Updated: Jul 27, 2020
Beautiful and ecologically important. Read on to find out why you should strive to be a champion for biodiversity in your urban neighbourhood and how you can get started.
When you live in a city and rarely have the opportunity to leave it it’s easy to get caught up in your own life and forget about how much we depend on nature. With so many people living in cities, it’s important to ensure that there is access to nature. Not just grass and trees, but real thriving environments with a diversity of species cohabitating. This biodiversity is not only important for improving the wellbeing of city dwellers, but for ensuring our cities are reducing their impact on the environment as much as possible.
The encouragement of biodiversity plays a role in addressing urban sprawl, pollution, climate change and the spread of invasive species. The reclamation of dull urban surfaces for new eco-friendly landscapes is an important step in making our cities more livable for human, plant and animal communities. Prioritizing wildlife spaces ensures that there are safe areas for wildlife and that urban areas have a means of mitigating climate change and improving air quality (see Arianne’s last blog post for more).
It is important for everyone who is capable to be active in opposing threats to biodiversity. Actions include writing to your city councillor to register your opinion on unchecked urban sprawl, promoting well rounded environmental assessments for protecting sensitive habitats and encouraging wilding of greenspaces. Many cities have campaigns or strategies for biodiversity protection, but there are always ways for you to get involved or hold your city accountable to their promises.
One way individuals can promote urban biodiversity is by introducing wildlife gardens. Wildlife gardens are constructed habitats for native and local species of plants, animals and fungi. You can find loads of ideas for wildlife gardens online as well as what species are native to your home region.
There is an open wildlife garden in my city that has been preserved and expanded by a community group for decades. It acts as a refuge for wildlife and a space for undisturbed greenery. Visitors can stroll through the flora and look for the variety of wildlife drawn to the space. There is tons of information about the plants, why they grow the way they do and how to grow your own. The best part about it is that it is very close to the downtown core and accessible by public transit.
This garden acts not only as an escape from the concrete city but as a model for urban residents looking to improve their own green spaces. When you see how beautiful and full of life a wildlife garden can be there is inspiration to create your own. Urban property owners have an amazing opportunity to promote the growth of native species in areas that are otherwise threatened.
It’s been great to see so many properties in my city acting on this. In many downtown neighbourhoods, a good amount of front lawns are covered in a wide variety of plants other than lawn grasses. I can only imagine what their backyards look like.
Unfortunately, there is some controversy over planting tall wildflowers and grasses on front lawns. I read an article recently about a couple in Quebec being threatened with fines if they didn’t mow their wildflower garden or spend hundreds of dollars to have it properly catalogued. With so many benefits to deeply rooted, tall native species in developed areas, it’s hard to understand why a municipality might prioritize alleged property devaluation over a healthy ecosystem. So, before you convert your front lawn to a wildlife garden, be sure to check your local bylaws. Speak with your neighbours about your reason for making this change to prevent any potential conflicts and maybe you’ll inspire them to do the same! If you’re like me and don’t have your own front or back lawn, speak with your landlord about whether they’d allow you to work on any surrounding outdoor greenspace or look for local groups that are protecting biodiversity to see where you can contribute. The Canadian Wildlife Federation has an online tool where you can certify your garden as wildlife-friendly and search a map to find others nearby. They also provide tips to help you create your garden. Tools like this help us keep track of progress and look for regions that could do more.
The late summer might not be the ideal season to be thinking about your new wildlife garden, but it’s the perfect time to explore your city and enjoy what’s in bloom. Download the iNaturalist app to learn about, record and share species you come across. Take notice of how much of your neighbourhood is supporting native wildlife and see if there is a public wildlife garden near you to go for a visit. Becoming aware is the first step to gaining an appreciation for, and a desire to protect urban biodiversity.
Stephanie is an Ottawa based student who spends most of her time cooking, volunteering with her campus’ sustainability office and going on long walks through the city.