Mini-series: Biodiversity and the University: Health, wellbeing and natural capital

Photo credit: pixabay, Hans, CC0
Photo credit: pixabay, Hans, CC0

In this post, Dr Elizabeth Vander Meer discusses the University strategy for protecting, enhancing and engaging with biodiversity and highlights two student led projects supporting the development of this strategy…

Estates and the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS), with support from other staff, students and external organisations, have been developing a strategy for protecting, enhancing and engaging with biodiversity on campuses and in our city communities (and beyond!).  We recognise the importance of biodiversity to human health and wellbeing, including as a provider of crucial ecosystem services, while also acknowledging the value of species in and of themselves, as living things with whom we share the planet. The biodiversity strategy will consider relationships and interactions, fostering these through community and resilience programmes that align with our Adaptation Framework. We also have a duty to protect and conserve biodiversity as a public body under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

Biodiversity at Pollock Halls - apiary
Biodiversity at Pollock Halls – apiary (Elizabeth Vander Meer)

As a sub-strategy of the Zero by 2040 Climate Change Strategy, we are taking a whole institution approach to biodiversity that includes research, learning and teaching. As part of this focus, SRS is keen that current living lab projects, which aim to solve our real world operational problems on campuses, focus on biodiversity and green spaces. Two exciting projects have started in Semester 2 that support the development of the biodiversity strategy: one delivered through the new third year undergraduate course, Nature, Green Space and Health, run by Alette Willis in Health in Social Science, and the other through the Business School’s Carbon Finance carbon and environmental consulting programme, with course organiser Kathi Kaesehage.

The 25 students on the Nature, Green Space and Health course will be assisting in development of the biodiversity strategy in relation to its biophilia and placemaking strand; this strand emphasises the value of biodiversity and green spaces to health, wellbeing and a sense of place. The strategy aims to expand and enhance existing green spaces, contributing to urban greening in Edinburgh, while also encouraging community development and interactions. The students will be undertaking the following tasks:

  • Providing an evidence base in relation to benefits of interaction with and immersion in biodiverse green spaces
  • Identifying green spaces, expanding upon and updating mapping that has already been done
  • Finding out how students currently interact with green spaces and how they perceive this to relate to their wellbeing

Building on what they discover, they will also deliver suggestions for interventions to inform the development of a pathway for wellbeing within the Biodiversity Strategy that benefits both humans and non-humans.

SRS mapping of biodiversity and green spaces on campuses
SRS mapping of biodiversity and green spaces on campuses

A group of four students undertaking the carbon and environmental consulting project have chosen our suggested topic and have just begun to investigate the possibility and benefit of applying natural capital accounting to University campuses and to the city of Edinburgh. The biodiversity strategy for the University will recognise the importance of nature based solutions in urban contexts to mitigate and adapt to climate change. We are already in the midst of developing a tool that maps and scores configurations of green spaces, taking into account ecosystem services and other values associated with nature and biodiversity. But we wonder whether we should be making visible economic value of these natural areas. These objectives define the students’ work:

  • Identify where natural capital accounting is being developed and applied at city level, considering and reviewing methodology
  • Determine the benefits of this approach to green spaces as well as the practical, methodological challenges
  • Consider the context of the University and the city of Edinburgh to see how or whether natural capital accounting should be applied
  • Conclusions and recommendations provided by students will feed into the biodiversity strategy, which we hope to launch later in 2019.

As with the MSc Advanced Sustainable Design Semester 2 student project, I am also keen to see outcomes from these two valuable student projects! It is a pleasure to support and work with such engaged and passionate course directors and students.

Dr Elizabeth Vander Meer

Elizabeth has a PhD in environmental policy and ethics from Lancaster University, specialising in biodiversity conservation, and is also studying anthrozoology. Elizabeth has been employed by the University of Edinburgh in policy and research management roles since 2007, in diverse areas such as e-science and carbon capture and storage. In her current role, Elizabeth develops University climate change mitigation, adaptation and biodiversity strategy, implementation plans and reporting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *