Canberra gets an almost universally bad rap, often even from the people who live here. Frequent complaints are that it is boring, sterile and that a politician seems to pop out from behind every controversial piece of street art.
However, those of us who love it (and there are more of us than you might think), love its sense of community, its greenery, its open spaces and the fact that our gardens are visited by parrots and kangaroos. In short, we love it because we live in a ‘bush capital’.
This year we are celebrating 100 years of life in the ‘bush capital’, but how many of us have stopped to think about what that means? It is a unique situation where a city can feel so connected with its environment, but this connection comes at a cost. Canberra’s increasing urbanisation affects the viability of local biodiversity through changes to connectivity, water flows, fire regimes and the impacts of pets, weeds, waste dumping and recreational activities. This means that Canberra’s community is directly impacting on local biodiversity conservation
However, the situation is not all bad! Many Canberrans feel strongly about their local environment and are passionately involved in making positive change. Canberra is home to an abundance of community environment groups, full of dedicated staff and volunteers. These groups are integral to biodiversity monitoring, on the ground conservation and advocating for better bushcare.
The integrated nature of urban biodiversity begs for serious consideration of the importance of community participation in conservation. Participation theory has long believed that communities should be involved in the decisions that affect them. We can take this even further by considering the idea that communities should be involved in the decisions which they affect. Canberrans are not only affecting biodiversity management by creating problems, they are also trying hard to solve them.
If Canberra is to remain the beautiful ‘bush capital’ that we (well, most of us) love, we need to embrace the role of communities in actively and passionately participating in biodiversity conservation.
Rebecca Palmer-Brodie is a Masters Student at the Australian National University – examining the role of public participation in environmental management, and the Bush on the Boundary Coordinator at the Conservation Council – investigating the impacts of the urban edge on ecological values.