A grassy field in the foreground with a lake and a new housing development under construction in the background

Kingsbrook: raising the bar for wildlife-friendly housing

The RSPB is working with Barratt Developments and Buckinghamshire Council to set a new standard for wildlife-friendly housing.

Overview

For nearly 10 years the RSPB has been working with Barratt Developments and Buckinghamshire Council (formerly Aylesbury Vale District Council) to pioneer a nature-led approach to building new homes to benefit wildlife and people at a new development on the outskirts of Aylesbury.

When complete, Kingsbrook will incorporate more than 60 per cent nature-rich greenspace and wildlife habitats within and around the development’s 2,450 houses, including a 100ha visitor site managed for nature and people.

Keep reading to find out more about the project, what it has achieved so far, and how Kingsbrook is helping to influence housing to be better for nature.

Nature-friendly housing

A wildlife friendly show garden complete with shrubs, trees and colorful plants

The area of the UK left or actively managed for nature has decreased as the number of people and demand for food and housing has increased – and the population is still growing. By the mid-2020s, Government wants 300,000 new houses to be built in the UK each year.

Continuing to build new houses and settlements as we have done in the past will result in further loss of space for nature and other negative environmental impacts – something has to change. By carefully considering the impact new housing will have on the environment – including where and how it is built – and designing in features to protect the environment and encourage more nature, we can make housing better for wildlife and people.

Kingsbrook sets out to show how that can be achieved and encourage other housebuilders and policymakers to follow suit and raise the standard of nature-friendly housing.

Wildlife welcome

A house sparrow pokes its head out of a specially installed swift brick

With 600 houses completed as of 2020 there are already signs that wildlife is benefiting from Kingsbrook’s nature-friendly design.

Wildflower verges and green corridors, orchards and hedgehog highways all attract and help wildlife move around and through the development, while swift nest bricks and bat boxes provide places for birds to nest and bats to rest.
Sustainable drainage solutions like permeable paving and pools and swales slow the flow of water into rivers and streams – reducing pollution at the same time as using surface water run-off to create wetland wildlife habitats.

In 2016, the first Manthorpe swift brick was installed at Kingsbrook after the RSPB and Barratt worked with Manthorpe Building Products Ltd and Action for Swifts to design an affordable nest box the same size and shape as a standard building brick so that it could easily be built into the fabric of new houses.

As early as the summer of 2017 Kingsbrook’s wetland habitats were being used by egrets, kingfishers and dragonflies. In 2020, the first house martins built a nest on one of the newly completed houses, having not previously been recorded on the site, and house sparrows were seen using the swift bricks – a prelude perhaps to swifts.

Making an impact

The project’s ambition does not stop at making Kingsbrook itself better for wildlife. To really make a difference we need other housebuilders, as well as policy makers, to change way the housebuilding sector plans, designs and builds houses to protect and benefit wildlife.

Kingsbrook has featured as a best-practice case study in the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan following a visit from the then Housing Minister, Alok Sharma, which prompted him to comment that new developments should “complement and enhance, rather than threaten, the local and natural environment”.


The project has garnered extensive media coverage, including articles in The Telegraph and in Nature’s Home magazine, and won a prestigious BIG Biodiversity Award for a project in the “Large Scale Permanent” category.

There is more work to do to raise the standard of nature-friendly housing across the industry, and Kingsbrook has an important role in encouraging others to do more.

Milestones

  • 2013: Barratt Homes receives outline planning permission for development at Kingsbrook. 
  • 2014: Detailed plans developed, informed by regular meetings between Barratt, Aylesbury Vale District Council and the RSPB.
  • 2015: Full ecological survey by RSPB scientists to establish a baseline for wildlife and habitats present on the site.
  • 2016:
    • Construction starts on “Oakfield”, the first of three villages that will make up Kingsbrook.
      Wildlife-friendly show home gardens created.
    • Kingsbrook wins BIG Biodiversity Award – “Large Scale Permanent” category.
    • First Manthorpe swift brick installed. 
    • Guide to help Barratt staff deliver wildlife friendly developments published.
  • 2017:
    • Little egret, kingfisher and five species of dragonfly recorded using Kingsbrook’s wetland habitats in the summer.
    • Barratt Homes wins What House? silver award in the Best Partnership Scheme category for Kingsbrook, reflecting the success of our collaborative working.
  • 2018: Kingsbrook map and guide launched to introduce residents to the nature-rich areas and wildlife on their doorsteps.
  • 2019: Kingsbrook wins its second What House? silver award, this time in the Best Public Realm category.
  • 2020: House martins nest at Kingsbrook for the first time and house sparrows use swift nest bricks – next step swifts!

Looking Forward

An open green space complete with young trees and benches beside a row of new homes

The Kingsbrook project has achieved a lot in the little under 10 years since it began, but the work is far from over. Building is not expected to be complete until about 2026, and in that time many more habitats will be created. As the meadows, hedgerows, orchards and wetlands mature they will provide food and shelter for a host of birds, insects and mammals. Will we see the first swifts nesting in Kingsbrook’s swift bricks? We certainly hope so! And we’ll be monitoring how it is all developing to learn even more about how to get this right elsewhere.

We will also continue to use Kingsbrook and the lessons we learn there to influence housebuilding policy and practice to be better for nature and the environment.