A couple of weeks ago I popped down to Malmesbury for the official opening of the Waitrose store there (see previous blogs here and here). I’d been down a week earlier too and the changes since the spring, and in that last week, were quite amazing. ‘Just in time’ hardly covers it!
Whereas everybody else was most interested in the store I was, of course, most interested in checking on the progress of the wildlife features for this site. The House Sparrow nest boxes are not in place but that’s because the school children who will put them on site are now on holiday.
The Swift tower is in place, and was finished on the day of the opening, in early August. This was just when Swifts were departing Malmesbury but they will find it next April when they return after their journeys over the central African rainforest. I wonder what they will make of it. We’ll see, I’m sure I’ll be passing that way some time next summer and I’ll stop for a coffee and a look at the Swift tower. Whether it works or not, it was a good idea and an investment in nature on the site.
The wildlife area, on the other side of the fence from the car park, isn’t finished either – there are some trees to plant and other work to do, but it looks bigger now it exists than I imagined it to be and I think it has real potential.
Over the next few months there is an area of banked up ground which is covered with weeds – or seed-bearing plants – that I predict will attract good numbers of finches, buntings and sparrows over the autumn.
When I first saw the site it was a not-at-all-special field. Now it is a supermarket. It is difficult to know, and time will tell, but there is a real chance that the biodiversity ‘value’ of the site may be higher, even with all that glass and tarmac, now (or over the3 next few years) than it was when the builders arrived.
The local Malmesbury River Valleys Trust will be paid to manage the site from now on by Waitrose. This seems a good idea to me as it puts it in the hands of locals, and a group of locals who care about the outcome and aren’t just managing the patch of ground for the money. I wish them well.
Last week, the day after Hen Harrier Day, but in a suit rather than a wet t-shirt, I talked to a group of senior John Lewis Partnership executives at a ‘lunch and learn’ meeting. I talked about biodiversity, the costs of getting it wrong in reputational terms, the benefits of getting it right (and how cheap it can be), and a little about why they should think about these things for every new store. The options will be different for each place – maybe green roofs would be great in some city locations but better-managed grassland in more rural sites.
I’m fairly sure they will all remember that Swifts have sex on the wing, some will remember that Swifts sleep on the wing by closing down half of their brain at a time (we think) and some may have remembered that putting a little bit of nature back can sometimes actually turn your development into a net biodiversity gain.