Eco system services for everyone

Eco system services in cities ?

From: Caroline Littlewort

In cities we have the greatest needs for eco system services offered by urban ecological restoration. The cooling effect of trees, the cleaner air, soil and water, the nutritious wild foods, and the abundance of wildlife all add to the quality of human life in a place with so many human beings living in close and stressful proximity. Surprisingly, it is private gardeners who can help the most with restoration.

Do you know that in most countries the area under private gardens is greater than all the nature reserves put together ? Did you know that carbon sequestration close to the source of emissions is far more effective ?

Isn't it insane that we ignore the potential of urban gardeners in our attempts to restore the earth, plant trees that take carbon out of the air, regenerate soil to combat climate change and support biodiversity ?

Welcome to the project of ecological restoration !

This first issue of the Restore Nature newsletter welcomes everyone who wishes to receive our monthly article on urban restoration and biodiversity. This particular issue will also address six benefits to humans of restoring nature to our cities. Thank you for subscribing and please feel free to comment on and reply to these mails, or even post on

I'm excited to launch this new city based earth restoration project with readers. I hope that the great number of amateur gardeners in cities can make all the difference. The restoration of vegetation in cities will support urban biological diversity and even carbon sequestration. 

Just like yourselves, I am a city dweller, and I've grown plants on balconies, in alleys, on front porches and in a small back yard. The majority of people in an area need to be behind the greening project for it to make the greatest difference to the survival of wildlife, but every little bit  helps. 

The great potential of cities

In addition to urban gardens exceeding our nature reserves in area, there are millions of miles of street frontage in cities where the choice of the right trees can leverage restoration. What about all those dreary parks with grass and a few exotic trees that miss tapping the potential of SO MUCH LAND to help with climate change. If they were fully vegetated, with total vegetation cover, they would be cooling the city scape, attracting rain, maintaining plant and animal biodiversity and more. The most wonderful effect of restoring nature to cities is the psychological benefit to humans of being surrounded by natural things. It can even stop people having heart attacks or doing robberies ! This is why I've chosen the human benefit as the first topic I'll address in the Restore Nature newsletters.

Restoration can help nature and humans

We need to do this for ourselves. People all around the world can reduce the negative impact of cities on nature and humans. Let's do whatever we can to restore nature to our city gardens and streets. Below you will find a brief outline of six benefits to human beings that restoration brings. There are many more.

The positives for humans, or the ecosystem services provided by restoration.

I list here only six of the many ecosystem services provided by restored and healthy ecosystems in cities. It makes a difference to local climate, to food and mental health. 

  1. Pollinator diversity and increased yield: At a recent global seminar on regulation to protect pollinators by the FAO, I heard that robust pollination is more effective at closing yield gaps than chemical additions. The diversity of insects in an area creates the most stable and diverse population of pollinators, catering for all plants. It is not only bees that pollinate. Some food plants need other insects.
  2. Wild plants and longevity: Wild plants have not been selected for size, ease of harvest and shelf life. When you select for one trait and are not paying attention to another, the ignored trait may be reduced. Thus nutrient content has been bred out of our food plants, and massively reduced over the last century. Wild plants have not been bred like this, and therefore contain more nutrients, as well as beneficial phytochemicals that promote longevity (Introduction to Medical Seasonings: Dr Keith Scott).
  3. Soil regeneration and nutrient density: One of the effects of ecologically sound restorative gardening with diverse planting, is increased soil life and soil health. A healthy soil insures optimal nutritional uptake by plants and thus more nutrient dense plants, which taste a lot better and benefit your health if you are eating them (Dan Kittredge
  4. Plant diversity and the gut microbiome: Each plant has a different microbiome on the leaf surface. Thus eating a diversity of plants helps diversify the human gut microbiome, leading to better physical health outcomes: The Human Microbiome MOOC, EdX Wageninen University
  5. Microbobial biodiversity and human psychology: Our gut flora produces many of our neurotransmitters. Its hardly surprising then that humans exposed to a more diverse microflora are less prone to stress related mental illness :
  6. The emotional and physical effects of just seeing vegetation: I learned when doing Berkeley's Science of Happiness course, that research has found the mere sight of lush plants automatically soothes humans, decreasing stress, criminal behaviour and disease causing inflammatory cytokines in the blood ! Studies in Japan have had similar results to experiments at Berkeley.

Imagine the greener future
and ecosystem services that provide a better environment for people

Just imagine how profoundly we could change the health of people dwelling in cities by re-greening them, using mostly diverse native plants.

However, the positive effects on humans are only the beginning of a story of the beneficial impact of restoration. The rest of the ecosystem is also positively affected, and this is also beneficial to us. Restoration of the soil affects soil biodiversity, the growth of plans and the basis of the terrestrial food chain, thus all life. Healthy soil and plants help with air, soil and water purification and carbon sequestration. They all help to heal the natural hydrological cycles, which benefit the city with flood and erosion prevention, cooling and rain generation. Who would not want all of these wonderful ecosystem benefits in cities, in the stressed urban environment ?

And the cost ? Redirection of some of the city's waste streams into composting, creation of earning and trading possibilities for growers of trees, shrubs and other plants. Its almost incredible how cheap it is ! The reason being that restoration harnesses the virtuous cycles in nature that increase the health of the whole system by initiating small changes and shifts.

We can do this together. The collective is necessary. By a series of small steps and with great persistence practiced on a large scale, it can be done.  We can change the face of cities everywhere on the planet with a few low cost fixes. In future newsletters, I'll delve into the means of doing this. I look forward to your ideas and to us all joining the company of change makers with great anticipation.

Restore Nature Newsletter 

I've been writing for four years now and I would love to hear from you

Please let me know if you have any questions, comments or stories to share on gardening, permaculture, regenerative agriculture, food forests, natural gardening, do nothing gardening, observations about pests and diseases, foraging, dealing with and using weeds constructively, composting and going offgrid.

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