AboutZoos, Since 2008


Sav­ing wildlife with democracy

pub­lished 30 April 2013 | mod­i­fied 05 April 2014

Lewins HoneyeaterAus­tralian cit­i­zens can become more involved in plan­ning their cities with wildlife in mind thanks to a new tool devel­oped by researchers at the ARC Cen­tre of Excel­lence for Envi­ron­men­tal Deci­sions (CEED). The research find­ings have been pub­lished in the Novem­ber issue of the jour­nal Land­scape and Urban Plan­ning.

“When it comes to urban plan­ning, pro­tect­ing wildlife is often over­looked — but the loss of nat­ural ecosys­tems in cities poses risks to pub­lic health and the qual­ity of life of urban cit­i­zens,” says Dr Sarah Bekessy, of CEED and RMIT Uni­ver­sity. “Over half of Australia’s threat­ened species and ecosys­tems occur within the urban fringe and accel­er­at­ing urban­i­sa­tion is now a key threat to their survival.”

“Our team has devel­oped a way to rank sites for devel­op­ment accord­ing to var­i­ous pri­or­i­ties such as bio­di­ver­sity loss, flood risk and trans­port plan­ning. Decision-​makers can use this tool to bal­ance dif­fer­ent objec­tives and explore the impact of trade-​offs between com­pet­ing priorities.

“You can then have a demo­c­ra­tic process in which cit­i­zens are involved in help­ing to decide the right weight to give to the var­i­ous plan­ning pri­or­i­ties. The pub­lic can — and should — be drawn into the process of rank­ing devel­op­ment pri­or­i­ties so that impor­tant deci­sions such as pro­tect­ing wildlife are made by cit­i­zens rather than plan­ners,” Bekessy says.

We believe that incor­po­rat­ing the public’s view on the pro­tec­tion of wildlife within an urban devel­op­ment plan will lead to a greater sense of own­er­ship of native urban wildlife by Aus­tralians, which is highly desir­able when you con­sider that almost 90 per cent of us live in met­ro­pol­i­tan areas.

Fur­ther impor­tant research by CEED also indi­cates that cities can be planned in a way that both encour­ages and pro­tects native wildlife.

Jes­sica Sushin­sky, Pro­fes­sor Hugh Poss­ing­ham and Dr Richard Fuller of CEED and the Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land recently pub­lished a study in the jour­nal Global Change Biol­ogy which found that birds were much more plen­ti­ful in cities that mixed areas of inten­sive devel­op­ment with open green spaces.

Urban devel­op­ment usu­ally reduces the num­ber of birds in a city, but build­ing more com­pact cities and avoid­ing urban sprawl can slow these reduc­tions significantly
Jes­sica Sushinsky »

“In a city like Bris­bane where there are large green parks with a mix of veg­e­ta­tion we still find a rel­a­tively healthy diver­sity of birds such as Lewin’s hon­eyeater, grey shrike-​thrush, the red-​backed fairy-​wren and the stri­ated pardalote, which rely on more com­plex habi­tats than are usu­ally found in pri­vate, man­i­cured backyards.

“Where com­pact hous­ing devel­op­ment leaves these impor­tant green spaces intact we see fewer local extinc­tions, even in Bris­bane which has under­gone sub­stan­tial growth in recent years. Urban sprawl on the other hand not only results in the dis­ap­pear­ance of many urban-​sensitive birds but also leads to an increase in feral birds such as the com­mon myna or the spot­ted tur­tle dove, both inva­sive species in Australia.

“While our find­ings sug­gest that future cities should be built ‘up’ rather than ‘out’, any reduc­tion in the size of pri­vate back­yards would also mean it is impor­tant to retain large pub­lic green spaces lead­ing to cities that pro­vide a bet­ter qual­ity of life for both peo­ple and wildlife.”

CEED’s research is about how we make deci­sions to pro­tect the envi­ron­ment,” says Prof Hugh Poss­ing­ham, Cen­tre Direc­tor at CEED. “These two stud­ies are an excel­lent exam­ple of the co-​ordinated research being under­taken through the Cen­tre. “Under­stand­ing how dif­fer­ent types of urban devel­op­ment impact on birds means that the tool devel­oped by Dr Bekessy and her col­leagues can be used to bal­ance the need for urban growth with impor­tant con­ser­va­tion pri­or­i­ties. Some pri­or­i­ties may even be decided by pop­u­lar vote.”

(Source: CEED media release, 29.04.2013)

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