Urban Networks for People and Biodiversity – Form and Function
May 2008


Background to research
The development of habitat networks is widely seen as a key mechanism for reversing the effects of fragmentation on biodiversity while delivering a range of other social and environmental benefits such as enhancement of local landscape character and greater opportunities for public access and recreational use. Tools to address habitat fragmentation have evolved from landscape ecology principles examining the metapopulation theory, landscape metrics and focal species modelling. There is growing interest in applying these concepts to planning and management of peri-urban and urban areas. A challenge is to integrate such concepts with other long-established views on the value of greenspaces within urban areas.

The concept of Urban Networks for People and Biodiversity provides a framework for addressing the multiple needs for public health, education, biodiversity, and ecosystem functions. At the landscape scale, encouraging people and communities to link with greenspace issues has often been implemented by identifying and protecting greenspace for people to appreciate and use (as retreat from the ‘hustle and bustle’ of urban life, for walking and cycling, for outdoor activities including education, etc.). Enhanced engagement can contribute to transformation in environmental quality (real and perceived) and ultimately achieve the renewal of run down urban areas, with an increase in the economic value of the area and a stimulation of economic activity and investment (Anon, 2005).

Development of networks into integrated long-term spatial planning is evolving, for example in the Netherlands with the interaction of greenspace and water system qualities forming the basis for the Twente Urban Network (Vandentop, 2006). Networks can enlarge and reconnect elements of greenspace by spatially targeting opportunities to address fragmentation caused by reduction in the size, and increased distance between, greenspace patches in the landscape. Greenspace restoration and expansion suggested by the network analysis can inform a variety of planning including Structure plans and Local Biodiversity Action Plans. Although appealing, the application of network concepts to people and biodiversity is challenging, and forms the research question:

Is it possible to integrate the needs of people and wildlife in green networks within urban environments, in other words to deliver multifunctional green networks ?

To address this research question there is a need to identify and review relevant tools and applications/approaches and assess the usefulness of existing social and environmental data in helping to map and analyse multifunctional green networks in the Scottish urban environment.

Objectives of research
Key findings

The review informed the basis for examining opportunities to apply these approaches to urban areas, recommending ways in which information on green networks can be used to examine their current functions, and identifying opportunities to enhance this functionality to achieve a range of social and environmental benefits.

It is suggested that the least-cost focal species approach be adopted as a way of mapping and analysing urban networks. This approach negates the need to carry out a vast number of individual species analyses, which is particularly important as data regarding species habitat requirements and dispersal through greenspace is lacking. However, it is recognised that the use of a focal species approach to modelling people networks is a new venture and relatively untested.

The most novel aspect of the project involved the development of people as a focal species by creating three profiles to represent: people who are currently less likely to engage with greenspace; confident people who readily use a range of greenspace types; and ‘average’ users. These profiles were applied in the modelling process to express the types of greenspace different people are likely to use and how the people may move through the intervening areas.

Areas of greenspace for people were identified using OS MasterMap PAN65 typologies, City of Edinburgh Council Significant Open Spaces and their associated access points. Analyses were run across a range of scenarios to demonstrate current network extent for each user group, and potential network extent if a larger number of suitable greenspace areas were made available to the different users.

The biodiversity assessment investigated whether the Lothian Wildlife Information Centre (LWIC) Local Biodiversity Site Assessment Methodology could be used to assess the biodiversity value of greenspace. This methodology provides a biodiversity rating for sites, using biodiversity assessment utilised greenspace data as criteria. Whilst this approach helped to identify areas with potentially high biodiversity quality, the size of the assessment units and the proximity of areas with high biodiversity may result in an overrepresentation of biodiversity quality. The range of Phase 1 habitat types within each biodiversity site can be used to sub-divide the greenspace units into ‘excellent’, ‘above average’, and ‘average’ components.

The approach expressed the current and potential networks for both people and for biodiversity, using a range of user types and biodiversity groups. The networks indicate that, whilst the greenspace areas are accessible to confident users, other user types, particularly those who are limited in range or may lack access as they do not have (or are unwilling to get to) nearby greenspace. The networks provided an indication how the model outputs could be used to spatially target greenspace improvements so as to meet a range of social and environmental policy objectives, such as those relating to Physical Activity and Open Space, social inclusion, Biodiversity Action Plans, Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems, and sustainable transport.

It was recognised that strategies to improve urban green networks for people and biodiversity will inevitably involve some compromises. Social needs are often the major driver for greenspace development in urban areas, but it is important that such development is undertaken as sensitively as possible. This may involve a balancing act to recognise the requirements needed to promote social use whilst trying to maintain as high biodiversity as possible. Trade-offs may need to be made, particularly where areas of higher biodiversity overlap with areas with greater potential for social benefit.


Applicability of a multifunctional green network approach
Greenspace management and accessibility
Integration into planning system
Refinement and implementation
Key words: [urban green networks, biodiversity, people, multifunctional, integrated]

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