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Rewilding through our backyards

A small backyard garden with wildflowers (Shutterstock)
A small backyard garden with wildflowers (Shutterstock)

"If we can teach people about wildlife, they will be touched. Humans want to save things that they love." – Steve Irwin

Where have the humans gone? Most people are locked away to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, and the animals, well, they have been reveling in their newfound ability to move around freely and safely in our absence. Videos of animals reclaiming our cities have been flooding social media. Back in February when I had originally written this article, I was advocating for more space for wildlife in urban settings. Little did I know that in the coming months, nature would no longer be asking for permission.

The lack of green space in urban settings have created an inhospitable environment for wildlife to thrive in our cities and is causing habitat fragmentation amongst species. Connecting habitats has been shown to increase biodiversity and enhance ecosystem resilience and stability. Ecologists have introduced ideas to connect habitat patches that are spaced far apart and fragmented by urban growth and development. Landscape connectivity could be achieved by connecting these habitat patches through green corridors, or even a series of smaller patches that would perform as stepping stones. If we think about that configuration, we can start to see why and how our own yards can help contribute to this overall network.

What are corridors and green stepping stone patches?

Green corridors function as continuous linear paths that can encourage species movement from one path to another. Stepping stones of small green patches attempt to create that same kind of connectivity. If the smaller patches are close enough to one another it facilitates animal movement by bridging patches that are too far apart. This landscape connectivity system could be designed to accommodate linear green corridors that also support wildlife species movement. Small green patches, as well as little home yards, can become part of the stepping stones system between isolated patches by designing them to narrow those gaps.

lana jeries connectivity stepping stones diagram

The more the merrier.

Increasing green space that is suitable for wildlife such as birds (songbirds, sparrows, hummingbirds), pollinators (honeybees and butterflies), or even reptiles (lizards and turtles) is especially important in dense urban environments where green space is scarce. If a community got together and decided to plant trees and shrubs in their yards that attract wildlife, it increases the impact within the overall landscape connectivity systems.

Benefits of rewilding go beyond habitat connectivity and increased biodiversity; it also means healthier yards that don’t rely on generalized pesticide and herbicide. You can think of it as household-level conservation. Responsible rewilding of your yard – making friendly green spaces for small wildlife and pollinating insects – can actually get your yard certified as a wildlife habitat. Organizations such as the National Wildlife Federation, Monarchwatch, Humane Society, and Audubon Society send out signs for your yard that publicly acknowledge your efforts in helping the environment, and spreading awareness to the community. Architects, ecologists, and planners have an incredible impact on green space in cities, but we as individuals all have a responsibility in maintaining a healthy environment for people and wildlife alike.

So, how do we design for wildlife within our yards?

squirrel in small house mediaspokesmandotcomFirst, you have to decide on your target specie. Generally, the type of wildlife people would want to attract to their yards are small wildlife, insects, and other pollinators. Once the target specie is determined, you must learn about their requirements and what they need. Different species require different food sources and shelters. It helps if you can inventory your current landscape in order to determine what is might be lacking. If you decide you are interested in attracting a range of wildlife, these following tips could help accomplish that.

  • Plant native vegetation where possible will serve well to attract wildlife and greatly benefits the landscape. Try to avoid planting invasive species, as they affect native plant diversity and negatively impact wildlife over time.
  • Planting diverse plant communities as well as a variety of trees, shrubs and vines that offer a selection of vegetation will help ensure than diversity.
  • Make sure to reduce your pesticide and fertilizer use as most wildlife species need insects to survive and the use of pesticide targets even the beneficial insects.
  • Provide a water source for wildlife, such as a birdbath or a fountain.
  • Consider the configuration of the space. By planting patches of vegetation, next to a patch of shrubs, you can break up large areas of your lawn.
  • Modest reduction maintaining your yard can boost wildlife, increase pollinators, and save money, according to a study. These low-maintenance practices actually help provide additional shelter during the winter.

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Lana Jeries portraitLana Romel Jeries is a graduate student in Department of Landscape Architecture at the College of Environmental Design, and holds a bachelor's in architecture from German Jordanian University. Her work focuses on designing healthy, well-connected walkable cities to move towards a future of resiliency. She originally wrote "Rewildiing through our backyards" for LA 4782 (Editorial and Creative Content Development for Design Professionals). She is also a contributor to the Green City Blog.