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Snippets and tips: Bush in the suburbs

The value of urban bushland

In 2001 some of the Friends attended the launch of URBAN BUSHLAND UNDER THREAT (two volumes) by Helen Webb and Angela Foley. Professor Andrew Beattie, from the School of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University gave a fascinating speech. In it he answers questions about the VALUE of urban bushland and why we have to keep fighting for every remnant still surviving and why we have to regenerate the areas that have been reserved. Below is an abbreviated version.

Why do we worry so much about the survival of urban bushland?

For me one of the chief values of urban bushland is educational. Why? Because most Australians live in cities. The overwhelming majority of us have grown up in city, urban or suburban surroundings....and this where most of us stay.

In this context, our principal or only contacts with nature are the remnants of bushland that survive urbanisation. We catch glimpses of the native flora and fauna in patches of bush between houses, along roads and in the reserves and parks.

For the urbanised, citified majority of us, urban bushland is the nearest we get to nature. Its presence reminds us what urbanites have forgotten - that no matter where we live, even if it is the very heart of the city - we live in an ecosystem.

In the city and urban environment we have removed huge chunks of the ecosystem ...species have disappeared - how many we don't know.

Many species are part of the machinery of the ecosystem and now, although we usually don't know it, they work for us: species that detoxify our domestic and industrial wastes, species that recycle all kinds of material, species that restore water quality, species that rehabilitate abandoned industrial land, species that generate oxygen, remove methane and maintain air quality, species that regulate pests in our market gardens and veggie patches and convert our garden waste to compost. And, of course the species that are fun to watch.

Urban bushland reminds us, educates us, about the ecological realities of where we live.

And what about the scientific values of urban bushland? Do corridors really work? Are some bushland fragments so small or unfortunately located that they are certainly doomed?

Research continues... and we do not know many of the answers. But one thing is clear - if we don't preserve urban bushland many species will disappear from our local environment and our children, among others, will not forgive us.

The Commonwealth State of the Environment Report executive summary is already out and it says that the greatest threat to the nation's biodiversity - at any level - ecosystems, species or genes - is the clearance of land.

Australians are very good at land clearance - we see pictures of the outback with great machines flattening woodlands, forests and shrublands. It is a vast and actively continuing threat to the nation's soils and water supplies and the world's climate. As a nation, we are still clearing vegetation as quickly as anyone else .

But it isn't just a rural problem. What are cities and urban sprawls but areas where vegetation clearance has been just as complete? Bushland remnants are living monuments to intensive clearance.

The great menace of clearance is as much an urban problem as a rural one.

These two volumes are a major step forward for Sydney ....a source that pulls together a mass of information that provides us with knowledge, guidance and a course of action.

They will help planners and developers confront and deal with the ecological realities of their schemes. They will promote the inclusion of ecological factors in decision-making.

Our quality of life, our ability to attract visitors and maintain our key tourist industry and our world-wide reputation at the Olympics depends on the protection and care of our urban bushland. Along the Harbour, it makes the place attractive, it maintains wildlife, it buffers us from excesses of the climate, it plain makes us look good.

Make no mistake, if Sydney is to offer a green Olympic Games in the year 2000, these two volumes must be required reading for all the planners and developers. ... Indeed if Sydney is to beat the competition in the tourist trade, it must stay truly green. These volumes are key references required to achieve the goal.

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