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Can rebuilding our cities strengthen cities’ climate resilience?

A new report from the Zoological Society of London examines the benefits and challenges of urban wildlife restoration projects

Restoring wildlife in cities can bring many environmental benefits, including increasing resilience to climate change by increasing flood and heat wave protection, reducing air pollution, increasing biodiversity, and reducing environmental costs.

These are the conclusions of a new report entitled Rebuilding our cities, which was published today by the Zoological Benevolent Society of London. The report highlights the benefits of wildlife restoration in urban areas, explores some of the challenges associated with urban wildlife restoration projects, and makes recommendations for how urban nature projects can be implemented at scale.

Wildlife restoration projects, in which landowners manage the land minimally to allow nature to recover and may also involve the reintroduction of lost key species that help shape the habitat, have to date typically focused on rural areas. But ZSL argues that wildlife restoration is a flexible and low-cost approach to biodiversity management that can be deployed in a range of urban settings.

In the report as potential places where the rewilding approach can be implemented “on a large enough scale to make a difference”.

Dr Andrew Terry, director of conservation and policy at ZSL, defined wildlife restoration as “an approach to restoring dynamic and diverse ecosystems that emphasizes how ecosystems function”. “Restoring ecosystems and the wildlife they inhabit is not just a nice-to-have, but a vital strategy for future survival,” he added.

The report says that re-conserving wildlife can improve climate change mitigation and adaptation, reduce disaster risk and pollution levels, and slow or even help reverse biodiversity loss in urban areas.

Lead author and climate and biodiversity expert at the ZSL Institute of Zoology, Dr Natalie Petarelli, argues that by reviving cities and ‘giving nature free rein’, urban planners can help protect urban areas from increasingly extreme climate events such as storms , floods and heat. the waves She said increasing the area of ​​trees and green space helps cool urban areas and create natural flood defenses, and promotes urban wildlife by creating new habitats, which in turn can help improve people’s health and well-being.

“Forest fires, floods and heat waves around the world have brought the climate crisis to the fore for many people this year,” she added. “The link between the climate crisis and nature loss is fortunately now widely recognized, and wildlife restoration is an increasingly accepted approach.”

However, she said large-scale wildlife restoration of urban spaces, including the creation of natural corridors and wild spaces around urban infrastructure, was something that had so far been “relatively ignored” as part of the net-zero transition.

Petarelli hailed the new report as the first of its kind and suggested it offers “a highly effective solution to jointly address the climate crisis and the crisis of biodiversity loss in a low-cost way.”

The report urges decision-makers in UK cities to “urgently” consider wildlife restoration projects as a serious option to address future environmental challenges, citing examples of wildlife restoration projects in Singapore and Germany that have demonstrated how quickly areas, which wildlife restoration can have a positive impact.

Scientists singled out the wildlife restoration of the Kallang River in Singapore’s Bishan Ang Mo Kio Park as an example of how wildlife restoration can be used to restore river functionality.

In the 1970s, the Kalang River bed was leveled and reinforced with concrete as part of a series of drastic infrastructure projects that aimed to alleviate the city’s water management problems.

In 2006, the river was restored as part of Singapore’s Active, Beautiful and Clean (ABC) program, which focuses on the naturalization and restoration of waterway wildlife to aid flood control. Hard and soft engineering techniques, including the use of vegetation, were used to stabilize the new banks. The river was also reconnected to the floodplain, allowing excess surface water during rainstorms to drain away from residential areas, thus restoring a key function of the river.

Singapore has also worked to regenerate other spaces by introducing green walls and roofs – including 18 ‘Supertrees’ – which are 50m tall artificial trees that contain more than 150,000 plants and therefore act like real trees, filtering rainwater and creating shadow They were also installed with solar panels to generate power.

In Germany, abandoned urban sites have been successfully converted into wildlife to promote biodiversity. Abandoned sites in Frankfurt, Dessau and Hanover have been transformed into wildflower meadows as part of a major urban wildlife restoration project dubbed Städte wagen Wildnis, or Cities Dare Wilderness, according to a ZSL report.

The number of birds, hedgehogs, butterflies and bees increased in the restored areas. In addition, authorities said the meadows were more drought-resistant than the short lawns they replaced, which in turn saved water and costs for city management.

However, while the proposed benefits are clear, ZSL scientists have warned urban planners that wildlife restoration projects are not without risk and should be undertaken with “caution and care”. The report highlights how poorly managed projects risk the accidental spread of invasive species, disease transmission and increased human-wildlife conflict. The scientists also warned that wildlife restoration could encourage the abandonment of existing conservation sites and exacerbate social inequalities that already mean wealthier areas have far better access to green space.

“Ultimately, well-intentioned but misguided efforts may actually lead to further loss of biodiversity and increased threats to public health through invasive species, disease transmission from wildlife, and further worsening of social inequality,” warned Petrarelli.

However, the report highlights that well-executed projects can lead to ambitious levels of wildlife restoration in urban areas in ways that improve climate resilience and save city governments money. It even increases the prospect of reintroducing some species into urban spaces. For example, the Eurasian beaver, which was once widespread in Britain but became extinct in the 16th century due to excessive hunting for its fur, has been reintroduced into some waterways near London and may one day make its way to the capital.

According to the wildlife charity RSPB, which has supported the reintroduction of beavers to the UK, they have a positive impact on the environment through their unique behaviour. When beavers gnaw the stems, they effectively “sprout” trees, including willow, hazel, rowan, and aspen. The restoration provides homes for a variety of insects and birds, according to the RSPB.

In addition, beavers can offer a natural solution to improving the health and functioning of river catchments. According to the RSPB, marshes created by beavers can act as sponges, resulting in more permanent flows that reduce the risk of flooding and also retain water during droughts. Beaver dams can also trap organic sediment, which the RSPB says can reduce the impact of agricultural runoff from harmful chemicals such as pesticides, helping to improve overall water quality.

The benefits of beavers and their behavior have led to their recovery in the wild becoming a legal requirement under the EU Habitats Directive. They are also protected by the Berne Convention.

ZSL said its reintroduction specialists are keeping a close eye on beavers near London. It emphasizes that disease risk assessment is essential to ensure that new homes are safe for any species that move in, and that the new species themselves will not threaten existing habitats and wildlife. ZSL said it was working to further assess the risk of reintroduction of the species into the areas with its Disease Risk Analysis and Health Surveillance (DRAHS) team.

Restoring wildlife in cities also benefits people. With two out of three people expected to live in cities or other urban settings by 2050, restoring wildlife not only provides new ways for urbanites to interact with nature, but being in nature can improve well-being and mental health.

The survey also shows that the general public largely supports this approach. A YouGov survey of 1,674 people held in October 2021 The charity Rewilding Britain found that 81 per cent of people support wider rewilding in Britain.

However, concerns have been raised again this week that the new UK government could end its support for a new wave of wildlife and nature restoration schemes. Earlier this weekNatural England chief Tony Juniper and Mark Tufnell, president of the Country’s Land and Business Association (CLA), met with new environment minister Ranil Jayawardene to urge him to press ahead with wide-ranging plans to support wildlife recovery schemes and reform agricultural subsidies to encourage the expansion of natural habitats amid lingering fears that sweeping reforms under the Johnson administration will not be a priority for the new government.

Peterelli emphasized the importance of the participation of politicians in the restoration of urban spaces. “We need the participation and support of politicians, funders, conservation scientists and, of course, local communities,” she said.

However, regardless of government support, she added that wildlife restoration is something everyone can join to promote biodiversity. “The everyday person can do so much to support positive change,” she said. “For example, by leaving part of our garden wild and avoiding artificial turf and pesticides, we can all do our part to ensure a future where wildlife and people thrive.”

https://www.businessgreen.com/news-analysis/4056681/rewilding-cities-bolster-urban-climate-resilience Can rebuilding our cities strengthen cities’ climate resilience?

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