Yes! In my backyard: caring for native biodiversity in the city

Mumaw, L 2017, Yes! In my backyard: caring for native biodiversity in the city, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Yes! In my backyard: caring for native biodiversity in the city
Author(s) Mumaw, L
Year 2017
Abstract As urban populations continue to grow, cities face the inter-related challenges of fostering community wellbeing and conserving biodiversity. These are usually addressed through disconnected strategies and policies. Biodiversity conservation policies focus on supporting dwindling native species and communities in new ecological assemblages. However many urban land types and land managers are undervalued as conservation spaces and actors, including residential land and residents. Community wellbeing policies look to support physical, mental, and social dimensions of quality of life. While the physical wellbeing benefits provided by nature are often considered, less is understood in terms of psychological or social wellbeing benefits associated with actively caring for nature. How conservation and human wellbeing outcomes might be pursued concomitantly by urban communities is a pressing research and policy question. In this research I ask ‘How can an urban community foster both its native biodiversity and human wellbeing by involving residents in gardening to conserve municipal biodiversity?’

I address this question through an exploratory case study of Knox Gardens for Wildlife (G4W), a program run by a local government (Knox City) and community group (Knox Environment Society - KES) collaboration that involves residents in gardening to help conserve the municipality’s indigenous biodiversity. I employ a qualitative research strategy to examine how the program engages and supports residents in this gardening, how a land stewardship ethic and practice develops, and the effects involvement has on participants’ subjective wellbeing and connections with nature, place, and community. Primary data were gathered through group or individual interviews with thirty-two individuals involved in or associated with G4W, including members, garden assessors, founders, and KES and Knox City officers. This was supplemented with demographic data from G4W members, observations of their gardens, an unpublished Knox City survey of members, and an open-ended questionnaire of garden assessors. I analysed and interpreted the data using inductive, iterative analysis to identify patterns and relationships for further testing. I also developed an assessment framework to explore the program’s impact on Knox community’s capacity to foster biodiversity and wellbeing.

I find that urban residents with diverse gardening styles and demographic backgrounds can be engaged to foster indigenous biodiversity in their gardens through the program, showing opportunity to harness the conservation potential of residential land by engaging residents in municipal conservation collaboration. Yet urban conservation activities have been directed largely to public land, with residential opportunities focused on volunteering on public land, donations, or political support. The program also facilitates urban residents to adopt private land stewardship values and practice, in contrast with speculation that rural environmental place and place meanings are required. Stewardship development occurs over time through a complex interplay between performing stewardship activities, improving competency and confidence, increasing stewardship knowledge, growing stewardship beliefs and values, and deepening attachments to place and community. I posit a conceptual model for this process and contrast it with linearly depicted pro-environmental behaviour change models, noting their limitations in highlighting how performing pro-environmental behaviour affects its own development and that of other variables.

Social factors were as important as ecological ones in affecting how and why urban residents were engaged in conservation and what benefits were achieved. Instrumental program factors include a face-to-face garden assessment, access to advice and support, locally sited communication hubs, a framework that fosters experiential learning and community linkages, involvement of community and local government, endorsement of each garden’s potential conservation contribution, and an indigenous plant nursery. Program participation strengthens wellbeing and social connections amongst involved actors. Feelings of wellbeing come from experiencing nature, sharing learning, developing skills, and making a meaningful contribution to community and nature, catalysts for further action. These findings demonstrate that social as well as ecological benefits can be gained from involving urban residents in municipal conservation through gardening, using an approach that has been poorly understood or targeted previously. They also demonstrate the value of using community capacity to assess and develop integrated approaches to foster biodiversity and wellbeing. I provide a community capacity assessment framework that highlights both social and ecological issues; aids recognition of how human, social, ecological, and economic capital is interactively developed by a program; and helps identify areas for improvement.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Global, Urban and Social Studies
Subjects Urban and Regional Studies (excl. Planning)
Wildlife and Habitat Management
Conservation and Biodiversity
Keyword(s) environmental stewardship
urban biodiversity
community capacity
nature conservation
wildlife gardening
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Created: Fri, 04 Aug 2017, 12:27:11 EST by Denise Paciocco
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