The Urban Landscape

Our natural environment has been changing for millions of years.  Australia’s isolation and long periods of geological stability has seen the evolution of unique wildlife, with around 80% of the species that occur in Australia classified as endemic. Indigenous land management over the last 40 000 years has undoubtedly also changed the landscape with fire used to maintain a mosaic diversity of habitat patches. However, with European settlement has come the most dramatic and rapid change to our natural environments.

Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world with an estimated 85 % of the population living in urban areas, most of which are within 50 kilometres of the east coast. When a new area is urbanised it almost always begins with the total clearing of the native vegetation and replacement with streets and buildings. Once these ecosystems are destroyed by clearing, they cannot be replaced. No amount of planting, however carefully done, will be able to reproduce the complex inter-related systems that they are composed of.

Areas of biological importance are being lost

Many of the areas that are popular for urban expansion are also of significant biological importance, containing a high proportion of Australia's wildlife. Ongoing land-clearing for urban development in these areas is leading to a significant loss of this biodiversity. Perhaps the best example of this is the 'biological hot-spot' that exists around the Brisbane area. In New South Wales, the Central Coast and new suburban developments in western Sydney are also examples of important biological areas being lost to urban expansion.

Why is this important?

Maintaining biodiversity is an essential element of sustainability for our own welfare and that of native plants and animals.

What can we do?

There are a number of things that can be done to reduce these losses in urban areas:

  • Large areas of land should be left intact when planning new urban areas.
  • Parks and open spaces should be planned for birds and other wildlife as well as people.
  • Wildlife corridors should be included in urban planning; for both new developments and old. Gardens can form a part of wildlife corridors.
  • Individual gardens should be planted for birds and other wildlife.

We now have the knowledge and capability to influence future environmental change in a positive way. The planning of our towns and cities must be conducted to incorporate, and therefore take advantage of, natural processes rathaer than involve the continued sprawling at our urban fringes. We do have the knowledge and capability to influence future environmental change in a positive way.

Whose responsibility is it?

We all have a responsibility to ensure biodiversity is maintained. All levels of government have responsibilities to legislate for this purpose. In New South Wales, Local Government Authorities (LGAs) are responsible for ensuring the maintenance and expansion of local biodiversity and must report back to the State Government regularly. But they can't achieve this without the help of their communities - which means all of us.

We need to become actively involved by:

  • Putting environmental issues on our agenda when we vote at all levels of government.
  • Working with our Local Government Authorities.
  • Becoming active in our communities in explaining that maintaining bird habitat and biodiversity is important.
  • Planning and planting our gardens for birds and other wildlife.
  • Talking to our neighbours about the need to take control of and improve our environments and encouraging them to participate too.

The urban landscape and birds

Our urban environment is not devoid of wildlife. There is a range of plants and animals that can, and do, live successfully with us (in some cases a little too successfully). In terms of birdlife researchers have documented a number of trends. In particular, the number of bird species invading suburban areas is increasing and the status of many species is changing from occasional visitor to resident, with some species like Noisy Miners, Pied Currawongs and Rainbow Lorikeets reaching higher numbers than in their natural habitats. Conversely, our small birds are in trouble. Once more common in our parks and gardens, honeyeaters, small insect eaters and little seed-eaters are now much rarer. Habitat loss, changes in our gardening style and the domination of the bird community by large and aggressive species have all contributed to the loss of these small birds. The good thing is, you can help them by getting out in your garden and creating habitat for them.

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