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Celebrating city wildlife

Claire Wansbury | 22 Dec 2016 | Comments

If, like me, you’ve been enjoying the return of the BBC’s Planet Earth you’ll have seen that the last episode of the second series looked at wildlife in cities. It followed a wide range of species that have adapted to find a niche in which they can thrive, even in our densest urban areas. The programme also gave some intriguing glimpses into the benefits communities gained from the presence of wildlife around them.

Having enjoyed the whole series, I was delighted to see the recognition of our wild urban neighbours received in the final episode. I was particularly pleased to see the peregrine falcon feature as, for those of us in the UK at least, such inspiring programmes can sometimes leave the viewer with a feeling that all the ‘proper’ wildlife is somewhere else, only accessible to them through the television.

While the programme showed us the surprising resilience of nature, there were also plenty of examples where human’s impact on the world has been too drastic for species to adapt to, making survival increasingly difficult.

Looking around London, it is essential to also recognise and celebrate the fact that making space for nature benefits the people of the city as well as the wild animals that colonise our green spaces. This is being increasingly recognised by industry, as well as policy makers, but we still have a lot of work to do.

As part of the London Assembly’s inquiry into the future of the capital's parks this year Atkins’ contribution of evidence found that parks are still thought of as a cost rather than natural capital assets, despite increasing evidence of the many benefits they deliver to society and the economy. For real change, and in order to protect our natural assets in a time of a housing crisis and economic constraints, we need to measure the value natural spaces contribute to our cities in a more tangible way. 

Earlier this year I was part of a study of Camley Street Natural Park in Camden, where the London Wildlife Trust had invited Atkins to measure the cost benefit the park delivered to the local area. Incredibly, this site smaller than a hectare in size was estimated to deliver £2.8 million in benefits to the local community per annum. As well as contributing to the protection of the site, I know the study has also inspired colleagues to explore the park, conveniently located close to our head office, for the first time, which is a wonderful added benefit. 

Planet Earth II has been a brilliant series and got us all to re-engage emotionally with the animal kingdom. I hope that, as a society, we can start to bring the value of nature into our decisions in a more meaningful way. As individuals, for the sake of our own physical and mental health, we should adapt make time for wildlife in our daily lives. Small changes made on a city-wide scale can make a real difference and, while a daily dose of the nature on our doorstep may not have the same awe-inspiring impact of the stunning imagery of Planet Earth II, in its own quiet way it does us all a power of good!