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Industry in action – Lucite, Billingham

Building biodiversity into the planning stage of a construction project can reap real rewards for wildlife.  In 2012 MCIS (part of the Mitsubishi Chemicals Holdings Group) began production of the electrolyte used in lithium ion car batteries at its Lucite International site at Billingham.

The early stages of constructing the plant in 2011 involved excavating foundations, a process which generated a considerable amount of substrate.  Removal of this material would have incurred substantial costs, so the company sought a positive on-site use for the excavated material. As part of its ongoing relationship, Lucite asked INCA for ecological advice. The creative solution agreed was to use the substrate to create a ‘green screen’ comprising a wildflower area which would both benefit biodiversity and be aesthetically pleasing.  

The principle used in creating the ‘green screen’ was to lay down the nutrient rich topsoil at the bottom of the mound, and the slag-rich, nutrient poor, subsoil at the top.  The top of the mound was profiled using the excavator to give a varied topography, providing a range of microhabitats for the various invertebrate species which would colonise the newly created habitat.

Before. New meadow creation at Lucite; seeding and tree planting in 2011.

Slag-rich soil is perfect as a substrate for many of the interesting and specialised flowers which grow on brownfield sites.  Natural colonisation of vegetation is the approach usually preferred by INCA to create such habitat but in this case a more immediate visual impact was required so the area was seeded using an appropriate perennial wildflower mix, importantly of native provenance, to encourage the specialist insect species which occur on brownfield sites. Since excavation equipment and operatives were available on-site, the direct costs of this first phase of the project were largely associated with the purchase and planting of wildflower seeds and trees. 

A smaller second phase of the project led to a southerly expansion of the wildflower area.  Once again there were no costs associated with movement of substrate. As before it was decided to plant the additional area, but the strategy this time was to use wildflower plug plants which would establish
the required vegetation more rapidly.  This involved a volunteer team
planting around 750 plug plants as well as distributing several kilograms of wildflower seed.  

The botanical mix which has been used across the whole project includes nectar-bearing species that are native to the region, including Kidney Vetch Anthyllis vulneraria, Common Toadflax Linaria vulgaris, Yarrow Achillea millefolium, Ox-eye Daisy Leucanthemum vulgare, Black Knapweed Centaurea nigra, Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris, Red Clover Trifolium pratense, Upright Hedge Parsley Torilis japonica and Wild Carrot Daucus carota.

Lucite has included the 0.8 hectare ‘green screen’ within the scope of their Site Biodiversity Action Plan.  The area created now contains a range of plants and supports a large colony of the Dingy Skipper butterfly, a species of conservation importance for which brownfield sites are of great significance.

After.  Three years later, purple spikes of Knapweed vie for prominence with swathes of yellow Lady’s Bedstraw in a sward buzzing with insects.