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Nature in cities

Creating adaptive urban environments for people and wildlife

By 2050, it is projected that two-thirds of us will live in cities. Urban life can provide many social and economic advantages, but as the number of people working and living in cities increases, the quality and quantity of urban nature is suffering. A lack of urban green spaces and waterbodies means fewer vital habitats for wildlife, and increases our vulnerability to flooding, pollution and heat stress - all of which are predicted to worsen as climate change progresses. 

What are we doing?

Earthwatch Europe is working to reverse the decline in urban green spaces, encouraging nature back to our cities, so that they function better for people and wildlife.

Our research is focused on understanding how best to adapt our gardens, and optimise the services that urban green spaces provide. We’re bringing everyone together to help achieve this – from local communities and policymakers, to scientists and global businesses. The results from this work will inform urban planning, as well as help people make individual changes.

Our goal is to increase biodiversity and the total green space available in our cities, to make them more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

Naturehood

Naturehood is a project that brings people together to support the nature on their doorstep.

Domestic gardens cover an estimated 2-3% of the UK’s total land area – almost twice the size of the Lake District. If we carefully manage these patches for wildlife, they could provide an important habitat for many of our declining common species.

Earthwatch works with communities to establish ‘Naturehoods’: focused areas where people support local wildlife. To be able to demonstrate the impact of their Naturehood actions, we are also asking people to carry out survey about the animals visiting their gardens. This will provide our scientists with valuable data about how effective certain actions are, so that in future, we can encourage more of the actions that have the biggest positive effect on wildlife.

The first phase of the project, which began in 2019, started with the creation of four Naturehoods in Oxford and Swindon.

 

Find out more about Naturehood and how you can get involved!

Naturehood

Climate proof cities

Earthwatch created the Climate-Proof Cities programme to study how urban green spaces and waterbodies can increase cities resilience to the effects of climate change.

The programme examines nature-based solutions in 17 major cities around the world. Nature-based solutions are methods that use nature and natural processes to tackle challenges affecting people and their environments. Examples of nature-based solutions include urban parks, green roofs, wetlands and bioswales, confronting challenges such as water pollution and extreme weather events.

The Climate-Proof Cities programme brings together researchers and policymakers to identify how nature-based solutions are benefitting our cities.

This programme is now in its second year and is delivered through our partnership with HSBC. 

Over 50,000 data points
have been collected by citizen scientists for the research projects
Over 1,100 HSBC citizen scientists
have been trained and have contributed data to the research
95%
of participants
found contributing to the research a useful experience, providing learnings on taking sustainable action at home and at work

Find out more

Take a look at the research we are conducting in this area and our collaboration with HSBC, one of our longest standing partners. 

What are nature-based solutions?

Nature-based solutions are essentially interventions that use nature or mimic natural processes for the benefit of people and ecosystems. They have huge potential to enhance resilience to environmental change, such as heatwaves and flooding, and bring benefits to people’s health and the economy. 

Nature based solutions 

River bank vegetation

Vegetated riverbanks slow the flow of water and reduces erosion and sediment entering the water. Our research in China (Hong Kong, Suzhou and Guangzhou) explores the role of vegetation along river, stream and lake banks in controlling greenhouse gases released from rivers while improving urban resilience to flooding.

 

Wetlands and bioswales

Rain gardens are man-made drainage areas with vegetation that provide many of the same benefits as natural wetlands. Our research projects in the USA and Canada demonstrate that rain garden design and management impacts their effectiveness at reducing flood risk and moderating the micro-climate.

 

Lakes and ponds

Lakes and ponds help reduce the risk of flooding, support biodiversity, remove and store carbon, nitrogen and other pollutants, and provide a source of drinking water and food. We investigate how to improve the management of urban lakes and their surrounding spaces to increase these benefits in three cities across India and Mexico

 

Explore our regional projects:

UK and France

Investigating the relationship between land management around urban trees and the ecological services they provide, such as flood mitigation and preventing heat extremes. 

Mexico

Investigating critical aspects of the major water supply area to Mexico City, comparing nature-based solutions to more intensive approaches to water and land management. 

UAE

Investigating how trees in residential areas of Abu Dhabi affect urban microclimate and thermal comfort levels. The study examines vegetation, building and planning aspects with respect to the creation of more sustainable neighbourhood environments in Abu Dhabi and similar urban areas across the globe. 

India

Three complementary research projects in Mumbai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru investigating the potential of nature-based solutions to improve and conserve India’s freshwater ecosystems. 

Hong Kong

Investigating the relationship between catchment and river management in urban areas and the ecosystem services provided with respect to greenhouse gas emissions and climate regulation. 

China

Investigating the relationship between wetland management practices related to agriculture, tourism and conservation, whilst identifying how best to mitigate the adverse effects of land use change and climate change.

USA and Canada

Investigating the capacity of bioswales to increase flood protection, support local groundwater recharge and reduce extreme temperature events (i.e. urban heat island effects) across six cities. 

Corporate partner

Research partners

  • Imperial College London

    Imperial College London

  • University of Reading

    University of Reading

  • INRA

    INRA

  • Brooklyn College

    Brooklyn College

  • University of Arizona

    University of Arizona

  • Cary Institute

    Cary Institute

  • UNAM Mexico

    UNAM Mexico

  • CCMSS

    CCMSS

  • Masdar Institute

    Masdar Institute

  • IIT Bombay

    IIT Bombay

  • India Institute of Science

    India Institute of Science

  • Jawarharlal Nehru Technological University

    Jawarharlal Nehru Technological University

  • NIGLAS

    NIGLAS

  • WWF

    WWF

  • CUHK

    CUHK

    Images: iStock/JaySi, iStock/bingfengwu, iStock/Dymov, Earthwatch US

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