David Attenborough’s brilliant book ‘A life on our planet’ is a striking ‘witness statement’ as he describes it, to the impact of climate change on the world, but what it also provides, is some answers. Many of which we could action at a local council level. The rewilding of land to reinstate the natural order of nature, between predatory species and food-chains, the necessity of diverse plant species and tree preservation, in mitigating soil erosion and supporting carbon capture. These steps are not just about the Amazon rainforests, as essential as they are, but how we manage and value our local public realm and urban green space.
Whilst many councils have declared a climate emergency a great many have also declared a climate and ecological emergency; reflecting that responses should not just be about EV charging points or solar panels, but about the preservation, and in many cases reinstatement of land.
In APSE’s view, for far too long urban greenspace management became too cost-focused, as a result of austerity, but also arguably a downplaying of the skills in land-management, once the bedrock of parks and green space services. This seems to be changing for the better, not least because the health pandemic has made many residents realise just what they have on their own doorstep, and councils have been spurred into a renewed understanding of their value.
Urban areas, even those that are densely populated by the human species, can still play host to biologically diverse plant and animal life, especially if they are supported to do this by sensitive and intelligent local land management. The beauty of this approach is that it can actually help budgets in the longer-term. Nature has a great way of managing its own resources, which has been undermined by interventions in the interests of our urban ways of living. In doing so it can help to rebalance the ills created by urban living. An example of this ongoing experiments on the use of trees to capture atmospheric pollutants, like sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, through their leaves. Imagine the benefits of this to children in school playgrounds sited next to busy roads?
But much more can be achieved. Urban spaces for growing food can reduce food miles as well as providing cheaper nutrition food to local people. Canals and derelict pathways can be used to introduce new areas of vegetation. Ugly industrial waste lands could be used to develop new urban greenspaces, bringing new life to local areas. Rewilding areas of parks can be used to develop Bee corridors, a vital component in saving, and reintroducing Bees, as happened in an excellent scheme within the London Borough of Brent.
In short gaining the health, aesthetic and ecological benefits from urban green space need not cost the earth – it just requires some clearer thinking.