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Join the green party

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At the Horniman Museum's CUE Building, one of London's earliest biodiverse roofs is demonstrating how well such projects can thrive. With environmentalist Dusty Gedge also picking up accolades and a new CIRIA guide on the way, green roofs are in the spotl

Lush metre-high meadow grass, sage scented wild clary, the delicate lilac hue of musk mallow and the busy hum of hundreds of insects. This is not a scene from some idyllic rural getaway but is in the unyielding environment of souh-east London's Forest Hill, on top of the Horniman Museum's CUE Building to be exact. It's one thing to ramble on about how fantastic green roofs are but even better to see one in action, as entomologist Richard Jones and deputy gardens manager Terry Salter discovered when they clambered on to the grass roof to carry out seasonal maintenance and conduct the last part of a scientific survey.

Built in 1995 by ecological and sustainable design practice Architype, the CUE Building has one of London's earliest examples of a biodiverse green roof.

Among the smog and debris of the city, it now supports a flourishing wildflower meadow, which the study shows provides a natural habitat for, among other things, Britain's largest hoverfly, a rare beetle and one of the smallest species of British ant.

Altogether, more then 50 insect species were identified, including a bug normally associated with dry coastal areas.

Richard Jones said: 'The CUE Building's grass roof is a harsh environment for insects to survive so I was impressed to find some unusual species that indicate a different and contrasting habitat from the gardens.' The north- and south-facing slopes of the green roof have been engineered to support different species of plant and animal life. On the deep and resplendent north side, cushions of moss grow among tall meadow grasses and wild carrot, while on the shallower and warmer south-facing side, field pansy and kidney vetch accompany cowslips in spring and ox-eye daisies in early summer.

To encourage biodiversity, the meadow is cut every autumn and young tree seedlings that have taken root are removed. The system requires minimal maintenance and is only watered occasionally in the summer. As an added bonus, the green roof helps improve local air quality and reduce the risk of flooding problems by absorbing heavy rainfall and allowing it to drip off gradually.

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