Because landfill sites are man-made, they offer the chance to create unique habitats that are a positive contrast to the surrounding landscape typology.

After writing recently about the value of nature in cities, I want to explore how former landfill sites can help us foster diverse experiences and learn more about nature. Why simply cap them over when they give us opportunities to create unique wildlife habitats that people can interact with at close quarters? 

In the US, the City of New York is transforming the world’s largest landfill site into a public park with creeks, wetlands, expansive meadows and spectacular views of the city. When complete, Fresh Kills Park will, at 2,200 acres, be almost three times the size of Central Park. In the UK, inert landfill waste from major developments was imported to form four giant mounds at the heart of the new Northala Fields park in Northolt, West London.

Because landfill sites are man-made, they offer the chance to create unique habitats that are a positive contrast to the surrounding landscape typology. For example, I’m currently involved in restoration projects for a former quarry and landfill site, at Parkfield Quarry, near Rugby. Excavation work over the years has exposed unique geological features that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see and created the kind of cliff habitat that you would never naturally find in the area. The aim is to promote this fact as a beneficial outcome of the quarrying process, enhancing biodiversity and geodiversity, and linking the site to the area’s wider green infrastructure network. 

Over time, groundwater will fill the bottom of this disused quarry to the design level and the habitat will naturally evolve in response. We’ve created crayfish habitats around the edge of the eventual water level due to the rocky environment found there and the protection provided for them by the quarry from outside predators and invasive species. We’ve also created floating and land-based reed beds, while the cliff habitat above provides a home to different species of birds. Around the edge of the water, we designed a wildflower meadow to attract the rare dingy skipper and qrizzled skipper butterflies. And we’ve also created a unique habitat for ground mining bees – another species named in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan

So landfill sites can become home to a variety of rare species and landscape typologies, but to really fulfil its role as a nature reserve, a site must have both ecological and educational value. The nature of the Parkfield Quarry site means it won’t be open to the public, but information boards placed on public footpaths around the quarry edge will help people understand the story of the site and its ecological and geological diversity. On this and other projects we have also taken care that our design not only provides a valuable and diverse habitat but also shows it off and explains the design to visitors. 

Even after they’ve finished their working lives, landfill sites currently seem to be places we’d prefer to ignore. But by transforming landfill sites into well designed nature reserves, site owners can turn them into a positive story, improve their relationships with local communities, make use of our limited land resources, reduce site risks and liabilities and create unique destinations for people to experience and enjoy nature.