Urban Farmers and Gardeners Can Reduce Biodiversity Loss

For decades nature has been forced out of cities across the world. To counter this oversight, a number of grassroots and municipal initiatives have emerged, such as urban beekeeper associations, rooftop farmers, and vertical garden projects. The aim is to bring back the living – biodiversity – to city life.

By Bo Normander

Protecting biodiversity in urban areas has been recognized as an increasingly important issue. In part, this is a consequence of rapid urbanization. In 2009, for the first time in history, more than half the world’s population was living in urban areas. Urban growth is projected to continue in the coming decades, although at a decreasing rate, meriting special attention in order to make life in cities more environmentally sustainable. [1]

Urbanization has a negative overall impact on biodiversity and especially on native flora and fauna in areas under urban sprawl. But all native species do not suffer because of urbanization, and the species abundance and diversity in some areas and especially on the fringes of cities can be much higher than—although often very different from—the diversity of surrounding rural areas.

In Denmark, a study found that the urban area of Copenhagen, with its parks, forests, lakes, beaches, wildlife refuges, and other green areas, hosts a wide variety of species and in fact is one of the richest localities of biodiversity in the country. While more than 60 percent of Denmark’s land area is intensively farmed, leaving little room for biodiversity, pockets of rich nature remain in a number of semi-urban areas. [2]

For decades nature has been forced out of cities. Even the United Nations’ 2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity does not address aspects of urban biodiversity. To counter this oversight, a number of grassroots and municipal initiatives have emerged, such as urban beekeeper associations, rooftop farmers, and vertical garden projects in Amsterdam, Singapore, New York City, and a growing number of other cities.

These initiatives can reverse biodiversity loss and encourage urban greening and agriculture; they can also provide a way to improve quality of life, nourishment, and the integration of nature into city life. Another example is window farming. In one case, over a year more than 13,000 people worldwide downloaded instructions for building window-farms, growing their own fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, tomatoes, and peppers, in window openings. [3]

Urban farming and gardening is a way to help stop environmental destruction and the loss of biodiversity. As Jac Smit, founder and past president of The Urban Agriculture Network, pointed out, urban farming “creates green spaces, recycles waste, cuts down on traffic, provides employment, substitutes for imported high-value goods, prevents erosion and is good for the microclimate.” [4]

There are many urban land areas not in use today that can be turned into green spaces. To get started, local authorities should be required to provide information on land use in urban areas and to adopt favourable city planning so that people can create new green and diverse spaces.

Check out these great examples of urban farming:

HoneyLove Urban Beekeepers in the U.S.A., at www.honeylove.com

Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database, at www.greenroofs.com

Window Farming, at www.windowfarms.org

Introduction video to green roofs on YouTube

References

[1] UNEP, Keeping Track of Our Changing Environment. From Rio to Rio+20 (1992–2012) (Nairobi: 2011), p. 4

[2] A. H. Petersen et al., “Natural Assets in Danish National Parks” (in Danish), Copenhagen University, 2005; Bo Normander et al., “State of the Environment 2009—Part A: Denmark’s Environment under Global Challenges,” National Environmental Research Institute, Aarhus University, 2009.

[3] Brian McCallum and Alison Benjamin, Bees in the City: The Urban Beekeepers' Handbook (York, U.K.: Guardian Books, 2011); HoneyLove Urban Beekeepers, at honeylove.org; Greenroof & Greenwall Projects Database, at www.greenroofs.com; Windowfarms, “A Vertical, Hydroponic Garden for Growing Food in Your Window,” at www.windowfarms.org;

[4] Fred Pearce and Orjan Furubjelke, “Cultivating the Urban Scene,” in Paul Harrison and Fred Pearce, eds., AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment (Washington, DC, and Berkeley, CA: American Association for the Advancement of Science and the University of California Press, 2000).