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Leading environmentalist Chris Baines, president of the Urban Wildlife Partnership has called on planners to recogn...
Leading environmentalist Chris Baines, president of the Urban Wildlife Partnership has called on planners to recognise that so-called brown field sites are often much greener than the name suggests, and should not automatically be redeveoped.

Professor Baines told the Royal Town Planning Institute's national planning conference in Bournemouth yesterday that there is a need for 'urban wildspace' to be protected to enable city dwellers to get their 'daily dose of nature'.

'It is the wildspace of overgrown allotments and cemeteries, abandoned quarries, redundant railway land, quiet canals and neglected waste tips that make up the unofficial countryside, and this in turn gives us nature on the doorstep.

'We need to live and work in surroundings where wildlife can provide a constant reminder of the changing seasons and the complex interconnected patterns of life. For the most part the formal parks, playing fields and other official open spaces rarely do that.'

Wildspace, said Professor Baines, provides the most popular landscapes for adventures in childhood, clandestine courtship, dog-walking in middle age and the daily constitutional stroll in retirement.

'Many millions of urban dwellers vote with their feet and choose the wildspace close at hand for frequent informal recreation.

'As compensation for the stressful life we lead, there is need to seek out green and peaceful breathing space, and that search for solace often leads to urban wildspace.

'The air we breathe is cleaner if it has been filtered by a belt of vegetation, and as our asthma epidemic grows alarmingly this role for urban wildspace must be taken more seriously.'

The current encouragement to build on brown field sites is bound to put wild green open space under more pressure,' Professor Baines added, 'but it has a vital role to play in making towns and cities liveable.

'We must be wary of such terms as brown field land, wasteland and dereliction. Between them these places can breathe life into an otherwise hostile built environment, and reconnect us with the natural world on which we all depend.'

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