Urban Biodiversity – Is it worth it


Urban centre of Melbourne, Australia. (source: Mike Krebs)

Biodiversity Blog – Does urban biodiversity have a role in conserving biodiversity, is it worth the trouble?  

Sam Nicholson u4854749

When you think of modern cities, what is the first image that comes to mind? Many people would answer skyscrapers or cars, but few would reply trees or wetlands. This is a bigger problem than people realise. Current research from academics strongly suggests that there is a critical need to conserve what is left of the naturally existing biodiversity around us. However, there is also much criticism from academics that we, as humans are just not doing enough.


So, why then are we, as humans not doing enough?

A lack of scientific research, no, a lack of capacity maybe, no, it is societies lack of value and broader understanding of conservation and its importance. Telling people to conserve biodiversity, no longer works, society wants to understand why, “rather than tell us what to do, you should have a hands on person come around,” comments about the environmental stewardship scheme (Burns, E 2013, pers. comm).

How do we then increase society’s value and understanding?

Take a car for example, to value the car you have to understand and appreciate i.e. learn how it works. To understand and appreciate you have to experience i.e. drive, the same goes for conservation, experience is critical. Urban biodiversity plays a key role in providing an avenue for society to experience biodiversity and increase their understanding and value as more than 50% of the world’s population are now living within urban areas (World Health Organisation 2013).

So, how can we develop urban biodiversity?

Well there are many ways including;

  • local reserves (Canberra – Black Mountain)

Preservation of existing natural reserves contributes significantly to urban biodiversity, reserves provide opportunities to experience biodiversity in a recreational sphere but also, as remnant vegetation, provide habitat for species not commonly seen in the urban sphere.


Figure 1 Black Mountain reserve within Canberra including the Telstra Tower. One of the ways biodiversity is expressed within urban spheres. (source: Yahoo!7 2013)

  • Back yards for wildlife

This is an initiative on the rise in Adelaide which provides biodiversity in a household sphere where the local council provide information and resources for people who rehabilitate their backyard. This also provides important connectivity further enhancing biodiversity.  

  • Roof top gardens

This initiative provides green spaces within the central business district in a work sphere. While not specifically addressing native species, it is one of the few ways to integrate green spaces and additional habitats in congested cities (City of Melbourne, cited in Williams et al 2010).

  • Wetlands – Canberra Suburbs (figure 2)

Wetlands provide experience for biodiversity within recreational and residential sphere and habitat for native species. They also facilitate community involvement though planting days during development. 


Figure 2 Urban biodiversity wetland within Kingston Foreshore, Canberra. (source: ACT Government, Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate)

These avenues are strait forward concepts which should be present in all cities. These examples show urban biodiversity across a range of spheres; the home, recreation and CBD. Multiple spheres provide maximum exposure to people within urban societies. Awareness and experience are fundamental in conservation and urban biodiversity provides that while also having embedded benefits for connectivity and habitat loss.  

References and further reading

Web site

Global Health Observatory 2013, World Health Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland, viewed 26 May 2013, <http://www.who.int/gho/urban_health/situation_trends/urban_population_growth_text/en/>

South Australian Government Department of Environment and Natural Resources 2012, South Australian Government, Adelaide, South Australia, viewed 26 May 2013, <http://www.backyards4wildlife.com.au/index.php?page=backyards-4-wildlife>


Williams, S.G., N, Rayner, JP, & Raynor, JK 2010, ‘Greening roofs for a wide brown land: Oppertunities and barriers for rooftop greening in Australia’, Urban Forestry and Urban Greening, vol. 9, no. 3, viewed 27 May 2013, <http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1618866710000099>


About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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1 Response to Urban Biodiversity – Is it worth it

  1. I gave a talk along these lines once in Canberra and two elderly gentlemen came up to me afterwards and said “there’s plenty of trees on the mountains around Canberra, so why do you want them in our suburbs as well.” This is an attitude that exists and must be overcome.

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