Fragments, functions and flows - the scaling of biodiversity and ecosystem services in urban ecosystems

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment

Abstract

Urban areas cover just 2.8% of the Earth's land area, but over 50% of the human population lives in them, and these proportions are growing rapidly. Such heavy concentration of people has a wide variety of important consequences. Those for their relations with the environment have attracted much recent attention from the media, pressure groups, policy makers, researchers, and local and national government. Of particular concern have been how improvements can most effectively be made to the environmental conditions experienced in urban areas, to the levels of interaction between urban dwellers and the natural environment, and to the contribution of urban areas to the broader scale provision of ecosystem services. This raises the key issue of the form of relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem services in urban areas, how the structure of urban areas (the spatial structure of the different kinds and extents of impermeable and permeable surfaces; urban form) influences these relationships, and thus how the existing structure can best be managed and how future structure can be planned to best effect.

Although understanding of the levels and distributions both of biodiversity and of ecosystem services in urban areas has improved dramatically in recent years the relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem services have been extremely poorly studied in urban areas (and are largely absent from major collations of empirical studies). Indeed, these environments pose significant and unusual challenges:

- the urban landscape is highly fragmented, with large portions sealed by buildings and paving;

- greenspaces are embedded in a complex mosaic of buildings and roads that imposes major constraints and directionality on the flows of biodiversity and ecosystem service delivery across the urban landscape;

- the intensity of human management of these environments can give rise to spatial patterns and scales of flows of energy, materials and biodiversity on which ecosystem services depend that would not naturally occur; and,

- the very aggregations of people that give rise to urban areas typically necessitate less conventional approaches to conducting ecological research therein, involving greater engagement with the general public, and less dependence on the use of large pieces of equipment, which is "out of bounds" to the general population.

In order to determine these biodiversity-ecosystem service relationships, develop deeper understanding and to test this understanding our overall approach to this project involves five main steps. We shall:

- characterise the spatial ecological structure of urban areas;

- determine biodiversity-ecosystem service relationships and the influence of connectivity on them;
- determine the flows of biodiversity, and service delivery in selected cases;
- experimentally perturb those flows to determine the impact on ecosystem service delivery; and
- integrate these findings in the form of spatially explicit models which will form the basis of an "ecosystem service" layer for GIS models.

This will enable us to deepen understanding, and to provide illustrations for stakeholders (such as planners, local people and NGOs) as to how "scenarios" of different development proposals might be tested, to provide support for decisions based on sound science and stakeholder engagement.

Planned Impact

Academic Impact

The data, techniques and results from this project will be of value to academic researchers in areas such as urban ecology, ecosystem services, human-nature interactions, and remote sensing. In addition, they will provide valuable insights into solving the challenges of bringing together different approaches to the assessment of ecosystem services, and will develop new approaches and techniques in this difficult interdisciplinary area of science. The study will generate valuable research experience in the management and use of hyperspectral imaging and full waveform LiDAR data, network modelling of urban systems, automated collection of bird movement data, and large scale deployment of ecosystem service assays across a range of services. These benefits will accrue to the research community through the publication of academic papers detailing the work, and also through the training and experience of the post-doctoral researchers employed on the project. This latter benefit will be particularly strong as a result of the management of the researchers as an integrated team, using the same field sites, with interacting and overlapping responsibilities for different project elements. Each researcher will both develop a range of skills and experience in their own area, but also benefit from the exchange of skills and experience resulting from working collaboratively with others with different skill sets on the same system. Generic skills such as team working, interaction with partners and the public, and communication of results to non-specialist audiences are also important elements of experience that the researchers will acquire.

Economic and Societal Impact

The insights from this project are directly aimed at providing the underpinning knowledge for making policy and management decisions that enhance quality of life, health and well-being in urban areas. The results will contribute directly to evidence-based policy making, for example addressing questions about the ecosystem service consequences of changes in urban density and form - a key current debate at local, national, and international levels. The project will address issues of both spatial structure, and management of urban greenspace. Results from the latter in particular will be of benefit for the many organizations and individuals involved in such management (including, of course, key project partners, as well as garden owners, local authorities and nature conservation groups), providing evidence both about the biodiversity and ecosystem service value of different greenspace types, and also about the consequences of different management regimes for these relationships. Our experimental manipulations - grassland maintenance, bird feeding, and urban meadow planting - have been chosen closely to match the types of management questions that are currently of interest to those managing urban land, or biodiversity within it, ensuring the relevance of the results to actual practice.

By taking into account multiple ecosystem services in our assessment of the role of greenspaces, and the effects of management, the results will allow a more holistic appraisal of the roles of different sorts of urban greenspace, and the relationship of those to biodiversity, than is usually the case. This will provide a more complete assessment of the contribution of urban greenspace to the environmental sustainability of urban systems. The outcomes of the project, in addition to providing evidence to underpin policy will, equally importantly, provide the data and understanding from which tools for spatial planning and management of urban greenspace can be developed.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Although analysis of the complex data sets, and publication preparation, are continuing there are some key findings emerging: The positive effects of exposure to increased biodiversity in urban settings; increased biodiversity of invertebrates in urban meadow plantings and the complex interaction of vegetation structure and biodiversity; a clear demonstration of the power of remote sensing to determine urban GI structure and composition; the impacts of urban structure on flows of birds and heat maps; the impact of green infrastructure on ecosystem service delivery and the role of connectivity.
Exploitation Route We are currently developing CPD courses with Professional Bodies related to urban planning and landscape architecture, and are working with consultancies delivering masterplans, environmental impact analyses and GI.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Construction,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL http://bess-urban.group.shef.ac.uk/
 
Description The findings from this project have fed into reports by POST on the Benefits of Urban Green Infrastructure and Health, and Green Infrastructure and Ecosystem Services in Urban Areas.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Policy & public services

 
Description Assistance in producing POST Briefing Report "Urban Green Infrastructure and Ecosystem Services"
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/POST-PB-0026
 
Description Gave expert evindence to the the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology on the formulation of POSTNote POST-PN-0538 "Green Space and Health"
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL http://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/POST-PN-0538
 
Description Member of the UK Delegation to the IPBES Plenary in Medellin, Columbia, 16 - 24th March 2018
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in other policy documents
Impact This work will inform policy makers at the upcoming CBD
URL https://www.ipbes.net/
 
Title Biodiversity responses to vegetation height and diversity in perennial meadow plantings in two urban areas in the UK 
Description The data describe the ecological responses (invertebrate diversity and biomass, plant diversity, soil characteristics and microbial diversity) to experimental manipulation of floristic diversity and vegetation height in planted urban meadows. The experiment consisted of a replicated set of nine different perennial meadow treatments, sown in six public urban greenspaces in the towns of Bedford and Luton, in the UK. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Modelled potential carbon storage based on land cover and published carbon storage values in urban landscapes of the South Midlands 
Description This dataset shows potential carbon storage as modelled for the urban areas of Milton Keynes/Newport Pagnell, Bedford, and Luton/Dunstable, UK. The modelling approach used the 'InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Trade-offs) 3.1.0' ecosystem service model suite, raster land cover maps at two spatial resolutions (5 m and 25 m) and published literature values for carbon storage by land cover. The resulting data are presented in the form of two 'GeoTIFF' raster map files (and associated metadata and spatial information files required by software) that can be viewed and manipulated in Geographic Information Software. The units are kg C per square meter. The purpose of the modelling was to help assess and visualise the value that urban green space represents to urban residents and natural systems in just one of many ecosystem services. This research was conducted as part of the larger 'Fragments, Functions, Flows and Urban Ecosystem Services' (F3UES) programme. Detailed methods and results of this analysis are published in: Grafius DR, Corstanje R, Warren PH, et al (2016) The impact of land use/land cover scale on modelling urban ecosystem services. Landsc Ecol 31:1509-1522. doi: 10.1007/s10980-015-0337-7. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Title Point count survey data for birds in the east of England, UK, in 2013 
Description This dataset comprises bird abundance data collected using point count methods in Bedford, Luton and Milton Keynes in the summer of 2013. The purpose of the study was to characterise the variation in breeding bird fauna across a range of urban forms. As well as measuring the birds that were 'really' present, the survey aimed to investigate the birds detectable at times of day when people were more active and more likely to have casual encounters with them. These data were collected as part of the Fragments, Functions and Flows in Urban Ecosystem Services (F3UES) project, as part of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability (BESS) framework. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
 
Description Appearance on CNN "Ecofinders" discussing Urban Green Infrastructure 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was interviewed by CNN for their "Ecofinders" series, focussing on Urban Green Infrastructure and its environmental and health benefits.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Bedford Council Press Release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Questions from general public and Councillors.

Greater understanding of the activities on our biomanipulation experimental plots.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.bedford.gov.uk/council_and_democracy/council_news/archived_news/april_2013/trial_for_olym...
 
Description Cranfield Master Planning Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The work from the Urban BESS F3UES project has directly informed the Cranfield University "Living Lab" initiative and the 25 year MasterPlan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Houses of Parliament POST Breakfast Briefing 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The talk resulted in much discussion and the recognition of the importance of green infrastructure in urban areas for delivering a number of important ecosystem service benefits, including positive health and biodiversity outcomes.

There has been some follow up activity with POST.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.parliament.uk/documents/post/UrbanGreenInfrastructuresummary.pdf
 
Description Interview Three Counties Radio 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interview resulted in inquiries from several interested public groups.

Several requests for talks at Schools and local interst groups.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Invited Expert Participant GOST Future Cities Project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact There was a rewarding interplay among disciplines that rarely interact, and the development of a common understanding of the issues regarding urban planning , biodiversity and ecosystem services. I was the only scientist involved, invited through being Lead-PI of the Urban BESS Consortium.

This activity has led to follow up collaborative discussion with several industry partners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Invited Speaker at the Natural England "Science in Practice" Conference 18th of January 2017, Bristol Temple Quay House 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An Invited Speaker (invited by the Deputy Chief Scientist) presenting a talk entitled "Learning from the Urban BESS project. How we can improve urban spaces for the benefits of nature and people."
This resulted in much discussion around how investment in urban green spaces and biodiversity may be achieved, in the audiences professional capacity as Natural England officers. This has led to follow up leads and potential advice/engagement activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Invited Speaker on well being and urban greenspaces at the BESS Science into Practice meeting for stakeholders and practitioners at the Royal Society 27th January 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This Invited talk resulted in a broad and deep discussion as to how modelling and mapping natural capital and ecosystem services in urban areas could be used to inform decision makers, especially those with a planning role in local government decision making.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.nerc-bess.net/index.php/meetings/279-event-bess-science-into-practice-royal-society-londo...
 
Description Landscape Institute EE 2016 Conference "Ecosystem Services by Design" 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Invited Talk "Ecosystem Services in Urban Areas" given to circa 50 - 60 Landscape Institute Members, which resulted in much discussion and debate, and consideration how to take investment in "Green Infrastructure" in urban areas forward, using their professional roles as practitioners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.cranfield.ac.uk/events/events-2016/liee
 
Description Part of the UKRI Tetrapartite Delegation Ottawa May 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Expert Advisor as part of the UK Delegation on the microbiome, and Living Laboratories
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Participant in an EPSRC funded workshop on Living Labs International Symposium held at the Unviersity of Newcastle 24 - 26th February 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Circa 40 participants in an International Workshop on Living Labs aimed at bringing together the academic community with policymakers. This was carried out as a workshop with brief talks, debate and workshop discussion and outputs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://conferences.ncl.ac.uk/livinglabconference/
 
Description Participant in the Environmental Association of Universities and Colleges "The Next Chapter: UK Living Labs" Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact A workshop consisting of keynote speeches and discussion of how the "Living Lab" concept could be operationalized in differing Universities. A lively and informative workshop with new networking and follow on activities.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.eauc.org.uk/shop/mms_single_event.php?event_id=5368
 
Description Urban BESS - NERC Podcast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Participants in your research and patient groups
Results and Impact Podcast generated some inquiries about our research.

After this talk a local group (Greensand Trust) asked to meet and discuss.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Workshop at BGS Keyworth "Urban grey-green-blue infrastructure" presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A presentation at BGS Keyworth exploring how concepts and models of the interactions between urban "Grey-Green-Blue" infrastructure can be used to assess ecosystem service outcomes and decision making.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016