We connected with ecologist Brenda Van Ryswyk of Conservation Halton to get her thoughts on what we need to do to bring more nature to the city, and encourage more people to help build the Polliantor Corridor. Check it out:
Q: We have heard of the concept "Half for Nature." Is this realistic in a city? In Hamilton? If so, how can this be achieved?
A: I think it is realistic when looking at available/plantable space and innovative planting techniques. I think we need to aim for it. We can utilize different ways to achieve this. Removing areas that do not need to be paved and converting them back to greenspace is one way. Innovative ways also should be looked at: vertical gardens (pockets of plants going up walls of buildings/high rises), patio gardening, rooftop gardens etc (I bought some durable fabric ‘pockets’ to fill with soil and hang on my fence). These are some creative ways we can incorporate more plants into our surroundings even if we do not have the bare earth on the ground.
Q: What can be done at the municipal level?
A: We need to look at using native species on public lands and city gardens. The city can have policies that they themselves will plant natives whenever possible. Park planning should plan to have natives in the landscape and design gardens to incorporate natives into the foundation plantings. I feel cities should be planting native woodies almost exclusively. There is no need to be planting non-native Norway Maple as a street tree/ornamental when a native tree can/should be used (in some situations a non-native may be needed but in my mind that is rare….most non-native woodies currently used in city plantings will have a native species that will do the same job!).
The city (or region even) could have policies in place that encourage corporate or private landowners to plant natives as well. Any time a planting is done, the request can be made that it be native, especially for woody plants-- or have at least 50% natives for herbaceous plantings. It may not be enforceable but just having a "request" can sometimes trigger using more natives. Once it is out there it will likely be acted on. Once people (or corporations) understand the WHY they may go beyond the minimum recommendation. Having a voluntary ‘certification’ or something can also encourage participation, for example, if corporations use 50% or more native plants they get a “helping wildlife/pollinators” title they can then brag about, put on their signs, put on their website/social media etc.
Q: Should residents be encouraged to plant a minimum percentage of habitat in their yards? If so, what is that minimum?
A: Yes! Most people will need some yard, but if at least 50% of the other plant matter in the yard is native, I think that is a very good, and achievable, goal.
Q: How critical is it to have connectivity between habitats?
I think it is important to have habitats in close proximity to each other…direct connections are great but not essential. Having a certain amount of habitat within an area is important. Creating linkages through having close “islands” or stepping stones between islands is important too. Providing stepping stones from “core” habitat to another “core” habitat is important, or even between areas of many islands. The more stepping stones the better.
Q: For the health and wellbeing of pollinators, is 300m distance between habitats a worthwhile goal?
A: Yes. Closer is always better but 300m is a good aim number as that is travel-able by many species (and even farther is better than no link at all).
Q: Do you have any thoughts on the density of the habitat? We’ve heard that it is very important to plant in large clumps.
A: Encourage larger clumps if possible. It is always BETTER to plant in large clumps but even small clumps will provide habitat. Many small clumps in close proximity to each other will also provide habitat so I would not downplay the importance of small clumps too. But in a city like Hamilton with very little plantable space (on most private lands) even the small spaces are important, and if many properties on the block planted small bits it can add up.
If multiple people in a small area are interested in planting, an idea would be to co-ordinate so they each plant a clump of a species in their yard and the neighbors plant a clump of a different species. Larger clumps are easier for pollinators to find and provide more nectar (reducing the time needed to search for a new nectar source constantly). Planting just single plants (of nectar source, herbaceous flowers) should be discouraged, if you have room for only three plants then plant three of the same species rather than one plant of three types of species. For woody species (trees and shrubs) even a single one is important since they can provide a large area of habitat. Layers are also important. Encourage a diversity of layers in a landscape. Many urban areas have a street tree and a lawn (maybe some ornamental flowers) but shrubs are also an important component of the ecosystem (especially for birds) and often missing from the urban landscape.
Check out Brenda's list of favourite butterfly attracting plants.