Saturday, 14 April 2012

Urban Ecology needs urban ecologists



Urban ecology was first quantified in a beautiful book published in 1989 by O.L Gilbert. In it he described the fauna and flora of our urban habitats particularly railway line sides, urban woodland, cemeteries, lakes, rivers, waterworks and water pipes. He discusses the links between people and wildlife, successional processes and urban planning, in a most detailed and interesting way.

River wall, old boats provide niches for birds, fish, macrophytes etc
He praised Fitter’s outline account of the flora and fauna of waterworks (1945) and regales with tales of the removal of 90 tons of zebra mussels from 400m of water main at Hampton, Middlesex. With further tales of Asellus, Gammerus, and the parthenogenic (meaning sans ow’s ya father) Potamopygus jenkinsi, living in water pipes, the mind boggles at the fauna that could be found colonising natural, sweet water left for many years without any chemical interference.

But we shall remain boggleless, as the invertebrate surveys undertaken at the Surbiton FB’s, failed to survey aquatic invertebrates (except a few found on emergent vegetation) concentrating on the  fauna of the terrestrial habitats. Perhaps the new consultants engaged on the Hydro project could enhance their appreciation of the former waterworks site by a reading of these informative accounts, which take us back to former times when ‘neglect’ had value at the frontier of nature colonisation:

rubble piles were basking reptile habitat; Spanish broom provided structure for nesting birds and 22 deep wells and structures provided a complex of conduits for bat hibernation. As a result the Thames Water ES stated that, the Filter Beds were of such quality for wildlife that they were donating them all for nature conservation. Perhaps they had read Gilbert.

Funnily enough, urban ecologists tend to be good at evaluating urban habitats,  so a Daubenton’s maternity roost will be considered rare to the London region, the little grebe population rare to the Surrey Region, bat hibernacula rare to the borough and a breeding reptile population will be considered rare locally.

Urban ecologists will be adept at controlling and limiting the factors, which blight our urban wildlife communities with mechanisms such as: pet covenants (9 million cats eat 60 million songbirds each year); strict limitations on all sources of light pollution; limits on other pollutants; and retaining the features that wildlife has been proved to use (from survey information).

Boobies
This will mean that they will tell their clients that some types of development are totally unsuitable at certain sites (which is exactly what the original For Sale sign said). 

So that a plan which introduces factors such as light and oil pollution, carnivorous and defecating pets, destruction of heritage assets with the potential to contain bat interest, will not best conserve chalk grassland, reptiles, sweet water, large flocks of overwintering lapwing, 5% of the breeding population of little grebe………………….Lets have some urban ecology.

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