A report by a British charity says that unleashing nature in cities can help reduce the risk of floods and heat waves, improve people’s well-being and conserve wildlife.
Researchers at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said the reconstruction could be used to tackle climate and nature crises in a “low-cost and inefficient way”.
The policy can also improve people’s health, but it must be implemented carefully and with the support of communities to reduce the risk of invasive species and avoid conflicts between people and wildlife.
This practice is usually associated with the countryside, where farmland is left to return to scrub, or livestock grazes woodlands and grasslands.
Beavers have been reintroduced to some cities in the UK to restore wildlife-rich wetlands by building dams, cutting trees, slowing down, storing and filtering water, which attracts other wildlife to those habitats and reduces flooding downstream.
The report said there are opportunities to give nature more freedom across cities.
Examples could include managing less and wilderness areas in parks, cemeteries, and along railroads, and allowing nature to dominate abandoned industrial sites.
Rivers can be taken out of the streams in which they are buried or allowed to be lined with vegetation, while fish barriers can be removed.
Residents can leave part of their gardens in the wild and avoid placing artificial lawns and pesticides.
About two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050.
Climate change increases the risk of heat waves, which are made worse by heat trapping buildings and paved areas, and flash floods from more heavy rain.
The researchers said more diverse green spaces and water spaces, which cool the air, absorb precipitation, reduce air pollution and provide a habitat for wildlife, should be encouraged.
The report said green spaces can reunite people with nature, improve health and well-being and strengthen local economies because they attract visitors to wildlife and enjoy the outdoors.
The study reports ZSL working in its car park at London Zoo, where mowing the lawn, planting seeds or felling trees to feed zoo animals has been stopped, and the bramble forest managed to provide nesting sites for the hedgehogs that now thrive there.
It also raised the possibility of reintroducing species such as Eurasian beavers.
Beavers are beginning to return to urban areas of the UK, such as the northern edge of London, where Enfield Council and Cappel Manor College have reintroduced “ecosystem architects” to a wooded area.
It is hoped that building dams and creating local wetlands will boost wildlife and reduce urban flooding when climate change brings more torrential rains to the British capital.
“Wildfires, floods and heat waves around the world have highlighted the climate crisis for many people this year,” said Dr. Natalie Pettorelli, lead author of the report and climate and biodiversity expert at the ZSL Institute of Zoology.
“The interconnection between the climate crisis and the loss of nature is now widely known, and resettlement is an approach that is increasingly being embraced.
“However, large-scale rebuilding of urban spaces, including creating natural corridors and wilderness spaces around city infrastructure, has so far been relatively overlooked as part of the solution.”
Giving nature the freedom to control cities across cities can not only help protect them from extreme weather events such as storms, floods and heat waves by helping to cool them and create natural flood defenses, she said, but also help boost urban wildlife by creating habitats.
Dr Pettorelli said expert guidance was needed because “well-meaning but misguided” attempts could harm wildlife and threaten public health through the introduction of invasive species.
Some people may view the park’s wilderness areas as unprepared or attractive, while “green amelioration” – where improving the natural environment in a city area can increase investment and property prices can push disadvantaged people out, the report said.
Updated: September 22, 2022, 11:28 am
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