Reflecting on our legacy

A final letter from our Hub Leader

Dear stakeholders,

As we conclude six years of research at the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL) Hub, we would like to take a moment to reflect on our journey.

The CAUL Hub began in 2015 as a new research consortium with a focus on practical research to improve urban environments in Australia. Our mission was twofold: to undertake multi-disciplinary research for practical outcomes, and to highlight Indigenous perspectives in urban environments. We planned and delivered a body of research, engagement and outreach activities that has changed the way people think about cities in Australia and beyond, and opened new possibilities for making them better places for their human inhabitants and for nature.

In addition to our primary stakeholder, the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), the stakeholders of our Hub and end-users of our research have comprised a much broader group including all levels of government, urban practitioners, community groups and the general urban-dwelling public of Australia. We have created partnerships with many different agencies and organisations to pursue applied research that has already contributed to making our air cleaner and our cities greener, more biodiverse and more liveable.

The CAUL Hub’s work has provided an evidence base for the state of cities in Australia today, spanning outdoor air quality, indoor air quality, urban vegetation cover and its relationship with urban heat, the liveability of our neighbourhoods in capital and regional cities, urban greenspaces and their many benefits, urban biodiversity, and the complex relationships between people and their environment. We have also made space for Indigenous voices in cities, emphasising that all cities in Australia are Indigenous places where First Peoples’ deep connections to land, water and sky continue. Below we explore the impact of just some of our outstanding research projects.

It has been an honour to work with former Hub Leader Peter Rayner, Deputy Hub Leader Joe Hurley and the CAUL Executive team to lead such a committed group of researchers over the past six years. It has also been an honour to work with the broader family of CAUL’s many stakeholders, collaborators and supporters, including DAWE, our Indigenous Advisory Group and Hub Steering Committee. I thank all of you for your enthusiasm, dedication and outstanding contributions. While the CAUL Hub’s research has already changed cities in Australia for the better, its true impact will be measured in the years and the decades to come.

– Professor Kirsten Parris

Harnessing people power for urban-ecological research

Cities offer an opportunity to engage a large urban population with nature and biodiversity research through citizen science. The CAUL Hub’s Urban Wildlife App allows citizen scientists to contribute data to research questions about the distribution and behaviour of wildlife in cities. The app has 4 modules, each focusing on these species groups: flying-foxes, frogs, beneficial insects, and possums and gliders.

Since its launch 4 years ago, the app has been used in multiple citizen science projects across the country, engaging more than 300 users. Users submitted more than 3,500 observations and researchers have identified 44 species so far.

An important distinction from other apps is that it allows data to be collected using the same protocols as scientists, ensuring the outcomes are scientifically rigorous and targeted to key research questions for each module. By using these methods, citizen scientists recorded important ecological interactions and information on how species use and move through cities and towns. They also revealed sources of conflict and mortality. These findings shed light on how urban spaces can be better managed to ensure they benefit wildlife and humans into the future.

Banner image: A citizen scientist submitted this photo of a motorbike frog in Perth to the Urban Wildlife App.

Lessons from environmental managers in Australian cities

Urban areas are often overlooked and undervalued in conservation planning. However, Australian cities remain notable for their biodiversity, and support significant remnant vegetation, threatened ecological communities, and populations of threatened species.

To encourage positive actions for nature in our cities, the Clean Air and Urban Landscapes (CAUL) Hub released a new booklet featuring lessons and tips shared by urban environmental managers across Australian cities. Researchers spoke with managers from 25 different organisations to learn about the breadth of urban biodiversity conservation projects they pursued. They shared many valuable lessons, such as engaging with communities early to make change happen, using policy and commitments to drive action, and focusing on the small wins.

The booklet serves as a companion document to a 3-part CAUL project exploring opportunities and pathways for urban conservation action. The first stage of the research involved interviews with environmental managers to find out what kinds of things they did for urban biodiversity, the challenges they faced and how they achieved their goals. The second part of this project was led by independent Indigenous agency INDIGI LAB and outlined opportunities to integrate Indigenous knowledge and practice in urban biodiversity conservation. Finally, the researchers created a handy inventory of 353 actions to inspire urban land managers.

Image: The illustration shows some of the lessons shared by urban environmental managers in an example of a new conservation project: Restoring a degraded urban patch into a biodiversity-friendly urban wetland. Illustration: Elia Pirtle

Urban wetlands: promoting their conservation and cultural value

Wetlands are important features in our urban landscapes. Urban wetlands can act as pollutant traps and provide cooling benefits and recreation opportunities for city-dwellers. They are also critical to the conservation and recovery of many species found in cities, including threatened species.

Many cities in Australia were founded on wetlands and waterways that are integral to Indigenous history and culture. These wetlands and waterways are Indigenous places of immense cultural value and meaning, including those that may have ‘disappeared’ or run channelled under our streets.

Wetlands have featured in several of the CAUL hub’s research investigations because of their significance in urban systems. A new report summarises the hub’s research covering the role of urban wetlands in threatened-species conservation, the threats that affect urban wetland habitats, possible actions to restore and enhance wetlands in cities and towns, and the importance of urban wetlands as Indigenous places.

Research highlights included interviews with urban land managers. These found several examples of local government and community groups working together to convert under-used urban spaces into biodiversity-friendly wetlands. These projects are an excellent illustration of how new wetland spaces can be created within heavily urbanised areas.

Image: A neglected drainage ditch in central Melbourne was converted into a chain of biodiversity-friendly wetlands. The image shows the ditch after restoration. Photo: Westgate Biodiversity Bili Nursery and Landcare

New e-book: Cities for People and Nature

Urban environments are among the most important environments in Australia. More than 90% of the Australian population – or around 22.6 million people – lives in cities. This is where we experience the environment on a daily basis, from the air that we breathe to the park where we walk, the frogs we hear calling or the green roof we may see from our office window. As our cities continue to grow, how can we make them better places for people and other urban dwellers?

The Clean Air and Urban Landscapes Hub has released a free e-book, Cities for People and Nature. The e-book showcases the hub’s findings following six years of research. It follows five key themes: cities are Indigenous places, air quality, urban greening, urban biodiversity and future cities. It also explores the impact that the Hub’s research has made on the sustainability and liveability of our urban environments.

Readers can interact with the multimedia elements, including video and audio, and find links to useful resources, such as apps, factsheets, reports and more. It also features beautiful illustrations by Dixon Patten of Bayila Creative.

The launch of the e-book follows an exciting month of activities for the hub. The hub hosted a series of #CitiesPeopleNature events, including a panel discussion at the MPavilion and a showcase webinar featuring its e-book authors.