Building back better – how do we create a better environment for native flora and fauna in our cities and towns?

Our diverse urban and peri-urban environments provide critical refuge and habitat for many of Australia’s native endangered species. In these environments, metropolitan and regional local governments have an essential role in protecting and enhancing biodiversity. Improving outcomes for urban wildlife is closely linked to enhancing habitat connectivity. The focus on shared spaces allows us to consider the needs of native animals as we build back from critical social, economic and environmental events. Using tools and mechanisms to protect and enhance urban biodiversity and habitat connectivity should be front of mind to local government.

Join us on Wednesday 21 April, 2021 from 1 – 2.30pm to hear how to support habitat connectivity and increase urban and peri-urban biodiversity resilience in your local government area.

 

 

Why connectivity matters

Understanding habitat connectivity is a critical tool to reversing the trend of declining global biodiversity. It is seen as the ‘glue’ that holds flora and fauna populations together. Without this glue, small populations are isolated and the risk of extinction is elevated due to reduced gene flow and fewer immigrants to bolster declining populations. The effects of climate change which can alter and reduce habitat range and availability, reinforces the importance of connectivity to support species resilience. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has identified[1] connectivity as essential across a continuum of spatial scales from large regional corridors to neighbourhood open space.

As our cities and towns have developed, much of the native vegetation has been cleared, restricting our wildlife to fragmented pockets and islands of habitat. Movement across and between habitats is critical for wildlife – to find food, seek shelter and build genetic resilience through dispersal. Aside from highly mobile, generalist species that have adapted well to disturbed environments, many native animals are unable to move freely across our backyards, streets and industrial areas. Greater consideration of species foraging and habitat patterns in urban planning and open space management is required to support increased biodiversity. In turn, improving the ecological health of our cities will increase the resilience of human residents by facilitating access to cooler streets, cleaner air and everyday nature interactions.

“We need to move beyond nature as decoration, to an understanding that living systems have an integral role to play in our health” Bill Reed – Regenesis

Finding space for wildlife in towns and cities is not a new concept. From the 1970s, the identification of green belts, major open space reserves and protection of key habitat have been attempts to retain biodiversity in our urbanised environments. With increasing pressure on these spaces, there is a new sense of urgency and focus on protecting and restoring corridors for biodiversity. Initiatives such as Melbourne’s green network and the Hunter Joint Organisation of Councils’ Biodiversity Investment Prospectus Project, which models landscape connectivity, have importantly focused on identifying habitat linkages for species protection on private and public lands. The difficulty is translating these important strategic initiatives into local, on ground outcomes.

 

 

The opportunities for local government

Fast tracked planning and open space projects, as a government response to the impact of COVID-19 and bushfire recovery, offer a significant opportunity to address biodiversity connectivity in urban spaces. Additionally, Australia’s overarching environmental legislation; the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, is undergoing a once in a decade review. It’s set to introduce changes which would devolve approvals to state governments, potentially ceding greater control over environmental matters to local jurisdictions.

Local Government plans and policies designed to protect and enhance threatened flora and fauna are standard practice but generally lack statutory authority and resources to support effective implementation and compliance. Regulatory instruments that govern where and how development should proceed, particularly if given statutory heft, offer an important tool to retaining and enhancing critical habitat in urban and regional environments.

What needs to happen?

Establish a shared ecological vision

Getting planners, other decision makers and stakeholders on board is important. A clear policy framework is helpful to translate international and national biodiversity goals into action at the local level. Australia’s Strategy for Nature and state and territory government approaches, such as Green Adelaide and the Greater Sydney Green Grid, can be highly valuable in informing the framework.

Increasing urban tree canopy and green spaces, reducing the impacts of climate change, improving liveability and enhancing air and water quality are frequently identified as community priorities and identified within local government plans. Biodiversity protection and ecological enhancement support and align with these community goals and this should be clearly articulated.

Identify the current and future biodiversity network

An important step is to use local surveys and spatial mapping to identify priority habitat links to green infrastructure assets in the local government area. New technology, such as satellite mapping/Lidar, provide open-sourced and cost-effective spatial analysis of the extent, type and structure of vegetation across all land tenures. From there, setting goals for increasing connectivity supports council to effectively plan and prioritise local species and habitat connectivity appropriately.

Implement the planning controls and landscape guidelines

To conserve and enhance local biodiversity and avoid poor environmental outcomes, it is essential that habitat connectivity is a key principle for decision makers and consent authorities (such as councils and state planning authorities).

What can be or what is being achieved?

A closer look at local government highlights the many opportunities to improve habitat connectivity at a local level. Here and overseas local authorities are using a range of tools to deliver habitat connectivity, including:

  • land use and biodiversity habitat mapping
  • planning controls (such as bird strike mitigation, incorporating locally indigenous vegetation and habitat features into landscape requirements and reduction of light spillage)
  • conditions of consent of development applications/permits
  • strategic planning which can set priorities for biodiversity connectivity in the longer term
  • landscape codes and guidelines (providing further detail to support planning controls).

These are complimented by private sector voluntary mechanisms such as sustainability rating tools (Envirodevelopment, Green Building Council of Australia Green Star and the Living Building Challenge) and private conservation land trusts (Australian Bush Heritage, ANZ biodiversity building fund).

These approaches in the planning framework support the concept of Biodiversity Sensitive Urban Design (BSUD, discussed by Garrard et al). The BSUD framework illustrates how biodiversity considerations can influence the range of development type and sizes to improve outcomes.

Join us on Wednesday 21 April, 2021 from 1 – 2.30pm to hear more about how local government can address the challenge of identifying and establishing biodiversity corridors.

Register to hear from experts from Elton Consulting, WSP and RMIT to:

  • Understand why habitat connectivity across Australia’s cities and towns is so important for both conserving biodiversity and improving human health and well-being outcomes
  • Hear about the role of state and local governments to support connectivity
  • Be informed about the unique and mostly untapped opportunity that the planning scheme can provide to enhance urban biodiversity on private lands.

Our panel:

Vicky CritchleyVicky Critchley, Facilitator
Senior Project Manager, Sustainability, Elton Consulting
Vicky is a built sustainability consultant with over 20 years of experience in providing technical and strategic guidance within a planning framework to both the private and public sectors. She holds a Masters of Environmental Studies from Yale University and an Environmental Planning Grad Dip from Macquarie University. Vicky has extensive knowledge and experience of sustainable planning, strategy development, and implementation for the built environment.
Rodney Van der ReeDr Rodney Van der Ree, Speaker
National Technical Executive – Ecology, WSP
Rodney combines academic rigour with practical and applied consulting to deliver exceptional ecological and environmental outcomes for clients. He is recognised internationally for his expertise in urban ecology and road ecology, and maintains an Honorary research role as Associate Professor in Ecology at The University of Melbourne.
Dr Holly Kirk RMITDr Holly Kirk, Speaker
Interdisciplinary Conservation Science Group (ICON Science), RMIT University
Dr Holly Kirk specialises in understanding how animals move around their environments. As an expert in ecology and spatial modelling, she has been using this knowledge to plan cities that support and enhance urban biodiversity. Holly is also a member of the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes NESP Hub and is passionate about translating scientific theory into positive on-ground action for people and nature. Find out more about ICON Science and Holly’s work.
Linda RodriguezLinda Rodriguez, Speaker
Senior Project Manager, Urban and Regional Planning, Elton Consulting
Linda is an urban planning professional with over ten years industry experience in statutory and strategic planning within both the public (Local & State Government) and private sectors. Linda has extensive experience in both the preparation and assessment of complex and large-scale Planning Proposals and Development Applications and has represented council and private clients as expert witness in the Land and Environment Court. Linda guides clients through the NSW planning system and provides sound planning advice on appropriate and efficient planning pathways and development potential for a wide range of projects.

 

Read more about WSP’s work on nature in our cities.

 

[1] Hilty et al, 2020.