Cities can be safe havens for endangered plants and animals

Creating better relationships between people and nature is the first step to bringing animals back to our cities.

In the grassy bush of the Adelaide Hills Barossa Valley, a feathery bird no bigger than a ping-pong ball hops along an unmarked trail – a magnificent nymph. Probably because it has been named Australia’s bird of the year on several occasions, proudly puffed navy feathers. Contrasting with the muted greens and browns of the land, it’s hard to miss the striking blue cap adorning its head – a promising result of the South Australian government’s conservation efforts.

But further south-west of Adelaide is a less habitable place for little bluebirds. Cities are hotspots for endangered plants and animals. The habitats of some of the most critically endangered plants, animals, and even entire ecosystems are being destroyed at an alarming rate to accommodate urban sprawl. Australia’s urbanization has increased steadily since 2002, reaching its highest growth rate in 2020. This growth will continue as nature is cleared to make way for homes, highways, car parks and backyard swimming pools.

As a result, Australian species such as the koala are disappearing before our eyes. So are owls you’ve never heard of, like mighty owls, grass earless dragons, and southern brown bandits. Or wildflowers like sunny diuris orchids and buttonholes.

But it shouldn’t be like that. Creating urban environments that preserve biodiversity through careful planning, design and architecture can bring nature back into our cities. With some policy rethinking and smart designs, cities can become safe havens for species to thrive and recover.

An important first step is to rethink the way nature is considered in urban planning. Rather than viewing nature as a constraint or a “problem” to be solved, it can be an important asset and opportunity. It is a valuable resource to preserve and maximize at all stages of planning and design. This means careful regulation to ensure the conservation of the remaining natural resources, from vegetation to individual trees. Otherwise, it is very easy to remove vegetation to make way for development.

Reducing the impacts of development and creating better relationships between people and nature is the first step in biodiversity-sensitive urban designs. New developments should assess the presence of threatened ecological species in the area and retain existing native plants and vegetation as much as possible during development.

Working with developers, designers, councils, community groups and Traditional Owners to select species to target will help with conservation. Species may be selected for their charismatic or cultural significance. Or they provide an important ecosystem service like pollination. The cities of Melbourne and Adelaide, for example, have opted for vegetation that will improve bird habitats like a grand fairy tale.

Cities can be hostile places for plants and animals. The next step is to think about how they will have food, shelter and water to stay away from threats and predators. In many cases, planting native plants can provide much-needed food and shelter. In addition, new solutions such as biodiverse green roofs, living boxes and insect hotels can also provide food and shelter for a range of animals in cities. Stormwater runoff, which can negatively impact native plants and animals such as frogs, can be reduced with vegetation and rain gardens. Space is highly contested in cities, so finding places where vegetation can benefit people and biodiversity is important.

Installing bird-friendly glazing can stop bird collisions from killing or injuring them, and wildlife-friendly lighting is designed to be safe for light-sensitive species like moths. Incorporating bird nest boxes into the exterior walls of buildings provides safe homes and can encourage breeding. Road underpasses can also keep animals safe from cars.

Nature in cities offers a number of additional benefits for endangered species and people. Indigenous biodiversity can create a unique sense of place and is an important opportunity to connect with and respect First Nations history and culture. ‘Everyday nature’ offers remarkable physical and mental well-being benefits and can help make our cities more resilient to extreme weather events such as heat waves, storms and floods. While remnant vegetation, parkland, and waterways are key elements of the ecological network, biodiversity-sensitive urban design also emphasizes the potential of the built components of our cities to provide critical resources for other species. Other opportunities for people and other species to integrate nature include streetscapes, courtyards, green walls, green roofs, roundabouts, pop-up parks, schoolyards, transportation routes, and office building courtyards.

(This story was not edited by Devdiscourse staff and was automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)

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