These 4 cities are encouraging people to protect biodiversity. Here’s how

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Stefan Ellerbeck, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • The UN estimates that around one million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction due to human activity.
  • Cities around the world are encouraging citizens to better protect nature.
  • From protecting dead trees to logging data, 4 cities show how they’re monitoring and boosting biodiversity.

Half of the world’s population lives in cities. That is projected to grow to two-thirds, or almost seven billion people by 2050.

Rapid urbanization poses a threat to wildlife and nature. Around a million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction due to human activity, according to the United Nations.

Research suggests that the world’s cities and surrounding areas can offer important refuges for plants and animals, including threatened and endangered species. However, conservation efforts need to be stepped up.

Here are four projects that are encouraging city-dwellers to help protect biodiversity.

1. Citizen ecologist

Singapore is home to an estimated 23,000-28,000 species of terrestrial organisms and 12,000-17,000 marine organisms. Its National Biodiversity Centre has developed an app that allows members of the public to send photos of plants and animals to a central database. The government says this “up-to-date biodiversity information is crucial for many decision-making processes that consider biodiversity, and allows knowledge gaps to be better identified and addressed”.

Singapore’s urban greening development policies have also boosted biodiversity. Despite its population density more than doubling between 1970 and 2020, the city’s green areas have expanded from 36% to 47% of its total land area, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

2. Leaving leaves well alone

The local authority in the Dutch city of Eindhoven is encouraging citizens not to clear away fallen leaves in parks or gardens, according to The Guardian newspaper. It says the city wants to boost diversity by protecting insect life.

Leaving leaves where they are has several environmental benefits, Raymond Van de Sande, a manager at landscaping firm Ergon, told The Guardian. “You let natural processes take their course, and you see that there are advantages not just in the areas of ecology and biodiversity but also with fewer weeds, and less need for water in the summer. When it rains, there is less runoff to the drains: it creates an entire process of improvements.”

The council is also planning to deploy 200 leaf baskets around the city. It hopes to encourage people who do want to tidy up fallen leaves to deposit them to be mulched and used for compost for plants in the city in the spring.

3. Wildlife gardening

A scheme in Australia is training volunteers to advise private landowners to improve outdoor spaces to help wildlife thrive. ‘Gardens for Wildlife’ is a community network in Melbourne bringing together local residents, businesses and schools to protect and care for native plants and animals.

Its tips for a “wildlife-friendly garden” include planting mature native trees, growing dense shrubs where birds can shelter, frog-friendly ponds, and nurturing butterfly-hosting plants. However, it describes grass lawns as “enemy territory that wildlife have to cross to get to safety.”

The council also advises participants not to try to feed wildlife as this can cause more problems than it solves. It says the best way to help them is by providing water and planting indigenous plants which they can feed on.

4. Preserving park trees

A public information campaign in the Canadian city of Montreal aims to explain to visitors why dead or diseased trees with cavities are being preserved rather than cut down and removed. They provide shelter for species of birds and small mammals, as well as being home to large amounts of organisms, the city explains.

Indeed, birds’ nests in tree cavities contribute about a fifth of the total nests in nature parks in Montreal. “Woodpeckers, owls and other birds of prey are wildlife trees’ main occupants, but squirrels, raccoons and voles are also found there.”

Decaying trees can support wildlife for up to 30 years – they eventually return to the soil as organic matter “continuing the life cycle”, according to the campaign.

Making cities more sustainable

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Nature and Business Report, a nature-positive pathway in the infrastructure and built environment could create more than $3 trillion in business opportunities and create 117 million jobs by 2030.

The Forum is collaborating with the Government of Colombia on a global initiative that supports city governments, businesses and citizens around the world to create an urban development model in harmony with nature: BiodiverCities by 2030. The initiative combines research with practical solutions in the service of sustainable, inclusive and nature-positive urban growth.

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