Science academics honoured in World Environment Day Awards

University of Melbourne and Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria scientists have been honoured with a World Environment Day award from the United Nations Association of Australia for an innovative project on urban biodiversity.

Collaborating researcher Lee Harrison from the Royal Botanic Gardens (RBG), who is also an honorary researcher with the University of Melbourne says the award recognises the importance of urban biodiversity from a scientific and management perspective, and also for the benefits that derive from promoting biodiversity to urban citizens.

Collaborating with Ms Harrison were members of the RBG-led Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology (ARCUE) Dr Rodney van der Ree, Dr Nick Williams, and Dr Caragh Threlfall, who developed a template for local governments to work together across jurisdictions to improve adaptive management and strengthen community values toward biodiversity.

The University and ARCUE team collaborated with the Eastern Alliance for Greenhouse Action (EAGA), and won their World Environment Day award in the Local Government category. The project’s goals were to develop and trial biodiversity indicators and tools to assist EAGA Councils to monitor urban biodiversity health under a changing climate.

The convening judge for the Local Government award said the innovative project showed how biodiversity can be monitored and managed across a large urban area, and anticipates the climate challenges ahead. 

"Scientifically robust, it brought together partners from across the community, government and scientific sectors. It provided an excellent model that could be adopted elsewhere.”

The framework will help EAGA councils develop a body of information that will serve as an evidence base to help direct future adaptive strategies and investments. As part of the project, University scientists ran workshops with environmental staff from councils and wrote an implementation guide.

“We started with a ‘discussion paper’ addressing relevant literature and monitoring principles, then produced an ‘implementation guide’ with instructions on how to carry out monitoring,” Ms Harrison says.

Four indicators were chosen to monitor habitat health: local bird communities, the extent of native vegetation, changes in vegetation communities, and the timing of natural events like nesting, flowering and breeding seasons. 

Ms Harrison says the project has generated a lot of interest, and the documents are available to provide guidance for other councils or alliances.

Since 2000 the annual World Environment Day awards have celebrated innovative environmental initiatives and programs that encourage others to take positive action. 

Story by Gillian Aeria.