Partnering up for urban wildlife
When you picture an urban ecosystem, what do you see? Perhaps local parks, tree-lined streets, maybe even sustainable drainage systems, and…wildlife? Though many city-dwellers view their local wildlife as limited to pigeons and the occasional cockroach, urban ecosystems are far more complex, with a lot to offer to their communities and beyond.
With this article, we celebrate World Wildlife Day 2023 by shedding some light on the value of urban ecosystems in wildlife conservation and the importance of collaboration on all levels.
The value of wildlife in your backyard
Conserving urban wildlife is not only good for animals, but also for humans. Wildlife can provide a number of benefits to urban residents, such as reducing flood risk by improving soil drainage, controlling pest populations, pollinating local flora, and contributing to mental health and psychological well-being.1
For example, birdwatching and listening to bird songs have been shown to have positive effects on mental health, and many urban residents value the presence of wildlife in their communities and support conservation efforts.
Beyond the benefits to our health, conserving urban wildlife and spending time improving local parks can help to build a sense of community and promote social cohesion.2
The presence of wildlife is also an indicator of environmental health – if animals are attracted to an area, it’s a good sign that this space is free of chemical, air, and noise pollution and a safe place for people to pass time in.
Cities serve as a sanctuary for roughly 10% of all plant and animal species.
Stuiver, M., Lahr, J., Ottburg, F., Snep, R., Jones-Walters, L., 2018. Nature, because the city is worth it: longread. Wageningen Environmental Research.
Connecting a fragmented ecosystem
Historically, humans have tended to build their cities near some strategic ecosystem – by the coast, on a river, up a mountain, near forests, or close to other fertile, food-filled regions.3 Today, these urban centres are usually densely packed and grey, with very few remnants of their original ecosystems left to support local wildlife. Instead, many species have had to adapt to this grey reality, such as the peregrine falcon, which can be found nesting on skyscrapers, or the raccoon, which has adapted to urban environments in many parts of the world.
Despite species’ adaptability, urban design largely poses a threat to local wildlife. Though policy attention on renaturalisation is increasing, wildlife (and biodiversity as a whole) is often overlooked in cities and urban planning professionals lack expertise. We introduce nature-based solutions (NBS) to mitigate climate change impacts, but not necessarily to promote wildlife and protect biodiversity – a missed opportunity.
Biodiversity and wildlife rely on ecological connectivity through continuous green spaces that do not stop at city limits and high quality biodiverse green spaces. Expanding cities threaten their surrounding natural areas, so in an age of intense urbanisation it is ever more important to build continuous natural corridors that link fragmented green spaces in urban and rural areas.
Local partnerships for wildlife in urban ecosystems
Collaborative efforts at the local level play a vital role in achieving wildlife conservation objectives. Working together towards a common goal and pooling resources and expertise helps to tackle wildlife loss and habitat destruction at the root causes, rather than prescribing “band aid” solutions that mitigate symptoms at the surface but are ineffective, or even harmful, in the long-run.
Conserving and restoring wildlife in cities is a complex issue that requires a multidisciplinary approach within the community. It involves a range of stakeholders, including government agencies, conservation organisations, local businesses, schools, and community groups – and each of these stakeholders has a unique role to play in protecting and restoring wildlife habitats in cities.
GOVERNMENT AGENCIES are involved in setting policies and regulations that protect wildlife habitats. They work with conservation organisations to develop plans and strategies for restoring degraded habitats, and they provide funding and support for conservation initiatives.
CONSERVATION ORGANISATIONS are at the forefront of efforts to conserve and restore wildlife habitats in cities. They conduct research, develop plans and strategies, and implement conservation initiatives. They also work to raise awareness about the importance of conserving wildlife habitats and engage with the community to promote conservation efforts.
LOCAL BUSINESSES can play a key role in conserving and restoring wildlife habitats. By incorporating sustainable practices into their operations, such as reducing waste and energy consumption, they can help minimise the impact of human activity on wildlife habitats. They can also provide financial and in-kind support for conservation initiatives.
SCHOOLS also have a vital role in educating the next generation about the importance of conserving wildlife habitats. By incorporating environmental education into their curriculum, schools can help children understand the value of biodiversity and the role they can play in protecting it. They can also provide opportunities for students to engage in conservation initiatives. They can also partner with conservation organisations and government agencies to provide educational programmes and field trips that teach students about the importance of wildlife conservation.
COMMUNITY GROUPS can raise awareness about the importance of wildlife conservation and engage with the community to promote conservation efforts. They can also provide financial and in-kind support for conservation initiatives and work with local businesses and government agencies to develop strategies for conserving and restoring wildlife habitats.
Collaboration beyond city limits
Dwindling wildlife populations negatively impact climate change, ecosystems and people’s well-being, and this is a transnational issue that requires open collaboration. To confront this challenge and reverse these negative trends, collaboration must go beyond the local level to reach the international community.
Each city and region holds a vast wealth of knowledge, but circulating this knowledge is where the challenge lies. If every city’s experience with wildlife conservation were accessible, future initiatives could be far more effective – learning from past mistakes and building on successes.
Moreover, wildlife populations do not follow human borders. Regional and international collaboration is therefore crucial to align policies on a global scale and ensure that practices in one location do not interfere with conservation work in other areas. This is particularly true for migratory species such as various birds, monarch butterflies, and marine animals. At both the EU and international levels, experts and decision-makers must join forces to return cities to wildlife havens.
Getting started: what a city can do to launch its conservation and restoration efforts
Implementing conservation and restoration of wildlife in a city requires a multi-faceted approach, involving different strategies and actions. Here are some steps a city can take to start implementing such measures:
Conduct a baseline survey
The first step towards conservation and restoration is to conduct a baseline survey to identify the current state of wildlife, the habitats, and the threats they face. The survey should also indicate species that need protection.
Prioritise species and habitats
After identifying priority species, it is essential to prioritise habitats that require restoration. The city can work with conservation organisations and experts.
Create a restoration plan
Based on the results of the baseline survey and the priorities identified, the city can develop a restoration plan that includes strategies to restore habitats, improve connectivity, establish monitoring activities and manage invasive species.
Establish partnerships and secure funding
Creating partnerships with local and international conservation organisations, academic institutions, and government agencies can help to build support for conservation and restoration initiatives, secure funding and increase expertise. Funding is crucial and the city can explore funding opportunities from various sources, including government agencies, non-profit organisations, and private donors.
Communicate with citizens
Effective communication is key to building support for conservation and restoration initiatives. The city can engage citizens through regular updates on the progress of the restoration projects, educational programmes, and community involvement in conservation efforts. Communication campaigns can help to raise awareness about the importance of conservation and restoration of wildlife in the city. The campaigns should use different media, including billboards, social media, and local newspapers to access as much audience as possible. Bottom-up support of restoration and conservation projects can also result in increased attention by decision-makers.
Overall, implementing conservation and restoration of wildlife in a city is extremely important and complex, and it requires a collaborative effort involving a wide range of stakeholders across the board. Local and international communities must partner up for urban wildlife to ensure biodiversity has a thriving future in our cities.
DO YOU WANT TO HELP WILDLIFE THRIVE IN YOUR CITY?
Connecting with the right experts, stakeholders, and funding opportunities is key to fighting the biodiversity crisis on all levels. Are you looking to help your local wildlife thrive? Get in touch with us to find the best opportunities for your city.
Reach out to a member of our team today!