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The artist says her undeniably sad portraits of bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef are about resilience: ‘It’s not a fragile delicate flower … it’s so important to be optimistic and do what we can to protect it’
Laura Jones is pained by the delicate balance she wants to strike. Her paintings of coral bleaching are going to be engulfing, immersive and undeniably sad. But she wants them to express hope and resilience, too.
It’s something she keeps coming back to before, during and after I visit her studio, where she is preparing a major exhibition.Continue reading...
Oceanographers are busy mapping the powerful underwater eddies that have proved a major hazard to submariners
Rows of tall buildings channel the breeze, turning streets into wind tunnels and creating whirlwinds. A similar effect underwater may be deadly.
Tidal currents can produce giant whirlpools. Some, like the famous Maelstrom off the Norwegian coast, have been known as shipping hazards for centuries. Their destructive power feeds mythology; Maelstrom is the home of the mythical Kraken, which drags ships down, while regular whirlpools in the straits of Messina are blamed on the fearsome Charybdis.Continue reading...
As urban populations around the globe skyrocket and the demand for housing grows, space is increasingly at a premium in cities. Unfortunately, despite some notable efforts to include green space in cities, native wildlife is not often a priority for urban planners, despite research showing the benefits it brings to both people and ecosystems.
It may seem that bringing biodiversity back into cities would require large areas of land set aside for habitat restoration. But it is possible to use relatively small spaces such as transport corridors, verges and the edges of sporting grounds. Think of it as “land sharing” rather than “land sparing”“.
The idea of transforming public areas in cities into green space is not a new one. Allotment vegetable gardens, which have long been a staple of British suburban life, are enjoying a revival, as are community gardens in Australia.
These gardens are obviously great for sustainable food production and community engagement. But we think similar efforts should be directed towards creating green spaces filled with native vegetation, so that local wildlife might thrive too.Benefits for biodiversity
Cities can be hostile environments for wildlife, and although some rare species are still present in some cities, the destruction of habitats and growth of built-up areas has led to many localised extinctions. Often, species are left clinging on in particular reserves or habitat remnants. "Green corridors” through the built environment can link these habitat fragments together and help stop urban species from being marooned in small patches – and this is where native gardens can help.
Cities are often built in fertile areas on coasts, and because of their fertility are often home to large numbers of species, which means that planting native vegetation in public spaces can potentially help a wide range of different species.
A study in Melbourne found that native vegetation in urban green space is essential for conservation of native pollinators, as introduced plants only benefit introduced bees. But with the right habitat, even small mammals such as bandicoots can survive in urban areas.Benefits for people
Native green space in cities can also be used to educate communities about their wildlife. Community gardens can be a very effective way to bring people together and create a sense of identity and cohesion within a community.Native landscaping in playgrounds. Simon Pawley, Sustainable Outdoors
Many people in cities have little or no contact with nature, and this “extinction of experience” can make them feel apathetic about conservation. Green space lets city dwellers connect with nature, and if these spaces contain native rather than introduced plants, they have the added benefit of familiarising people with their native flora, creating a stronger sense of cultural identity.Where to share
There are many places in urban areas that can be tinkered with to encourage native species, with little or no disruption to their intended use. Picture the typical Australian park, for example: large expanses of grass and some isolated gum trees. Biodiverse systems are more complex, featuring tall trees, smaller ones, shrubs, herbs and grasses, which together create diverse habitat for a range of species. So by building native garden beds around single trees, at the park’s edges, or within designated areas (even among playgrounds!), we can gain complex layers of habitats for our native animals without losing too much picnic space.
We think of verges as places to park our cars or wheelie bins, but these grass borders are another underused area where we could plant native gardens. This not only improves the aesthetics of the streetscape but also reduces water use and the need to mow.Verge gardens. Simon Pawley, Sustainable Outdoors
Australia is a sporting nation and our sports grounds are cherished features of the urban landscape, yet there are plenty of opportunities here for native vegetation. The average golf course, for instance, only uses two-thirds of its area for actual golf (unless you’re a very bad shot). The out-of-bounds areas nestled between the fairways offer plenty of space for native biodiversity. Likewise, the boundaries of sporting ovals are ideal locations for native vegetation borders.
Even infrastructure corridors such as train lines, electricity corridors, and the edges of highways have the potential to contribute to the functioning of local ecosystems.Making it happen
As the existence of community gardens and Landcare groups shows, there is already a drive within local communities to make these ideas a reality. In fact, some groups of “guerrilla gardeners” are so passionate about urban greening that they dedicate their own time and resources towards creating green public space, often without permission.
But urban gardening doesn’t need to be illegal. Many councils in Australia have policies that encourage the planting of native plants in private gardens, with some even offering rebates for native landscaping projects.
Ultimately we need to both share and spare urban landscapes. By conserving habitat fragments and planting native gardens to connect these patches, we can bring native plants and animals back into our cities.
Lizzy Lowe's Endeavour Postdoctoral Fellowship is funded by The Australian Government Department of Education and Training
Margaret Stanley does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
Green energy such as wind power made up 40% of electricity generated in Britain, compared with 25% on 25 December 2015
Christmas Day was the greenest on record for energy generation, according to the power group Drax.
The company said more than 40% of the electricity generated on the day came from renewable sources, the highest ever. It compared with 25% on Christmas Day in 2015, and 12% in 2012.Continue reading...
Throughout 2016, astronauts aboard the International Space Station recorded the ever-changing face of the Earth and its environment. Here are a selection of their best photographsContinue reading...
We’ve asked readers to share their photos of wildlife they have discovered every month this year. Here is a selection of the best of them
Readers have been sharing a wonderful array of wildlife photographs every month throughout the year. And with 2016 drawing to a close, we thought it would be nice to document the very best of them from all four seasons. Here’s to more fantastic, up close and personal wildlife photography next year.Continue reading...
Winning images from national and international wildlife photography competitions of the yearContinue reading...
Sandy, Bedfordshire The tiny bird comes on strong at the end of the year, an emblem of the season
The singers began rehearsing for the main event as long ago as September. At first light, the murmur of traffic would be punctuated with tentative trills or cadences that expired almost as they began. The gaps between plaintive coos of the wood pigeon were filled with sotto voce snatches of song, making up for a lack of volume with notes of high piercing intensity. There is nothing that sings quite like a robin.
Robin song comes on strong at the end of the year, as if the bird were living up to its status as an emblem of the season. The simple scientific explanation is that male and female birds are re-establishing pair bonds and territorial rights.Continue reading...
Designation of Bears Ears in Utah and Gold Butte in Nevada mark last moves to protect environmentally sensitive areas in administration’s final weeks
President Barack Obama designated two national monuments at sites in Utah and Nevada that have become key flashpoints over use of public land in the west, marking the administration’s latest move to protect environmentally sensitive areas in its final weeks.
The Bears Ears national monument in Utah will cover 1.35m acres in the Four Corners region, the White House said. In a victory for Native American tribes and conservationists, the designation protects land that is considered sacred and is home to an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites, including ancient cliff dwellings.Continue reading...
Cougar killed after husky and owner injured in central Alberta forest during unusual attack on pet dog
A Canadian man punched a cougar in the face to stop it attacking his dog, police have said.
The incident occurred in a wooded area near a fast food chain in Whitecourt, central Alberta, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) said on Wednesday.Continue reading...
Australia is world-famous as a swimming nation. We have a celebrated beach culture, not to mention more privately owned pools per person than any other country. Yet few urban Australians would consider swimming in their city’s river.
Almost every major Australian city sits on the banks of a large river. But judging by online reactions to the suggestion of a dip in the Brisbane River, most people are worried about everything from ear infections to a painful death from brain-eating amoebae.
Melbourne’s Yarra River has been the butt of many jokes, most famously when Norman Gunston extolled its virtues as the river where you could go fishing and land a catch pre-wrapped in newspaper. In Sydney and Perth people just prefer the beach.MELBOURNE, VIC. 1943-11-17. Lieutenant A. M. Dennis and sergeant D. Lawson, members of the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS), do high dives during the AWAS swimming parade in the Yarra River. Australian War Memorial
It wasn’t always like this. Our modern distaste for river swimming is a stark constrast with a history where urban rivers provided a venue for sport, recreation and entertainment – all within easy distance of shops, offices and public transport.
There were clubs such as the North Adelaide District Swimming Club, formed in 1905, and open water swimming competitions such as those held on Perth’s Swan River from 1912. The Yarra River’s three-mile swim was held from 1917 to 1964, and at its peak was the largest open water swimming competition in the World.
There was spectacle as well as sport, with feats of aquatic derring-do that made swimming look like vaudeville theatre. In the Yarra, Annette Kellerman – one of the first women to reject pantaloons in favour of a one-piece bathing costume – swam her way to a world record between Church Street bridge and Princes Bridge in 1904. After leaving Australia she developed her own swimwear line and went on to become an author and renowned Hollywood actress. The Yarra was her unlikely springboard to global celebrity.Sidney Nolan takes a dive into the Yarra, 1942.
Endurance was similarly tested by “Professor” Alec Lamb in 1907 who swam 7 miles (11km) and dove from eight bridges, stopping for sustaining glasses of milk and whisky from his trainer’s boat. As the Argus newspaper faithfully noted, the first of his bridge dives was so high that the force of the impact tore off his swimming costume. Harry Houdini also famously attracted a crowd of 20,000 to watch him emerge triumphant from chains, handcuffs and the Yarra mud in 1910.
Melbourne’s river even hosted innovative fund-raising events. In 1910 the Royal Life Saving Society used it to stage a fake near-drowning, with a society member throwing himself off Princes Bridge before being “rescued” by a “policeman”. A third member then produced a megaphone to request donations from the concerned crowd of onlookers.
An arguably less brazen charity appeal centred on Solomon Islands swimmer Alick Wickham’s record-breaking dive of 250 feet (76m) into the river in 1917, attracting 50,000 spectators with the proceeds going to the Soldiers Amelioration Fund.Several lengths behind
Some projects are now aiming to recast Australia’s urban rivers as fun places to swim, including Our Living River in Sydney’s Parramatta River, and the Swim Thru Perth open water swimming event to be held in the Swan River. Meanwhile, the Yarra Swim Co. is planning to revive the three-mile race and build a river-fed swimming pool on the Yarra’s banks.
Fears about pollution are understandable, but can be managed by websites such as Yarra Bay Watch and the New South Wales Office of Environment Health . While important, the official advice inadvertently adds to the view that Australian urban rivers are little more than an extension of the stormwater system.
Compare that with the renaissance of river swimming internationally. British writer Caitlin Davies swam of the length of London’s Thames to uncover a multitude of present and historical swimming cultures. And municipal governments in Copenhagen, Portland, Berlin, New York and Boston have all embraced river swimming.
As the Swiss have already realised, to swim in an urban river is to reclaim, one stroke at a time, a public space and a wilder romantic past. It is no coincidence that the same country that zealously promotes urban river and lake swimming can also lay claim to a distinguished environmental record. Our regular, primary contact with this most primal of elements can act in a way to force change in the way our rivers are managed, helping both people and the environment to be a bit healthier.
This article was coauthored by Sally McPhee, based on her honours thesis for RMIT’s Bachelor of Urban and Regional Planning.
Marco Amati does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
A University of Edinburgh study finds birds are arriving at breeding grounds too soon, causing some to miss out on food
Migrating birds are responding to the effects of climate change by arriving at their breeding grounds earlier as global temperatures rise, research has found.
The University of Edinburgh study, which looked at hundreds of species across five continents, found that birds are reaching their summer breeding grounds on average about one day earlier per degree of increasing global temperature.Continue reading...
Brambles and birds did well, but bees dipped and butterflies were hindered, according to a review of the year’s wildlife and weather by the National Trust
Farmers made hay but rampant grass growth in 2016 made life hard for butterflies and even puffin chicks, according to a review of the year’s wildlife and weather by the National Trust.
The nation’s ever more variable weather brought both booms and busts, with brambles and birds doing well, and slugs flourishing. But bumblebees dipped and owls found field voles hard to find.Continue reading...
Wenlock Edge, Shropshire On a closer look, the trees are not still holding leaves at all but are full of bracts and seeds
From a distance, the common lime trees are a rich orangey colour. This looks wrong. The autumn leaves of these trees are buttery and the last of them blew down a month ago. The limes have a curious russet foliage, just like the coating of rust on the fallen leaves in a spring issuing from ironstone under the Short Woods a few miles north of here. The rusty limes look oddly out of time, as if frozen in an arrested autumn when all about them winter trees stand darkly naked.
On a closer look, the limes are not still holding leaves at all but are full of bracts and seeds. The bracts are small, oblong, modified leaves, pale and almost transparent when they open in spring, like solar panels on a satellite above the dangling cyme of two to seven flowers.Continue reading...
Cropland losses will have consequences especially for Asia and Africa, which will experience growing food insecurity as cities expand
Our future crops will face threats not only from climate change, but also from the massive expansion of cities, a new study warns. By 2030, it’s estimated that urban areas will triple in size, expanding into cropland and undermining the productivity of agricultural systems that are already stressed by rising populations and climate change.
Roughly 60% of the world’s cropland lies on the outskirts of cities—and that’s particularly worrying, the report authors say, because this peripheral habitat is, on average, also twice as productive as land elsewhere on the globe.Continue reading...