University leads the way with Biodiversity

mike-blog

It’s a rare thing for me to write a blog – indeed, this is only the second I’ve ever written (the first on one of my other passions, reuse).  As such, I’m sure you will understand that for me to do this, it is because I’m writing about something that I am very excited about, biodiversity.

Why is biodiversity so exciting?  With a background in farming and nature conservation, I really enjoy working on the campus biodiversity and working with lots of interesting people across the campus, including our academic lead, Professor Claire Quinn, the Capital Projects and Grounds Teams, Leeds University Union and too many external people to mention!  I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring new avenues for us to be creative in the way we have to manage the campus. Our first biodiversity plan, written in 2011 by academics in the School of Earth and Environment and the Faculty of Biological Sciences was based on a very different campus.  At that time, the city campus was in desperate need of rejuvenation, which has led to one of the largest capital development schemes since the 1960s and we have built lots of new buildings that are sure to create a legacy for the University to be proud of for many years to come.

Whilst all of this was taking place, we still managed to achieve some of the objectives in our Biodiversity Plan!  ‘How was this possible?’ I hear you say and I would have to reply that it is down to good communication and collaboration across the organisation.

I have chaired the University’s Biodiversity Group since its inception, and through that group we have explored many new ideas and have used the University as a test bed for some of these.  The creation of wildflower meadows, a sustainable garden, a network of campus beekeepers or corporate links to the RSPB and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust are all a testament to this.  Our students and academics now use the campus to explore new research ideas and projects and it is a great privilege to be a guest lecturer on a biodiversity management module.  As part of this, students have had the chance to
explore some of the issues and opportunities within inner-city urban areas and I take real pleasure in knowing that I have, in some small way, given them a grounding in some of the ‘real world’ issues they might face in their career.

We are also exploring ways to improve biodiversity on campus; everything from the green walls outside the new multi-storey car park to the permeable surfaces outside the newly-refurbished Institute of Transport Studies building. The development of the campus creates a real challenge when it comes to improving our biodiversity and means we are having to be creative and diligent in our approach!

Perhaps most enjoyable of all has been the ongoing engagement with staff, students and local schools on the benefits of biodiversity, including local organisation ‘Into University’ designing  biodiversity-friendly borders on either side of the Parkinson Steps and nursery children from our campus nursery ‘bright beginnings’ visiting the sustainable garden.

The sustainability strategy set the objective to become ‘an exemplar of urban biodiversity’, driving us to be innovative and creative, but also to take all of the latest thinking around urban biodiversity management – and I emphasise the ‘Urban’ element in all of this.  There is an increased interest in the benefits of green spaces in rural areas (see this article for a useful insight: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/oct/12/importance-urban-forests-money-grow-trees  highlighted via the soon-to-be-published UN document, ‘New Urban Agenda’. It is clear that urban green spaces are a wonderful opportunity area to not only improve wildlife connectivity, but also offer improved wellbeing and a wide range of other benefits such as cooling and reduced flooding risk

With all of this in mind, and building on the successes of the past five years, we have developed a new ‘Biodiversity Standard’ which really does set a new standard for biodiversity and allows us to be ‘exemplars’ in the sector.  It presents us with an incredible challenge in light of the University’s growth, with some difficult decisions to be made.  However, by working together, as well as linking with the upcoming landscape master plan, we will be able to effectively manage our biodiversity and lead the way as ‘exemplars of urban biodiversity’ into the 21st Century.

What’s not to get excited about?  I truly have the best job in the world!