We often view Nature as separate from the modern urban environments we live in. Nature conjures images of pristine and remote wilderness like the Tarkine in Tasmania or the Milford Track in New Zealand. Unfortunately only a small proportion of us visit these places and even fewer children in their formative years experience these truly wild environments. When we don’t engage with or understand Nature, we can become apathetic towards conserving it.
Wild and pristine ecosystems often hold great beauty and importance but we must remember that Nature extends to our local parks and backyards – Nature does not stop at a world heritage boundary. The urban ecosystem can be a complex diversity of native plants and animals. With a bit of clever urban design and some help from its residents (that’s you!) that diversity can be enhanced and sustained and people can discover Nature where they live – thus, fending off apathy. That’s why we must consider conservation strategies that reach into our urban environments, not just our national parks.
New suburban property developments are often promoted as ‘backing onto bushland” and their new residents live at the human-nature interface of our cities and towns. But, as our cities expand that bushland is often cleared or fragmented to make way for the next new development. This expansion pushes the bushland further away from the urban population, leaving young families to live and grow in a world removed from Nature’s biodiversity. This expansion reduces biodiversity and perhaps more importantly, restricts environmental education.
That may sound like a bit of a giant thought leap but think outside the education framework of schools and classrooms and ponder the value of practical and anecdotal education, especially in an environmental context. Anecdotal and practical environmental education forms the basis of many indigenous education systems worldwide. Living in a natural environment provides so many opportunities to learn about and understand Nature. This learning blurs the human/nature divide and engages with Nature personally and regularly. It develops a kinship and sense of ownership with local country and can only better our environmental outlook overall.
I was fortunate enough to grow up on a property in central western NSW. This humble hobby farm provided me with opportunities to immerse myself in my local environment. Without entering a classroom, I learned of weeds, pests, disease, erosion, water shortage, ecology, biodiversity, and many other environmental issues. I was lucky, I lived on a large country property.
Unfortunately many young families live in new suburban developments and few of these places try to maximise the opportunities for biodiversity. Most developments clear much of the bushland to make way for building blocks and roads. This cleared bushland can be the home for threatened tree-dwelling mammals and rare plants. To appease planning requirements developers are often advised to plant indigenous, perennial, flowering plants and to leave dead trees with nesting hollows as an attempt to offset the broad scale devastation that occurs when the bushland is cleared.
When new families move into these developments they can plant native bushes and trees to help re-establish the biodiversity, but nature needs space as much as we do. In his poem The paradox of our time, Dr Bob Moorehead said “We have bigger houses but smaller families…”. Nowhere is that truer than in Australia. NSW has the largest average house size in Australia and Australia has the largest average in the world – this is despite a shrinking family size. A 400m2 block with a 300m2 house + pool leaves very little room for native gardens, artificial water bodies or any meaningful ecological contribution. Bigger houses = less vegetation = lower urban biodiversity. If nature doesn’t have much space in our modern urban environments then there’s not much opportunity for children to engage with nature. So what does this mean for environmental education and apathy towards conservation?
Walking down a quiet suburban street in Mayfield I was pleasantly surprised to see not only the usual native suspects (Noisy miners, Magpies) but a number of different native bird species. In the time it took to walk a few short blocks I had seen beautiful birds such as the eastern rosella, rainbow lorikeet, blue-faced honeyeater, Australian raven and the sulphur-crested cockatoo. Looking back down the street, I noticed it was the aptly named nature strip as well as the backyards that provided much of the vegetation cover. This feature is either missing or poorly vegetated in many of the more recent developments as developers try to squeeze as many blocks onto the land as they can. Including a nature strip in a development increases the cost per block but people don’t realise the value this brings to their lives. Perhaps they are apathetic towards nature already.
Living in developments devoid of nature restricts opportunities for practical and anecdotal environmental education for young Australians in the home. Developing a kinship with our environment is important if we are to protect its human and non-human inhabitants. Separating our children from Nature like this can leave our kids uninformed and uninterested. It can breed environmental apathy. “Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings.” – Helen Keller
A growing population means our cities will expand, this much is inevitable. However our future developments must look to enhance the opportunity for its residents to engage with and learn of our amazing, endemic flora and fauna. So if you are looking now or in the future to buy a new suburban block remember it will be a home for yourself and your children for many years.
Look for the biodiversity that the developer has sought to maintain within the environment, pay a bit more if necessary. Make sure you have space on your block to establish native plants. Surround yourself with nature and you’ll be rewarded with the natural experiences you share with your family when a tawny frogmouth comes to visit, or you hear native frogs singing in your frog pond when it rains, or you see micro-bats take to the sky at dusk.
Thanks for reading, we hope you enjoyed it and remember…keep TalkingNature going – share this page, visit our sponsors or browse our online store TalkingNature.com.au, and help yourself and your kids, nieces and nephews explore, understand and restore nature.