Untouched plasticine waiting to be moulded, image from internet commons

The start of a New Year always fills me with positive energy. It’s like unwrapping a shiny new block of plasticine when you were a kid; it’s all clean, flawless and full of potential, filling your senses with its scent, texture and malleability. But whose fingerprints will successfully dominate the creation that will be formed by the end of the year as the plasticine sets hard?

Tuesday January 6 marked the day predicted by the Greater London Authority for the capital’s population to exceed the last record of 8.6 million people, set in pre-WWII 1939. More people now live in cities worldwide than live in rural settings and this changes the way we manage the world around us.

Last September on BBC Radio4, Sir David Attenborough talked about promoting women’s rights to save the world, as without exception, “where women are given the rights over their own bodies. Where they have political independence; where they have medical facilities to enable them to control the number of children they bear; where they are literate; where they have the vote. When those things happen, the birth rate falls”.

Human overpopulation is not a specialist subject of mine, nor is it one the RSPB champions, but it is interesting to hear someone with Sir David’s experiences and understanding of the world highlighting it as an important issue.

Growing populations do pose challenges, such as the need for more housing, more food and water, increased waste management and energy creation. All of this does impact on species conservation as it reduces the amount of area available to support wildlife. The good news is that we now have the knowledge and technology to enable gains for people and nature in new developments and renovations.

Barratt Homes is one of the many big developers that recognise this too, and they’re working with the RSPB and others to ensure their new homes incorporate space for wildlife and benefit from what’s called green infrastructure, where landscaping and planting helps manage water and improve air quality. Having access to greenspace is also known to improve people’s physical and mental well-being, making Barratt’s homes more attractive to buyers. It makes you wonder why all other developers have not adopted the same approach.

 It’s relatively easy and saves money in the long-run. What’s more, you can easily copy many of the ideas. Replacing solid outdoor surfaces with material that allows water to drain through reduces run-off to the drains and swelling waterways. Having hedges, trees and shrubs improves air quality, provides space for wildlife and reduces the impact of storms.

Imagine this multiplied across London with existing homes and gardens, then add the potential new developments can bring, and you can see how easily London could become a world leader in green development and how this can create new jobs and new opportunities while making it a nicer place to visit for people and wildlife. To achieve this, we must all leave our prints in the plasticine.

A plasticine cityscape created by N16 scholl children, courtesy of the Newham Recorder