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October 2008
guest feature article

Sustainable Head-Quarters:
The West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority

The West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority Bio Roof
facing west from the southeastern corner.

By Frances Carroll, Chartered Landscape Architect of Moore Environment
October 13, 2008

Photos Courtesy Frances Carroll, unless otherwise noted

The West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority’s (WMFRA) new Regional Head-Quarters in Birmingham, England, completed in May 2008 appears to be a triumph for sustainable development.  The new HQ development is located on a 4.34 acre site at Vauxhall Road, close to the centre and east of Millennium Point Birmingham.  Built on a ‘brown field site’ - formally a disused Cooperative dairy - it now houses over 7100 m2 of office space plus a dedicated educational facility.

An ‘Excellent’ BREEAM Rating

By incorporating sustainable construction practices the development met one of its key objectives: the achievement of an ‘Excellent’ BREEAM rating.  These include a combined rainwater harvesting system, (supplying water to the toilets) and the construction of a new green/brown roof so called because the design evolved from an original proposal to include an ornamental ‘green’ roof and the introduction of a ‘brown’ roof once the client learnt such a roof was more likely to enhance bio-diversity.

The green/brown roof in April 2008 taken by Dr. Adam Bates, a research ecologist from Birmingham University.

Project Design Intent

The £20,000 green/brown roof was designed by Moore Environment, a company of Landscape Architects and Environmental Designers and Assessors.  The brief for the design was to provide an interesting outdoor educational space for visitors and staff and to replicate typical brown field land, which is considered to provide valuable and varied habitats for a wide range of fauna and flora.  Within Birmingham such sites are known to have attracted the rare black redstart, a small robin-sized bird that has adapted to live at the heart of industrial and urban centres where the terrain of typical brown-field sites, with brick and concrete debris, resemble its natural mountainous habitat.  The creation of habitats to attract this species was another key objective for the design of the roof.  (Publisher's Note: Read more about the black redstart from December 2003 Guest Feature by Dusty Gedge.)

Fortunately the WMFRA roof had the advantage of fewer design restraints because it was included relatively early within the project development, unlike other brown-roofs recently installed in Birmingham.  For example, the roofs installed at the International Convention Centre in City Centre and the BVSC in Digbeth were both retro-fit and faced greater public safety and weight restriction issues.  This has resulted in a more satisfactory, more diverse outcome for the WMFRA roof.

A view towards the west; Photo by Moore Environment in August 2008 less than 4 months after seeding and yet show good vegetative cover.

Recreating Natural Conditions

To recreate suitable conditions, the green/brown roof was installed utlising layers of material comprising mainly of demolition waste such as crushed brick and concrete, dusted with a sandy loam to create a substrate or growing medium.  The substrate is laid in depths ranging from 75mm to 150 mm to add visual interest and for diversity of habitat for invertebrates and insects: particularly bees and butterflies.  This dry material is alkaline due to the cement and mortar content but such a surface has proved to be a rich haven for native plants that thrive away from competition.  Two dry meadow wildflower seed mixtures were applied at 2 grams per m2 with some areas deliberately left clear for colonisation by local species.

Both mixes contain Sedum acre (Biting stonecrop), an extremely drought tolerant plant with high nectar reserves making it invaluable to insects.

Seed Mixture 1 was designed to be bio-diversity focused. It included:

Agriomonia eupatoria (Agrimony), Agrostemma githago (Corn cockle), Anthyllis vulneraria (Kidney vetch), Centaurea cyanus (Cornflower), C. nigra ( Common knapweed), Daucus carota (wild carrot) and Silene vulgaris (Bladder campion).

Seed Mixture 2 included some slightly more ornamental species such as:

Achillea millefolium (Yarrow), Campanula rotundifolia (Blue harebell) and Verbascum nigrun (Dark mullein).

The WMFRA Master Plan by Moore Environment; Download the Master Plan PDF.

In order to comply with fire regulations, an inert perimeter strip measuring min 500mm wide was surfaced with washed pebble-mixture and left clear of seed and compost.  Much of the research for the design of the roof was in collaboration with ecologists based at Birmingham University with a particular interest in the ecological benefits of the establishment of bio-diversity roofs.  Other research has come via information found on the Living Roofs ( and the Black Redstart websites (

View across bio-diversity roof less than 6 months after seeding. Poppy, Corn Cockle and Bladder Campion are visible. The pebble-mixture on the right is fire resistant. Log piles provide perches for birds and invertebrate refuges as does the shade provided by large bricks. (Moore Environment: August 2008)

Green and Brown Equals a Biodiverse Roof

A management and monitoring programme was prepared as part of the design work, which may involve implementation by Birmingham University and other organizations such as local conservation groups.  The roof has been designed with minimal management requirements, and no need for irrigation.  A key issue will be the continued removal of colonising vegetation such as willow, ash, birch, sycamore and buddleia which would compete with the intended species and may damage the roof.  Engineering advice ensured the structural integrity of the roof and a Bauder System’s drainage mat, capping sheet, under-layer, insulation board and root barrier was installed to protect the roof from root and water penetration.

It is intended that a sustained, community interest in the roof will be developed via links established between the Safe-Side Centre with local schools and conservation trusts.  Moore Environment was instrumental in creating some of these partnerships and will continue to take an active interest.

The West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority’s Regional Head-Quarters Green/Brown Roof will be open to members of staff and the public by appointment; they will be escorted to view the roof or work as conservationists on the management of the roof.

For additional information, contact:

Client: Allan Parsonage, Project Manager,, 0121 380 6015.
Pete Wilson, Safeside Complex Manager,, 0121 380 6429.

Landscape Architect: Frances Carroll: 01675 466877 of Moore Environment,
Research Ecologist: Dr Adam Bates: 0121 414 6167 of Earth and Environmental Sciences: The University of Birmingham.
Structural Engineer: Matt Stratford: 0870 600 6090 of HSP Consulting.

Contracting Team:

· Main Contractor (Design and Build): Lee Clarke of Ashford PLC.
· Soft Landscape Contractor: Daniel Hoyle of Blakedown.
· Main Roofing Contractor: Gordon Harris of Advanced Roofing.

Publisher's Note:  See the West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority’s Regional Head-Quarters in The Greenroof Projects Database.

Frances Carroll has worked for a number of years as a chartered landscape architect for practices both in the UK  and in Australia. She has been involved in a variety of projects in both local authority and the private sectors, delivering hard and soft landscape solutions. Before joining Moore Environment in August 2007, Frances was working as a Senior Landscape Architect for 3 years in some of Birmingham’s (UK) most challenging inner city environments. Now she is a design team member working with specialist consultants and engineers in the execution of design resolutions over a wide variety of projects but has a specialism in projects that enhance biodiversity. Also, a qualified art teacher, her ambition is to successfully combine biodiversity with environmental art wherever possible.

Contact Frances Carroll, Chartered Landscape Architect for Moore Environment, Landscape Architects, Environmental Assessment and Design, Coleshill, Birmingham, UK; Tel 01675 466877;;

Also for October 2008 see the Guest Feature Article "Relaxing Villa Santai, the First Greenroof in Bali ~ the eco-friendly greenroof project in Bali, Indonesia, incorporating water retention, recycling and conservation methods" by Victor Sinclair.

Past Guest Feature Articles

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