Leeds Ecosystem, Atmosphere & Forest (LEAF) Centre

Wildlife & Habitats

Our towns and cities are typically considered to host a less diverse range of plants, animals and birds than nearby rural areas (McKinney, 2006). However, green spaces within an urban area can be home to many of the same species that are more commonly associated with rural settings (Cornelis & Hermy, 2004), including those that are rare or threatened (Schwartz et al., 2002; Fuller et al., 2009). For some species, urban areas can provide a more favourable habitat than intensively farmed countryside (Fuller et al., 2009; Baldock et al., 2015), suggesting that towns and cities could make an important contribution to national conservation efforts.

Large parks and woodland regions are able to support the widest range of species (Cornelis & Hermy, 2004), but even small areas of vegetation such as roundabouts (Helden & Leather, 2004), roadside verges (Saarinen et al., 2005) and green roofs (Brenneisen, 2006; Baumann, 2006) can support a range of plants, insects and birds.

For many city dwellers, spending time in urban green spaces is their only regular opportunity to be surrounded by nature. Research suggests that people get more enjoyment from spending time in green space when they perceive there to be a high level of biodiversity and that visitors to green spaces would be willing to pay to see an enhancement in the species richness of plants, birds and invertebrates (Dallimer et al., 2012; 2014).

Urban green spaces can act as “wildlife corridors”, linking together larger parks, and providing links to rural areas on the outskirts of towns and cities. This facilitates the movement of animals, birds and insects between individual green spaces and prevents the fragmentation and isolation of wildlife (Rouquette et al., 2013; Hale et al., 2012).

In the UK, urban green spaces form an important habitat for pollinators, such as bees, butterflies and hoverflies (Baldock et al., 2015). Maintaining a healthy population of pollinators is vitally important as many flowers and crops (including tomatoes, apples and strawberries) depend upon them in order to reproduce. Pollinator populations are declining in the UK (Goulson et al., 2008; Potts et al., 2010), so the provision of viable habitats in urban regions could form part of a broader strategy to combat this trend.

The more green space the better for urban wildlife, but strategies designed to enhance biodiversity will depend on the location, type of habitat and species present (CABE, 2006). However, some general themes emerge, such as: less intensive management practices, e.g., infrequent mowing of grass; protecting some parts of the green space from human interference, e.g., routing paths away from the most suitable nesting locations to prevent adverse effects on the reproductive success of birds; and the introduction of locally native wildflowers.