Biodiversity - Bringing Nature Back in the Middle of the Built Environment

"Humanity is a biological species that lives in a biological environment, like all species, we are very well adapted in every way: from behavior, to genetics, physiology, and the environment we live in. The Earth is our home. If we don't keep it as a sacred duty for the rest of our lives, we endanger ourselves by destroying the home in which we have evolved and on which we are totally dependent."

In our modern era, characterized by the prevalence of cars and massive urbanization, we see an increasing dissociation from nature. With a remarkable capacity for imagination and adaptability, humanity has created and colonized new universes in the last century, universes that are in reality virtual and artificial constructions. Our online presence, engagement in the world of virtual social media, and interactions with artificially generated systems have become essential components of our daily lives.

In our present, defined by technology and urbanization, we are witnessing a metamorphosis of the reality in which we unfold. We are the creators of a new landscape, from virtual worlds to the structural materials we have built. From the digital infrastructure of the Internet to modern metropolises surrounded by glass and steel, everything reflects human intervention and our aspirations.

This transformed reality has become the background of our daily lives, dominating mental and physical space. Even though we are aware of the importance of the connection with nature for our health and well-being, the time spent in the natural environment has become shorter and rarer.

We have succeeded in dominating nature, influencing and changing the order of nature to an extent that no other species on earth, except humans, has. To mitigate the negative changes that affect us, we can only dream of a world where humans rediscover the true values ​​of nature, where we give space to nature to thrive again.

According to this view, humanity shouldn`t attempt to place nature in a rigid, man-made military order and to compare forms with standards of perfection. We need space and air, we need to breathe from this multitude of orderly forms that strive for a monotonous perfection, through shrubs, groups of flowers and lawns trimmed and planted in perfect geometric lines and shapes (arrangements where no species that might disrupt the uniform rhythm is allowed).

For this shift in perspective to happen, we need to look with an open and receptive attitude at the nature that surrounds us, or would surround us if we let it. Then we could see in it the millions of colors, shapes and textures, we could discover the beauty that does not lie in monotonous symmetrical systems, but in the reality of nature. Then we could see the order and perfection reflected in the structure of a petal or a leaf. Because perfection lies in nature, in the multitude of millions of plants, in the variety of different species that grow freely. Then we could rediscover that they are, in fact, much closer to us than we think, they are diverse, colorful, varied and each plant unique in its own way, with its perfections and imperfections. What they all have in common is that they all want to live, they all compete for sunlight and food. Some species grow better than others in a certain place, while another place provides optimal space and conditions for different plant species.

Biodiversity – Bringing Nature Back in the Middle of the Built Environment
And more importantly, if we let these plants live, if we do not interfere with nature’s activity, participate only as admirers and observers, they perform an important ecological service for us, humanity, and they do it for free, all we have to do is we let them do their job. Because these plants, in addition to bringing a touch of true nature to the concrete jungle, provide shelter and food for many useful creatures that we have pushed to the brink of extinction due to globalization. On the other hand, they provide a significant cooling effect in many overheated urban built surfaces. It has been measured that while a carpet of grass can reach 40-42 oC in the scorching heat of summer, a rich and dense layer of biodiverse flowers does not exceed 28 oC during the hottest part of summer. This phenomenon is due to the high evapotranspiration of plants, which exerts a cooling effect on the environment, unlike built surfaces, which capture heat and release it slowly after sunset, creating so-called urban heat islands. Last but not least, biodiverse surfaces have a significant role in water retention, they can retain even 80% of precipitation, facilitating the operation of the urban sewage system, in the case of torrential rains, which have become more common in recent years.

Overheated cities and the climate crisis, which are causing problems at a global level, have made contemporary landscaping no longer just aesthetic, but play a more functional and multidimensional role to help create more livable urban environments. Today, globally, they perform functions such as promoting biodiversity, creating wild flower meadows with natural green areas, creating useful areas for pollinators, selecting plant species that can make the greatest contribution to reducing CO2 emissions , fostering indigenous species, creating urban ecological corridors that provide connectivity between green areas for animal species, and creating green spaces that can absorb and clean significant amounts of rainwater. In England, measures to implement biodiverse green spaces are not limited to public spaces. Private landowners are now encouraged to establish natural green spaces in private yards, thus supporting natural flora and fauna. It promotes the replacement of sterile and uniform green lawns with perennials, shrubs and diverse trees, preferably with indigenous plant species, reducing mowing and trimming and providing a truly natural green space, beneficial both for their habitat and for the multitude of species of animals.

In the near future, our country, like others, will have to join these efforts, replacing the trend of symmetrical and uniform arrangement of areas with green spaces that, in addition to the aesthetic aspect, will have to face a series of challenges of environment to create a truly sustainable, economic and healthy environment in our cities.

To embrace and support these initiatives, we need society to appreciate the benefits and realize the seriousness of the problems to which they provide an answer.

At the same time, it is necessary to look at plants, trees, water and soil not only as natural elements, but to see them as an integral part of the ecosystem, as part of the natural cycle of which we, humans, are also an integral part, even if sometimes we forget this in the urban rhythm.

The maintenance of complex green spaces, rich in various ornamental species, involves high costs, requiring a significant investment of time and effort. It also involves the implementation of complex irrigation systems and considerable water consumption, aspects that may become inefficient from the perspective of long-term ecological urban management. In this context, it is important to manage the available natural resources carefully and save as much as possible. The lawn, although it plays a crucial role in producing oxygen and purifying the air of harmful substances, requires constant and rigorous maintenance to maintain its long-term health and aesthetic appearance. This maintenance includes activities such as fertilizing, aerating, watering and regular grass cutting.

In contrast, biodiverse areas are much more economical to maintain, typically using plants that are resistant to drought and extreme weather conditions to protect the environment and do not require irrigation to maintain a healthy diversity of vegetation. Because they provide year-round bloom in a diverse palette of colors and shapes, while providing shelter and refuge for beneficial pollinator species, they do not need to be mowed except once a year. The seeds from the cut flowers fall back into the soil and provide a solid foundation for next year’s abundant floral palette that will enrich the assortment of plants. After mowing the biodiverse carpet, in autumn it will revive and, although in smaller numbers and quantities, will begin to bloom again, this time with a spectacular array of autumn-flowering species.

Biodiverse areas are usually implemented with great care, the mixture used contains only species that meet a number of criteria, i.e. plants that do not pose a threat to human health or the local flora and fauna, on the contrary, many of the plants used are considered medicinal plants. Also, the plants have good adaptability and drought tolerance, their root system is harmless, protects against soil erosion, their flowering offers a variety of shapes and colors throughout the season, from spring to autumn, with varying flowering periods. Plants should be valuable to animals, they should provide shelter and/or food. To recognize these qualities, a certain level of plant knowledge is required, otherwise species with similar botanical structure may be confused. For example, wild chamomile (Matricaria recutita), due to the rosette of similar basal leaves, can be confused with ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), harmful to human health. Although the biodiverse blankets contain more than a hundred different species, they are subject to regular monitoring and control, and any aggressive, noxious weeds that appear are removed.

In an era of climate change, every surface that provides a habitat for plants and animals is important.

While our imaginary and artificial world grows, the natural world, with its diversity and complexity, continues to do what it can for human survival. It provides us with food, energy and medicine, as well as a range of ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, air and water purification. Nature does all this despite the fact that we continue to push many species to the brink of extinction. Survival and reproduction are essential to all living things on Earth, and are fundamental characteristics common to all living things.

The current wave of extinctions is a symptom of our fundamental disconnect with nature and our lack of awareness that this world is our life support system on Earth. Currently, one in eight species is threatened with extinction.

"If bees disappeared from the planet, humans would only have four years left to live."

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