Tag Archive for: nature-based solutions

Nature

What do we mean when we talk about Nature-based Solutions?

When we think about green infrastructure, we are thinking about parks and open spaces, woodlands, street trees, allotments, private gardens, green roofs and walls, and sustainable drainage systems. The collection of these features into an integrated space creates multi-functional places that provide numerous benefits to society. Such as, better mental health and wellbeing, increased physical activity, reduction in urban heat, reduction in the impact and risk of flooding, carbon capture and storage, and increased investment.

We know green infrastructure has its benefits, however, can the development or enhancement of green infrastructure provide solutions to the challenges communities face now, and will face in the future. Challenges such as, climate change, disaster risk reduction, food and water security, health and wellbeing, and economic development. Nature-based solutions is a recent ‘hot topic’ in the world of parks, open spaces, and the wider environment. In a world where the need to start thinking seriously about how humans can build more symbiotic relationships with the natural world is becoming more apparent; one of the biggest questions is whether green infrastructure can provide cost-effective solutions to societal challenges, as well as providing environmental, societal and economic benefits.

The IUCN defines nature-based solutions as:

Actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural and modified ecosystems in ways that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, to provide both human well-being and biodiversity benefits. They are underpinned by benefits that flow from healthy ecosystems and target major challenges like climate change, disaster risk reduction, food and water security, health and are critical to economic development.

This broad sweeping definition of nature-based solutions encompasses a wide range of activities, so we’ve explored some of the ways in which nature-based solutions can be applied to parks and public open spaces.

Water and Flooding

Natural drainage is severely hindered by heavily built up urban areas with predominantly non-pours surface cover – such as concrete. Urban green spaces infiltrate an average 30% of rainfall compared to heavily built-up areas with little vegetation which infiltrate approximately 6%. Urban green spaces, parks and vegetation can help intercept as much as five times more rainfall, enabling direct infiltration into the more permeable soil underneath.

Nature-based solutions also include more targeted approaches to managing the risk and impact of flooding in local communities. Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) are designed to manage surface water in ways that mimic the natural drainage process. These types of green infrastructure include rain gardens, swales and wetlands. A network of inter-connected SuDS integrated into grey infrastructure can not only reduce the risk and impact of flooding for local communities, but can also reduce the costs associated with infrastructure maintenance and water management.

Click here for examples of how SuDS infrastructure has been integrated into local community parks and open spaces.

Biodiversity

Urbanisation is one of the key drivers of biodiversity change, the protection and enhancement of remnant nature areas in urban environments, such as ponds and urban meadows, provide an indispensable habitat to support biodiversity. Whilst conservation is vitally important, there are a number of other approaches to supporting and enhancing biodiversity, particularly in local communities. Incorporating green infrastructure into the built environment supports significantly higher levels of biodiversity then conventional ‘grey’ infrastructure alone.

Some ideas of interventions to enhance the variety of natural life within local communities could be, for example, introducing a new mowing regime or enhancing natural wildflower meadows. This will increase the biodiversity of grassland and flower specifies in the local environment. Planting native tree species, shrubs and hedgerows will also enhance plant life biodiversity and all together provide excellent habitats for birds, pollinators and other invertebrates. Bug hotels, nest boxes, hedgehog highways will also provide welcoming environments for wildlife.

Carbon sequestration and urban heat

Vegetation sequesters carbon through photosynthesis. On average, urban parks, vegetation, green spaces and grasslands sequester 0.2kg of carbon per year per m2. The estimated value of carbon sequestration in parks and open spaces in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough is £700,000 and is estimated to increase by 23% by 2031. Parks and open spaces also help cool urban heat through evaporative cooling, reflecting heat energy and shading heat absorbing surfaces. Therefore parks and open spaces store less thermal heat compared to building and road infrastructure, shade these surfaces to reduce the amount of thermal heat stored, and actively cools the surrounding environment (evaporative cooling). Due to the ‘urban heat effect’ cities experience day and nigh temperate that are, on average, 1.0 to 3.0°C warmer than the surrounding nature and agricultural landscape. Studies in the UK, Sweden, Solvenia and Rotterdam reveal an average reduction of daytime air temperatures of 2.7°C in central urban parks. This cooling effect has been shown to extend beyond park boundaries, for at least the width of the park or green space.

Society, Community, Health and Wellbeing

In addition to the benefits parks and open spaces can have on the risk and impact of flooding, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and urban heat, they also have a range of well-established benefits for health and wellbeing, quality of life, and social cohesion. Evidence suggests that social ties are stronger in greener neighbourhoods, and that natural space has an important role to play in both the attachment people have to the area they live, and their interactions with other local residents.

A rapid scoping review of the benefits of green infrastructure to people’s health and wellbeing found that people who life in neighbourhoods with greater amounts of green infrastructure tend to be happier, healthier and live longer lives. Frequent exposure to good quality green space is associated with improved mental and physical health, increase physical activity and increased connectedness to nature. However, quality and quantity of provision is important as greener environments – i.e. spaces that provide for nature as well as residents – as associated with stronger health and wellbeing outcomes.

Click here to read more about the health and wellbeing benefits of parks and public open spaces.

However, a recent report from Friends of the Earth revealed that, nationally, as many as 1 in 5 people in England ‘lose out on the benefits of quality local green space’ and that people from non-white backgrounds are more than twice as likely to live in an area deprived of green space. The fact that some of the UK’s most deprived communities often have less access to green space is not only an environmental justice issue, but also a potential barrier to realising sustainability targets. Studies in the UK have demonstrated a positive relationship between exposure to nature and pro-environmental behaviour, highlighting the importance of engaging local communities in nature-based solutions.

Nature-based solutions can also provide economic benefits through improved health and wellbeing – reducing the associated costs of treating ‘lifestyle diseases’ – reduced costs associated with climate change impacts, community revitalisation, and attracting investment. Accessible, multifunctional nature-based solutions can not only reduce costs but also spur economic growth, for example, 50% of parks visitors will also visit a local business before or after visiting a park.

Delivering multiple benefits

This article has sought to demonstrate the multiple benefits of nature-based solutions in parks and open space, and whilst the examples have focused on particular themes these benefits should not be considered in isolation. Principally, a nature-based solutions approach seeks to use green infrastructure to sustainably overcome a variety of environmental, social and economic challenges. This in turn requires us to view parks and open spaces as multi-functional spaces that have the potential to deliver multiple benefits.

The novelty of nature-based solutions for cities lies in a focus on the cost-effective provision of multiple co-benefits for many urban residents

 Nature-based Solutions for Climate Change in the UK: A report by the British Ecological Society 

For instance, an inter-connected sustainable drainage system, integrated into ‘grey’ infrastructure is capable of delivering social, environmental and economic benefits to the local community. The infrastructure provides social benefits by reducing the risk and impact of flooding and provides a service to the local community as an adaptive measure to the risks of climate change. Sustainable drainage systems also provide biodiversity services providing habitats for a variety of plant and wildlife species. Finally, sustainable drainage systems reduce the costs associated with incidence of flooding, and reduce the cost of infrastructure maintenance and water management thus providing an economic service as well.

To summaries nature-based solutions can take a variety of forms and serve a variety of functions. It would be impossible to prescribe a one size fits all approach to maximising the potential benefits of green infrastructure in local communities. The potential applicability of nature-based solutions varies and will depend on the opportunities and challenges present in a particular locality. However, there is huge potential to be gained for integrating a nature-based solutions mindset to addressing some of the most challenging problems we face in the 21st century.

 

If you are interested in taking a much deeper dive into nature-based solutions, there are a wide variety of resources to draw from. The Greater Manchester IGNITION project for example has collated an exceptionally comprehensive database of resources. The IGNITION project aims to develop business models and funding mechanisms to demonstrate the case for further investment in nature-based solutions. By collating evidence of the potential economic, environmental and social benefits of green infrastructure, this can form a solid foundation for a robust business case for investment in nature-based solutions.

We have also provided a list of resources that we referred to when putting this article together:

British Ecological Society (2021) Nature-based Solutions for Climate Change in the UK: A report by the British Ecological Society

The IGNITION Project (2020) IGNITION Nature-based Solutions Evidence Base Headline Findings Report 

Natural England (2020) A Rapid Scoping Review of Health and Wellbeing Evidence for the Framework of Green Infrastructure Standards

Biodiversity Toolkit for Housing Providers

 

Complete list of references

Stafford, R., Chamberlain, B., Clavey, L.,Gillingham, P.K., McKain, S., Morecroft, M.D.,Morrison-Bell, C. and Watts, O. (Eds.) (2021). Nature-based Solutions for Climate Change in the UK: A Report by the British Ecological Society. London, UK. Available at: www.britishecologicalsociety.org/nature-based-solutions

Chapter 8 ‘Nature-based Solutions and the Built Environment’ Authors: M. W., Cadotte, E., Bader, B., Chamberlain, M. A., Gaddard, J. S., MacIvor

Dr R., Morrison and S., Hartley (July 2020) IGNITION Nature-Based Solutions Evidence Base Headline Findings Report

Lovell, R., White, M.P., Wheeler, B., Taylor, T., Elliott, L. (2020) A rapid scoping review of health and wellbeing evidence for the Green Infrastructure Standards. European Centre for Environment and Human Health, University of Exeter Medical School. For: Natural England, Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Public Health England, and Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, England.

Botham, M.S, Howell, K.A., Kerans, J., Pescott, O. L., Roy, H. R., Barnett-Warden, E.L., Scott, I., Szczerba, P., Vince, J., P., Boydell, M., Cartwright, S., Hunt, T., and Peyton, J. M. (2020). Biodiversity Toolkit for Housing Providers. Field Studies Council Publications, Telford. https://doi.org/10.6084m9.figshare.14061959.v1