areas where they used to thrive, as urban development swallows up their natural habitats. Ecosystems are being altered by buildings and roads, leaving only fragments of native vegetation and as a result, their inhabitants are being exposed to everlasting stress. Luckily, a new trend is appearing as we are increasingly acknowledging the importance of nature for our wellbeing. Supporting the return of nature into urban areas and protecting it has become an important aspect of modern urban planning. By applying the principles of ecology to the newly created urban ecosystems, city planners are creating new isles of suitable habitats for native species.
This is why a new term is being introduced – urban rewilding. Urban rewilding is a way to bring nature back to people’s daily lives, as it is an inseparable part of our origins. However, this idea carries more benefits than just our reconnection with natural elements, it helps with the conservation of the area specific habitat as well. An important principle applied through urban rewilding is the restoration of ecological processes through actions to protect the species that drive them. Wildlife brought to the new ecosystem is there to help facilitate growth of diversity of plants. For example, the presence of wild goats is vital for biodiversity richness of wild meadows. By grazing, goats keep meadows clean of invasive species, scrubs and trees. And by roaming through the grass, they disseminate all the different seeds¹.
Benefits of urban rewilding for our health
Without any doubt, the rewilding of lifeless urban centers has many positive impacts on our health. Numerous studies having been carried out regarding our perception of nature and the way in which it affects us subconsciously in the long term. The conclusion of these studies confirms that proximity to nature improves our mood, reduces anxiety and stress, and boosts our immunity²,³.
However, to maximize these benefits, it is recommended that we create natural environments directly around us. Many urban dwellers spend more than 40 hours in front of computers at work without any interaction with nature; that is why natural elements should surround us at least during the time of our commute home or be easily accessible in our neighborhoods. Through implementation of this rewilding concept in urban planning, a new trend of greener, health-enhancing and more sustainable cities can be achieved.
Choosing the right species
The choice of suitable species can be challenging. Some scientists believe that the first step to begin with is to make sure that existing populations are stabilized. But George Monbiot encourages the introduction of keystone species to initiate healthy functioning of the ecosystem from the outset. Sugar maple tree could serve as an example of such a species. The tree is essential for the survival of other plant species in its vicinity, as it has the ability to transport water through its root system from the deeper soil layers up to the surface where it can be utilized by other plants in a process called a hydraulic lift.
One way or another, species have to be selected for their suitability to adapt to life in an urban area, while performing basic ecosystem services such as water distribution mentioned in the example above. One important aspect to consider is their potential impact on people and other species, especially the potential of such species acting as invasive species. Overall, the main goal of carefully considering species composition should be to achieve self-sustainable ecosystems with functional dynamic processes, as these are more likely to withstand the artificially created conditions of the urban environment.
Isles of nature in cities can help people understand better environmental processes, as well as foster respect for life in diverse forms. Scientific evidence is particularly compelling when it comes to the long term benefits of greening up impervious concrete surfaces. Some of these benefits include: improved stormwater retention, reduction of air pollution and cooling of the city naturally. Therefore, urban rewilding could serve as a tool for ensuring a sustainable future and native species conservation, while protecting mental health of urban dwellers.