Our land abounds in nature strips – surely we can do more than mow a third of urban green space



Even the standard grassed nature strip has value for local wildlife.
Michelle/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Adrian Marshall, University of Melbourne

You may mock the national anthem by singing “Our land abounds in nature strips” but what you might not know is how true that is. In Melbourne, for example, more than a third of all public green space is nature strips. (That figure includes roundabouts, medians and other green bits of the street.)

That’s a remarkable amount. The nature strip is everywhere. A million small patches combine into a giant park spanning the city, making it a significant player in our urban ecosystems.




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A second remarkable thing is that the nature strip is public land that private citizens are required by law to maintain. Councils manage the trees, but we residents mow the lawn.

What are the rules on nature strips?

Succulents, Agapanthus and Gazanias are the most common plantings on nature strips.
Adrian Marshall CC BY 4.0, Author provided

Many residents go further and plant a street tree or some garden plants – succulents, Agapanthus and Gazanias are the most common. But the chances are that, whatever the garden on the nature strip, it’s against the rules.

The rules on nature strips vary from council to council. Some councils don’t allow any plantings. Others restrict plantings by height or allow only plants indigenous to the local area. In some areas, nature strips can only be planted to prevent erosion on steep slopes.

Some councils disallow food plants, for fear of historic lead contamination from leaded petrol. Others insist on no plants within a metre of the kerb and two metres of the footpath.




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These bylaws are inconsistent and illogical. For instance, councils that insist on indigenous species nevertheless plant exotic street trees. Councils that say plants must be less than 30cm high to ensure they don’t block drivers’ sight lines still allow vehicles to park on the street, blocking sight lines.

Bylaws deny us many benefits

To have council bylaws restrict or disallow gardening in the nature strip flies in the face of common sense. Street greenery, whether its trees, shrubs or lawn, provides many benefits. The science is in on this.

Urban wildlife uses street greenery for habitat and food and as green corridors for movement.

Even for those who mow, the lawns of nature strips are not just turf grass. They are home to over 150 species of plants, based on my yet-to-be-published survey data for nearly 50 neighbourhoods, confirming earlier studies. Many of these, like the clovers, provide important resources for pollinators.

One US study showed that changing from a weekly mow to every three weeks increased the number of flowers in a lawn by 250%. Less mowing is good news for bees and butterflies.

An unpublished recent survey by the author and colleagues found gardening in the nature strip adds native plants to the streetscape, increases biodiversity and add structural complexity (more layers of plants, more types of stuff), which is important for many species.

The greater the diversity of plantings, the greater the benefits a nature strip can provide.
TEDxMelbourne/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Street greenery helps water soak into the ground, filtering out pollutants, recharging aquifers and making rivers healthier. It cools streets and helps counter the urban heat island effect. It also promotes a sense of community, encourages walking and lowers the incidence of heart disease, diabetes, asthma and depression.




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But councils tend to be risk-averse. They worry they will be sued if someone trips on groundcover or stubs their toe on an out-of-place garden gnome.

Fortunately, this risk aversion isn’t universal. For instance, the City of Vincent in Western Australia is so keen for residents to convert lawn to waterwise plantings that it will remove turf and provide native plants.

But, as climate change looms, stubbed toes are not the main risk we should be worrying about. Rather, we must urgently remake our cities and our culture for sustainability and resilience.




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Gardening becomes a neighbourly act

One of the great things about gardening in the nature strip is that people are more likely to do it if their neighbours do it. It’s contagious, a positive-feedback loop creating a greener street.

Our recent survey found residents who garden in the nature strip have a greater sense of community than those who don’t.

A well-designed street garden, fully covering the nature strip, allowing pedestrian access to cars and using indigenous plants.
Adrian Marshall CC BY 4.0, Author provided

Interestingly, the benefits nature strips provide are not equally distributed across the city. For instance, newer neighbourhoods have more nature strip than older neighbourhoods (though their trees are younger). People garden the nature strip more on minor roads than major roads, and in more socially advantaged neighbourhoods.

Almost a quarter of residential properties in Melbourne have some sort of nature strip gardening. If councils were to encourage this activity we might achieve more street greening with little cost to our cash-strapped councils. Such encouragement would also free many residents of their sense of frustration at being required to maintain the nature strip but forbidden to do anything more than mow.

Given that more than a third of our public green space is nature strip, the many small actions of residents can add up to substantial positive change.The Conversation

Adrian Marshall, Lecturer, Landscape Architecture and Urban Ecology, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The global road-building explosion is shattering nature


Bill Laurance, James Cook University

If you asked a friend to name the worst human threat to nature, what would they say? Global warming? Overhunting? Habitat fragmentation?

A new study suggests it is in fact road-building.

“Road-building” might sound innocuous, like “house maintenance” – or even positive, conjuring images of promoting economic growth. Many of us have been trained to think so.

But an unprecedented spate of road building is happening now, with around 25 million kilometres of new paved roads expected by 2050. And that’s causing many environmental researchers to perceive roads about as positively as a butterfly might see a spider web that’s just fatally trapped it.

A Malayan tapir killed along a road in Peninsular Malaysia.
WWF-Malaysia/Lau Ching Fong

Shattered

The new study, led by Pierre Ibisch at Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development, Germany, ambitiously attempted to map all of the roads and remaining ecosystems across Earth’s entire land surface.

Its headline conclusion is that roads have already sliced and diced Earth’s ecosystems into some 600,000 pieces. More than half of these are less than 1 square kilometre in size. Only 7% of the fragments are more than 100 square km.

Remaining roadless areas across the Earth.
P. Ibisch et al. Science (2016)

That’s not good news. Roads often open a Pandora’s box of ills for wilderness areas, promoting illegal deforestation, fires, mining and hunting.

In the Brazilian Amazon, for instance, our existing research shows that 95% of all forest destruction occurs within 5.5km of roads. The razing of the Amazon and other tropical forests produces more greenhouse gases than all motorised vehicles on Earth.

Animals are being imperilled too, by vehicle roadkill, habitat loss and hunting. In just the past decade, poachers invading the Congo Basin along the expanding network of logging roads have snared or gunned down two-thirds of all forest elephants for their valuable ivory tusks.

Deforestation along roads in the Brazilian Amazon.
Google Earth

Worse than it looks

As alarming as the study by Ibisch and colleagues sounds, it still probably underestimates the problem, because it is likely that the researchers missed half or more of all the roads on the planet.

That might sound incompetent on their part, but in fact keeping track of roads is a nightmarishly difficult task. Particularly in developing nations, illegal roads can appear overnight, and many countries lack the capacity to govern, much less map, their unruly frontier regions.

One might think that satellites and computers can keep track of roads, and that’s partly right. Most roads can be detected from space, if it’s not too cloudy, but it turns out that the maddening variety of road types, habitats, topographies, sun angles and linear features such as canals can fool even the smartest computers, none of which can map roads consistently.

The only solution is to use human eyes to map roads. That’s what Ibisch and his colleagues relied upon – a global crowdsourcing platform known as OpenStreetMap, which uses thousands of volunteers to map Earth’s roads.

Therein lies the problem. As the authors acknowledge, human mappers have worked far more prolifically in some areas than others. For instance, wealthier nations like Switzerland and Australia have quite accurate road maps. But in Indonesia, Peru or Cameroon, great swathes of land have been poorly studied.

A quick look at OpenStreetmap also shows that cities are far better mapped than hinterlands. For instance, in the Brazilian Amazon, my colleagues and I recently found 3km of illegal, unmapped roads for every 1km of legal, mapped road.

A logging truck blazes along a road in Malaysian Borneo.
Rhett Butler/Mongabay

What this implies is that the environmental toll of roads in developing nations – which sustain most of the planet’s critical tropical and subtropical forests – is considerably worse than estimated by the new study.

This is reflected in statistics like this: Earth’s wilderness areas have shrunk by a tenth in just the past two decades, as my colleagues and I reported earlier this year. Lush forests such as the Amazon, Congo Basin and Borneo are shrinking the fastest.

Road rage

The modern road tsunami is both necessary and scary. On one hand, nobody disputes that developing nations in particular need more and better roads. That’s the chief reason that around 90% of all new roads are being built in developing countries.

On the other hand, much of this ongoing road development is poorly planned or chaotic, leading to severe environmental damage.

For instance, the more than 53,000km of “development corridors” being planned or constructed in Africa to access minerals and open up remote lands for farming will have enormous environmental costs, our research suggests.

Orangutans in the wilds of northern Sumatra.
Suprayudi

This year, both the Ibisch study and our research have underscored how muddled the UN Sustainable Development Goals are with respect to vanishing wilderness areas across the planet.

For instance, the loss of roadless wilderness conflicts deeply with goals to combat harmful climate change and biodiversity loss, but could improve our capacity to feed people. These are tough trade-offs.

One way we’ve tried to promote a win-win approach is via a global road-mapping strategy that attempts to tell us where we should and shouldn’t build roads. The idea is to promote roads where we can most improve food production, while restricting them in places that cause environmental calamities.

Part of a global road-mapping strategy. Green areas have high environmental values where roads should be avoided. Red areas are where roads could improve agricultural production. And black areas are ‘conflict zones’ where both environmental values and potential road benefits are high.
W. F. Laurance et al. Nature (2014)

The bottom line is that if we’re smart and plan carefully, we can still increase food production and human equity across much of the world.

But if we don’t quickly change our careless road-building ways, we could end up opening up the world’s last wild places like a flayed fish – and that would be a catastrophe for nature and people too.

The Conversation

Bill Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Holiday Planning: NSW Road Trip 2010


The planning for my holiday is now well and truly underway, with the holiday now being referred to as my ‘NSW Road Trip 2010.’ There is also a website address for viewing my itinerary and for following my progress. It has been a rushed process in the end, organising this road trip, so there will yet be some changes to the itinerary.

I am expecting changes in far western NSW due to road conditions, especially given recent weather conditions out that way, including the widespread rain and flooding that has taken place. Given I have only got a small rental for this trip, I am not really prepared to take the car onto certain roads (which I believe will be part of the rental agreement anyway).

At this stage I am expecting to miss Ivanhoe and head for Mildura instead. I also expect to miss Tibooburra in the far northwest corner of the state, as the Silver City Highway is largely dirt. With these probable changes to the itinerary, I will also miss driving through the Menindee Lakes area, which really was something I was hoping to see – another time perhaps.

On another ‘track,’ I found our that the hottest February temperature experienced in Ivanhoe was around 48 degrees Celsius. No, not the reason I am thinking of bypassing Ivanhoe – most centres out west have similar temperatures in February anyway.

The website:

http://www.kevinswilderness.com/NSW/nswRoadTrip2010.html 

Holiday Planning: All out the Window


As my holiday draws closer my plans have changed yet again. Back in November 2009 I rolled my right ankle badly and it has not yet recovered to the extent that it would allow me to do a lot of bushwalking – especially on slopes. So this has meant a complete rethink of my upcoming 2 week holiday.

The theory of travelling to Wagga Wagga before heading to the New South Wales south coast has now been scrapped. I simply won’t be able to do the walking I had hoped to do.

Now I am looking at a road trip – and I’m not too sure just where the roads will actually take me. I will be on the road for 7 days and had thought that a quick trip to Kakadu was a possibility – but it would have to be a very quick trip (and probably without stopping). So that isn’t going to happen.

So what will happen? Not completely sure on that. I do plan to do the following however:

Day One – Dubbo

Day Two – Wagga Wagga

OK, so the above two days are still very similar to the original plan. It is after these two days that things have changed. Instead of turning to the east, I’ll be turning to the west. I just haven’t yet decided as to where.