A radical new approach to managing urban greenspace: The Urban BESS Meadows experiment.
The urban BESS meadows experiment involved deliberately manipulating the biodiversity of urban green spaces managed as amenity mown grass. A research team from the Universities of Sheffield, Cranfield and Exeter worked in collaboration with local authorities in Bedford and Luton to establish meadow plots with different levels of floristic diversity and structural complexity, at six sites in Bedford and one in Luton. These sites were deliberately chosen to represent varied urban contexts and housing densities.
Seed mixes were designed by Professor Nigel Dunnett, and the project was managed on the ground in Bedfordshire by Dr. Helen Hoyle. Different research studies assessed the aesthetic effects on the greenspace as a whole, public preference for specific meadow mixes, invertebrate diversity, and abundance as well as effects on water infiltration, and on physical and biological soil characteristics. Local authority stakeholder perceptions of the challenges and opportunities involved in making these changes to management practice were also considered.
Helen explains: “We found that all the meadow treatments were preferred to the standard mown amenity grass treatment, (the “no flowers, short” treatment) and that the most preferred meadow was the high diversity, medium height treatment (“many flowers, medium”). The types of meadows people believed to be of high wildlife value were also those considered most aesthetically pleasing. The medium or tall treatments with the high floristic diversity were associated with a higher invertebrate abundance. This applied to a wide range of invertebrate taxa, including detritivores, not only pollinators”.
Findings in relation to water infiltration and soil characteristics are still to be disseminated.
The urban BESS meadows experiment was one element of the F3UES Project, (Fragments, Functions, Flows and Urban Ecosystem Services). This is a research study looking at how the biodiversity of towns and cities contributes to human well – being. The F3UES project is part of a bigger research programme Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability (BESS). BESS is a six – year programme (2011 – 2017) funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, (NERC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of the UK’s Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) programme.
Dr. Helen Hoyle has written a Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) Policy and Practice note in collaboration with local authority managers involved in the experiment. This provides practical guidance for other local authorities wanting to increase the biodiversity and aesthetic appeal of urban greenspaces in this way.
For more information on the Urban BESS project: http://bess-urban.group.shef.ac.uk
Southon, Georgina E.; Jorgensen, Anna; Dunnett, Nigel; Hoyle, Helen; Evans, Karl L., (2016). Biodiverse perennial meadows have aesthetic value and increase residents’ perceptions of site quality in urban green-space. Landscape and Urban Planning