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Rewilding our cities: Path to coexistence

Published on October 22, 2021

On 7 October, RSK’s Green Dialogues webinar series continued for its third event in the run-up to COP26. This time, the focus was on issues surrounding rewilding. By bringing together a range of voices on the issues we face in living alongside wildlife as populations increase and cities expand, the session offered insights into the role of rewilding, its place in city contexts and the benefits of allowing nature to follow its own course. If you missed the webinar, it is available to watch back now.

As our cities expand to accommodate growing populations, the built environment progressively encroaches on wildlife and green spaces. To combat this, efforts to restore natural wild spaces in our cities and urban developments have been increasing. Stephanie Wray, Managing Director of RSK Wilding, explained that, in a city context, these efforts often take a distinctly ‘anthrocentric’ approach, in which people, rather than nature itself, influence and mould the outcome. Moving away from this towards an ecosystem-restoration focus, whereby nature is left to take its own course, has the potential to create thriving natural spaces that build themselves from the ground up. Though this takes time, a shift to a focus on the processes of ecosystem restoration will not only support ecology across the built environment but also provide co-benefits. The community and wellbeing benefits of being surrounded by nature, alongside environmental benefits such as pollution reduction, will have a positive impact for communities and wildlife across our cities.

These co-benefits, for example, pollution reduction, increased carbon capture and ecosystem restoration, arise from a holistic approach to sustainability and sustainable development. But, in order to see the benefits offered by rewilding initiatives, as Sabine Hoefnagel, member of the supervisory board at Rewilding Europe, discussed, the right conditions need to be met. Taking a ‘wilder nature’ approach that, as Sabine described it, reduces active interventions and management activities in the area offers the best conditions for ecosystems to rebuild and thrive. This is evident across Europe, where rewilding efforts have successfully encouraged growth in populations of large mammals and predators, for example, deer and wolves.

In the UK, and Scotland especially, efforts to reintroduce beavers have been particularly successful in terms of both environmental co-benefits and healthy populations. Elliot McCandless, Communications Manager at the Beaver Trust, offered insight into this particular success story. Populations of wild beaver, a keystone species, can offer significant environmental benefits by building resilient landscapes and waterways, providing climate resilience and supporting natural ecosystem services. If given the space they need, beaver populations offer these valuable ecosystem services and benefits such as flood prevention. Learning to coexist with species such as beavers, typically seen as a destructive force, and providing them with the space they need to thrive offers us many benefits as well as supporting the regeneration of the natural environment.

But what about from a city perspective? Measures to rewild in the ways seen in continental Europe and Scotland through the restoration of large areas of wild land is not applicable to the city context. In our urban developments, small-scale measures are required to bring nature back into the city and blend away the concrete edges with increased green spaces, thereby forming networks and bridges of green space amid the built environment. One such innovative way of inviting wildlife back into our cities, as explained by Dusty Gedge, President of the European Federation of Green Roof Associations, is through ‘green roofs’. Creating a mosaic of green spaces on our roofs will invite invertebrates back into built environments. Encouraging insects through flora propagation will invariably lead to increases in the presence of their predators, such as birds. Roofs across the country are much like shingle beaches or dry grasslands and they are readily available spaces for bringing nature back into our cities.

It is evident that rewilding, especially in city environments, presents several challenges. There is no simple answer to the best way to bring nature back into our cities. Taking an approach that champions co-existence and creates habit spaces that support ecology around urban developments, instead of pushing it away to the outskirts, presents significant benefits for reintroducing the natural world to our cities.

As COP26 approaches, RSK has hosted a series of webinars focused on the biggest challenges facing our drive towards a sustainable future. Green Dialogues has provided an insight into three of these defining issues as we endeavour to achieve a future of sustainable transport, heating and biodiversity. The last webinar in the Green Dialogues series a head of COP26 will be held on 28 October. Experts from the agricultural industry will offer their insights on “Net-zero agriculture: The challenges facing our food chain”.

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