Marcus J. Collier has recently written a literature review, “Novel ecosystems and social-ecological resilience” which richly explores the contention ‘that novel ecosystems may be regarded as exemplars of social-ecological resilience and that the exploration of potential opportunities within novel ecosystem theory is being constrained by lack of investigation’ researchgate.net link to article
I’m interested in what Collier calls novel ecosystems and their potential as social-ecological resilience platforms.I can see a rapidly disappearing ecosystem, every day from my balcony in Belmayne, Dublin 13. This ecosystem and others like it in our cities are places in which nature has been allowed to emerge undisturbed from stalled development and other causes, human causes. Pelletstown, one of the TURAS demonstration sites, is also currently a novel ecosystem. For the ‘trespasser’ or ‘recreational user’ or ‘ecology enthusiast’ these places in our cities or on the edge, might have a multitude of meanings. And for the scientist they could be an important testing ground for social-ecological resilience.
What’s happening in Belmayne?
What I have seen, happening outside my window is that the once vacant land (eight years vacant) of Belmayne which had transitioned into a dynamic novel ecosystem has now returned to a building site, where mature hedgerows have been felled and emergent young Fraxinus excelsior (Ash tree) wood edges are simply bulldozed away, valueless. Not measured, nor given thought as to their possible values, even in the sense of giving the new housing estate some sense of itself.
It doesn’t have to be like this
Contrast this lack of value for novel emerging ecosystems to Nordbanhof Parc in the heart of Berlin. Once industrial, this unused space was in the first instance designed to be a kind of Meadow Park by Fugmann Janotta, landscape architects. Stalled development meant that the site became a novel ecosystem, mature tree lines expanded, and flowering grassy matrixes intermingled, as they tend to do, in most unlinear like ways. When the site came available as a park again, local stakeholders collaborated and placed sufficient value on the novel emergent ecosystem to ensure sensitive intervention creating pathways through the landscape thus exposing the transitioning ecology for the visitor to discover, explore, pass by or just be in. The park is carefully managed to encourage varying types of emergence. . It’s a very significant difference to ‘sustainable’ planning policies of creating new wildflower meadows in rectangular spaces between buildings, after all existing ecology has been removed. Park am Nordbahnhof, Belin Designed by FUGMANN JANOTTA und PARTNER Image photographer P. Winkelmeier
So What if?
What if we did map and measure the value of novel ecosystems, as a planning requirement before rebuilding? Might they then matter? Become valued? How would we measure them? Can the science of transition, a sort of merger between the science of discovery and engagement be built on some sort of open source platform? Importantly, the actual process of engaging people and perhaps local residents in measuring and or documenting the emerging ecosystems may lead to a significant increase in the value of emergence in our landscapes.
Local communities often see, document and argue for the multiple value of nature on their doorstep. Our TURAS research reveals this, for example in the Dublin Bay UNESCO biosphere where local people worked and collaborated with researchers and local authorities to protect Bull Island. These small actions led to Bull Island being designated a UNESCO world heritage site as a biosphere (1981), and this year we are very proud to have extended the UNESCO designation to Dublin Bay. More about that in another blog essay, for now let’s consider how we value novel ecosytems in our own environments…
Bull Island UNESCO biosphere now extends to Dublin Bay. Image credit Luke Hampson Byrne