urban biodiversity and building the associated resilience that biodiversity can provide. In order to ensure that further opportunities are not missed, it is necessary to take a local view of key ecosystems and habitats and incorporate these into urban green infrastructure design using biomimicry.”

Results from the investigation are being fed into the design of green roofs throughout the Barking Riverside development and will also be embedded into the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham planning process. It is hoped that the results will act as a blue print for use throughout the TURAS partnership and beyond to inspire further projects investigating the potential for the use of biomimicry of regional habitat of conservation value in the design of urban green infrastructure to maximise urban biodiversity.