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Natural water-retention measures, which ‘keep the rain where it falls’, have great potential to be used as part of flood-risk management plans. But their benefits for downstream urban areas can bring costs to the upstream agricultural areas where they are installed, a recent analysis explains. The researchers behind this analysis suggest that we need new and/or improved policies and institutions to oversee the trade-offs and benefits for agriculture and flood management, and a better scientific understanding of the measures’ likely impact on urban flood risk.
As the sources and severity of noise pollution continue to grow, there is a need for new approaches to reduce exposure. This Future Brief looks at the complex and pervasive problem of noise pollution: a problem with no single solution, requiring a combination of short-, medium- and long-term approaches and careful consideration of the nature of the noise source.
Sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) could be made better for biodiversity and local people with the help of two new evaluation methods presented by a recent study. The methods, which assess the value of SuDS sites for wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, recreation and education, are described by the study’s authors as cost-effective, quick and reliable, and could help designers plan and retrofit SuDS that are wildlife-friendly and socially inclusive.
Pesticides used on agricultural land can leach into nearby surface water; this is called run-off and can harm aquatic ecosystems. This study evaluated the potential of ditches to reduce run-off, using Italy’s Po Valley as a case study. Grassy ditches were able to significantly reduce the concentration of herbicides, even during extreme flooding. The researchers therefore suggest that the promotion of vegetated ditches via agri-environment schemes would be beneficial for pesticide mitigation.
A recent study has found that bumblebees in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany are more successful at pollinating urban areas than agricultural land. Urban areas also had higher flower diversity and more potential nesting areas for bees compared to agricultural areas. However, the abundance of bee parasites was also higher in urban areas, although this was not found to negatively impact on pollination. This demonstrates the value of urban green spaces as habitat for pollinators.
Stakeholder support is essential to the success of environmental policies. A recent study has identified stakeholders that can promote biodiversity in European agricultural landscapes. The researchers found farmers were the most influential group of stakeholders, as they make the final decisions on land use. In turn, farmers are influenced in their decisions by a number of actors whose influence is perceived differently on a local and regional level.
No cities are yet fully car-free, but many have managed or plan to restrict access to city centres for privately owned combustion-engine passenger cars. Health benefits will come from reduced traffic-related air pollution, less noise and lower levels of heat emitted from vehicles. The greatest health benefit, however, is likely to come from increased physical activity as people walk, cycle and move to catch public transport, according to a review of the potential health benefits of car-free cities.
Researchers have estimated that, annually, almost 3 000 deaths (i.e. 20% of mortality) in Barcelona, Spain, are premature, and would be preventable if residents lived in urban environments that met international exposure recommendations for physical activity, air pollution, noise, heat and access to green spaces. The results emphasise the need to reduce motorised traffic, promote active and public transport, and provide adequate green space to encourage exercise and mitigate the impacts of environmental hazards in cities.
Lower socioeconomic status is generally associated with poorer health, and both air and noise pollution contribute to a wide range of other factors influencing human health. But do these health inequalities arise because of increased exposure to pollution, increased sensitivity to exposure, increased vulnerabilities, or some combination? This In-depth Report presents evidence on whether people in deprived areas are more affected by air and noise pollution — and suffer greater consequences — than wealthier populations.
Urban gardeners in Barcelona, Spain, identified 20 ecosystem service benefits, from pollination to environmental learning, in a recent study. Cultural ecosystem services — mainly related to the opportunity for residents to interact with nature — were the most common and highly valued of the ecosystem services identified.
People who live in the most ‘activity-friendly’ neighbourhoods do up to 1.5 hours more physical activity a week than those in the least supportive neighbourhoods. This is according to a new international study which measured levels of exercise — mainly walking for recreation or transport — in relation to the urban environment across 14 diverse cities. The results show how urban design — such as parks and local amenities — can promote healthy lifestyles which also bring environmental benefits, such as better air quality, through reduced car use.
Constructed wetlands are used in many countries as green infrastructure to treat waste water, but may also be biodiversity hotspots, a new study suggests. This study reports on a constructed wetland in an urban area of Italy, which increased the number of plant taxa — including several plants of conservation concern — by over 200%. The researchers say the ability of constructed wetlands to enhance biodiversity could support local development.
Land and soil are limited natural resources essential to all human life. One of the major environmental challenges facing Europe is an increasing demand for development, which threatens ecosystem services. This Future Brief focuses on how land and soil could be used efficiently to continue to provide these functions and services for generations to come.
Cool pavements, which can be used to reduce the Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect, where towns and cities are warmer than surrounding rural areas, have been reviewed in new research. The review found that reflective pavements can reduce temperatures by up to 20°C and are more durable than evaporative pavements, which are less effective at temperature reduction but may have other benefits, such as reducing runoff.
Greenbelt policies in Germany, used to curb urban sprawl, are effective in protecting open spaces and the valuable natural resources they cover, a new study has found. Nevertheless, urban development can ‘leapfrog’ greenbelts, hopping over them into areas with less restrictive planning policies. Researchers recommend that such areas are also included in urban development control plans.
Living near to green spaces may reduce likelihood of death due to any cause, and especially due to cardiovascular disease, according to a new study. The review is the first to systematically evaluate the evidence linking green spaces to risk of death.
Green roofs have been proposed to mitigate flooding in urban areas. This study combined field experiments and numerical simulations to investigate the ability of green roofs to absorb rainwater. The authors describe how green roofs can be most effective at mitigating flooding, providing findings which will be important for policy on green infrastructure.
Shortages of indium, a key metal found in thin-film solar cells, could limit their large-scale deployment in the future. A new study has outlined four ways that indium supplies could be increased to meet future demand. For example, indium could be extracted more efficiently from zinc ores, or historic wastes containing indium could be processed to extract the element.
In the face of substantial evidence that modern land use management practices have increased runoff at the local scale, a new study reveals changes in local land use management practices can reduce the risk of local flooding. However, there is little evidence so far that these local increases in runoff culminate in large-scale flooding effects. To address this lack of evidence, the researchers present a model that maps the downstream rate of flow back to its source areas.
A new study quantifies the economic and environmental potential of powering docked ships in European ports using local electricity networks. The authors give key recommendations on policy actions to enable implementation in European harbours.
Urban green spaces provide important ecosystem services in cities, from recreation to the mitigation of noise and air pollution. This study quantified the ecosystem services (ES) provided by green spaces in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, using new methods to evaluate high-resolution land-cover data. The findings show that different types of green space provide different ES, highlighting the importance of careful design during city planning. The authors say their method to map ES supply will aid the design of healthy, climate-resilient cities.
Green spaces like urban parks can counteract the loss of plant and animal species caused by urbanisation. For many city dwellers, parks provide most of their experiences of natural spaces. Researchers have compared different methods of park management in Paris and Berlin, and assessed how they influence citizens' attitudes towards nature.
The economic benefits of the ecosystem services provided by constructed wetlands far outweigh the costs of maintaining them, new research has confirmed. Analysis of a wetland that treats the third largest lake in Florida, US, shows that it provides ecosystem services worth $1.79 (€1.64) million per year, against costs of less than half that figure.
The drive to increase renewable energy production can sometimes be at loggerheads with the desire to preserve natural landscapes. In this study, researchers from across Europe assessed the environmental impacts of renewable energies in the Alps, making key recommendations to resolve conflicts between different users of habitats.
Ecological networks connect areas of habitat to prevent biodiversity loss and have been established across Europe. The ambitious Dutch National Ecological Network aims to span 728 500 hectares by 2025. In this study, researchers explored the feasibility of this goal in the context of climate and policy changes.
Contact with nature in urban areas can have numerous health benefits, a new study finds. The researchers found people whose homes had views of different kinds of vegetation had significantly lower levels of stress hormones, indicating that green spaces play an important role in healthy cities.
Urban agriculture is becoming increasingly popular. A recent assessment of rooftop farming in Barcelona shows differing attitudes towards the practice, and provides important recommendations for the development of agricultural policy for the 21st century, such as including food production as a potential use of rooftops in planning legislation.
Ecosystems services — the benefits that nature provides to people — are inadequately accounted for in Environmental Impact Assessments, a new study suggests. The researchers used a case study in France to illustrate the substantial economic losses that are incurred as a result of infrastructure development that goes ahead without sufficient consideration of the impacts on ecosystem services.
Biodiversity offset policies may inadvertently incentivise behaviours which actually accelerate biodiversity loss, new research has found. The study’s authors identify four ways this can occur and make recommendations for prevention.
Simple characteristics of plant species - such as height or leaf size - can be used to predict the ecosystem services provided by the green roofs they grow on, a new study suggests. The researchers suggest that their method could be used to screen the thousands of potential plant species in order to optimize green roof design.
Urban areas may support higher levels of bee diversity than expected, new research has shown. The UK-wide study compared three different habitat types - nature reserves, farmland, and urban areas - and found a higher number of different bee species in urban areas than farmland. However, the overall pollinator diversity, which included species of bees, flies, hoverflies and butterflies, did not differ significantly between all three landscape types. The researchers call for more attention to be paid to the role of green spaces in cities which can be important habitats for pollinators.
Doctors prescribe fewer antidepressants in urban areas with more trees on the street, according to recent UK research. The study examined the link between mental health and wellbeing and the presence of trees in London neighbourhoods. Its findings support the idea that maintaining a link to nature, even in an urban area, may help provide a healthy living environment.
Rooftop gardens in cities could provide more than three quarters of the vegetables consumed in them, a case study from Bologna, Italy, suggests. If all suitable flat roof space was used for urban agriculture, rooftop gardens in the city could supply around 12 500 tons of vegetables a year whilst also providing a range of ecosystem services, the researchers say.
The decline of urban populations and abandonment of buildings and land could provide an opportunity to promote ecosystem services, a new study suggests. The researchers examined the relationships between the use of abandoned land and ecosystem services, providing insight into the pros and cons of different urban planning policies.
Green walls, designed so they are covered in vegetation, could help cut the amount of noise that enters buildings, a new study has found. In lab. tests, researchers found that a modular green wall system reduced sound levels by 15 decibels (dB). This leads them to believe that it is a promising sound reduction device that could improve quality-of-life for city residents.
Careful planting and pruning is needed to ensure that air pollution in tree-lined streets is minimised, new research suggests. While planting trees in urban areas can have many benefits, such as enhancing biodiversity, trees can trap particulate matter pollution, say the study’s authors.
City children who spend lots of time in green spaces, such as parks, and at the beach are less likely to have emotional and social difficulties, indicates new research from Barcelona. The study of over 2000 children supports theories that green and blue infrastructure have benefits for our health and wellbeing.
How best to integrate the ecosystem services concept into regional planning? A recent study provides a practical example for an area in Germany that is faced with an increased risk of soil erosion under climate change. Researchers used a decision-support system incorporating ecosystem services to show that measures to reduce soil losses could also support a number of other services.
Greening urban areas can reduce the number of people dying from heat-related health problems, according to a recent study. The researchers found that doubling vegetation cover in central Melbourne could reduce heat-related mortality of the elderly by up to 28% during heat waves.
Small, artificial wetlands can reduce river pollution by trapping soil and nutrients swept off agricultural land by rainfall, a recent study finds. The researchers recommend that they are used as a back-up option to soil management measures also designed to reduce runoff into rivers.
Adding compost to compacted urban soils can provide a lasting effect that aids tree growth, new research indicates. Urban soils improved with added organic material are less compacted after five years compared with soils that have not been treated with organic composts, the study suggests.
Managing urban green spaces to ensure that they have a good mix of tree species, including some older and larger trees, can enhance species diversity of woodland birds, a new study has shown. The study, carried out in Prague, Czech Republic, also showed that the presence of water bodies increased the number of species of woodland birds.
Ash dieback in the UK is likely to lead to the extinction or decline of over 50 species which are reliant on or highly associated with this tree, including mosses, lichens and beetles, a new study suggests. The researchers recommend that the ash trees are not felled but left to die naturally and in time replaced with mixtures of species such as beech and sycamore which support similar woodland species.
Small mammals clearly benefit from a UK agri-environment scheme (AES), a recent study concludes. Numbers and diversity of voles, shrews and mice were found to increase on and around farmland with 6 m wide field margins and patches of semi-natural habitat - features encouraged under the government-led AES.
A new decision-making aid to identify the best type of management plan for Natura 2000 sites has been developed by researchers. Using extensive data on different facets of biodiversity and human impacts, the researchers created two indices to show where conservation measures need to be integrated with socio-economic development. This study used sites in Italy as a case study but the method is widely applicable to all Natura 2000 sites, the researchers stress.
Regular use of green space in a city setting may be linked to reduced risk of heart disease, a new Lithuanian study suggests. The authors found that people who lived closer to green spaces suffered fewer symptoms of heart disease over a four-year period, and that regular park users were at lower risk based on factors such as weight, physical activity and diabetes.
The world's first full-scale artificial wetland designed to treat both sewage effluent and mine wastewater has been found to continuously remove high levels of pollutants, a recent study concludes. Treating both types of wastewater at the same time proved to be highly beneficial because they contain pollutants which are more easily removed when mixed together.
The urban heat island (UHI) effect can be completely offset by using 'cool' and 'green' roofs, finds new research from the US. However, the study also found that different roofs may affect rainfall and energy demand, and that their efficiency varies with location.
Although cities are typically low in biodiversity, they can provide important refuges for native species, new research shows. Urban planning making use of green infrastructure can enhance city habitats and may help reduce the loss of biodiversity that follows urban expansion, the researchers say.
Moving to an area with good access to green spaces has a positive, lasting effect on residents' mental health, new research suggests. The study shows that people who move to greener areas report considerably improved mental health three years after leaving their previous neighbourhood.
The importance of 'stepping stone' patches of habitat for biodiversity has been underestimated, a new study suggests. The researchers developed a new connectivity model, which better captures the effects of stepping stones on species movement.
Researchers have developed a new risk assessment scheme for invasive alien species that not only predicts their direct effects on biodiversity, but also their impacts on ecosystem services. Furthermore, the scheme allows sources of uncertainty in a species’ impact to be identified, and can be applied to a range of different species.
Costs of installing, maintaining and disposing of some green wall systems may outweigh the value of some of their benefits for householders, a recent study suggests. While the researchers omitted some of the wider social benefits, they found that reductions in heating and air conditioning costs, longevity of green walls and increases in property values did not compensate for their costs. The researchers suggest that government incentives to lower set-up costs could significantly increase the walls’ economic sustainability.
Cities located in biodiversity hotspots can provide valuable refuges for a wide range of plants, a recent study suggests. Of the 379 plant species and sub-species recorded in the city of Ioannina, Greece, 27 were of conservation interest. Town planners can ensure that cities play an important role in supporting regional biodiversity when designing future urban developments, the researchers say.
Connectivity between protected areas is vital for safeguarding many animals and plants. New research has shown that Natura 2000 sites are well connected across provincial borders in Germany, Italy and Spain. This is the result of strong coordination from central governments combined with good regional cooperation, the study’s authors conclude.