Nature-based solutions can benefit urban spaces in many ways: Highlights from Urban Biodiversity workshop

International Union for Conservation of Nature, along with ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability South Asia, Leaders for Nature, INTACH, The Climate Reality Project and Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA), organised a two-day workshop to promote benefits of conserving biodiversity in urban areas like Delhi. While the first day of the event (June 16) was about deliberating the benefits of nature-based solutions and the need to make more and more people aware of them, the second day comprised of a field visit to Aravalli Biodiversity Park that is managed by Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Ecosystems, University of Delhi.

The conference started with discussions on benefits of nature-based solutions or interventions that use natural functions of healthy ecosystems. Experts on the first day of the workshop stressed upon the need to make people aware of issues around urban biodiversity, including their association with pollution levels, water stress, urban heat islands, impact on local micro climate and citizens’ health, to make people more resilient to climate vagaries.
As per National Institute of Urban Affairs, 97.5 percent of National Capital Territory and 42 percent of National Capital Region is urbanized and facing sustainable challenges that could be tackled by initiating natural resources at local level. “We would like to congratulate IUCN, ICLEI and other partners for giving us a strong platform where we can discuss, raise issues and give suggestions on protecting our urban biodiversity,” said Savita Bhandari, Additional Commissioner (Landscape), Delhi Development Authority.

“IUCN is committed to sustainable urban development, which is well showcased through all our initiatives at the national as well as local level, said P R Sinha, Country Director, IUCN, India.

“ICLEI, the world largest global network of cities, is also investing all its energies in mainstreaming biodiversity conservation into urban planning,” said Ashish Rao Ghorpade, Regional Executive Manager, ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability South Asia, on the first day of the event being organised to mark World Day to Combat Desertification on June 17.

Monalisa Sen, Senior Manager, ICLEI- South Asia further explained about the local governments association’s achievements in the field of biodiversity. “ICLEI has developed its tools on evaluation and documentation of biodiversity that can help in developing evidence-based cases to advocate for blue green urban sustainability,” she added.

The workshop was taken forward by Aditya Petwal, Coordinator, Leaders for Nature, IUCN where he offered an insight on urban biodiversity and some solutions to conserve our ecosystem. “We need to take care of the ponds, lakes, rivers, flood plains, urban parks, urban forests and every possible ecosystem for better urban biodiversity,” he said.

The major thrust of the discussions at the event was, therefore, to create and an opportunity for businesses and relevant stakeholders to understand the urban biodiversity issues to be able to jointly work for naturalizing the Indian cities, starting from Delhi. “Today, 12-14 years old Yamuna Biodiversity Park harbours more than 1,500 plant and animal species ecologically assembled into 20-25 self-sustaining communities and species. Richness and diversity of these species are comparable to natural forest ecosystems in the watershed of sub-Himalayan region,” said Faiyaz Khudsar, Scientist in Charge, Yamuna Biodiversity Park.

A plan to naturalise Delhi was also discussed so as to sensitize the Government of Delhi and concerned departments to take up a major programme where corporates can also contribute to conserve and restore biodiversity, with support from government and businesses.

Delhi Development Authority (DDA) is a government agency that has been doing considerable work to conserve urban biodiversity. “After reviving Yamuna Biodiversity Park, now we are in the process of developing four more biodiversity parks in Delhi,” added Savita Bhandari.

The workshop also featured a group work on action plans for NCR on (a) water conservation (b) city forests (c) faunal diversity and (d) social aspects of biodiversity.
A field visit to Aravalli Biodiversity Park in Vasant Vihar, New Delhi upheld the spirits of all the participants on the second day. The nature walk that started at 10.00 am was an insight into how the mining pits of Aravallis have been reclaimed as landscapes that host a complete ecosystem.

“For years, the area has suffered the brunt of mining. When we began reclamation about nine years ago, we knew that it would be challenging to recover the land to what it is now. But we as a team of dedicated staff were hopeful,” said M Shah Hussain, Scientist In-Charge at the Park. “The Aravalli Biodiversity Park that now boasts of 883 species of terrestrial plant, 105 species of moths/butterflies and 31 species of aquatic plants, among others, could now be a model for reclamation of many lands in Delhi, like the Ridge. Now, we also encourage more educational trips into the park,” he added.

The field tour ended with a plantation drive where about 10 saplings were planted by 30 participants.

More highlights of the workshop
• Need for use of research evidence in urban policy and planning
• As more and more people live in cities, restoration, preservation and enhancement of biodiversity in urban areas have become more important than ever
• Historically, humans have used rivers more than any other type of ecosystem
• A network of biodiversity parks in urban centres can be used to apply principles of restoration ecology is needed
• Educational tours to such parks and conservation efforts can provide the much-needed encouragement to the youth

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