Chamber of Local Authorities

5 February 2008


Committee on Sustainable Development

Biodiversity policies for urban areas

Willy Borsus, Belgium (L, ILDG)

Explanatory Memorandum
Committee on Sustainable Development


Biological diversity is not only the prerogative of the countryside, it is also very well-established in urban areas where numerous species of flora and fauna live and flourish. Urban biodiversity is undoubtedly a matter requiring regulation and action on the part of local and regional authorities.

Biodiversity in towns and cities offers many benefits: the biomass acts as a climate regulator and contributes to water retention. It recycles organic waste and absorbs numerous greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide. Biodiversity also makes for interaction between different species and is conducive to relaxation, aesthetic pleasure and health.  Furthermore, it also serves to educate young people in towns and cities who are often cut off from nature.

Protecting and extending urban biodiversity is the responsibility of territorial authorities which should take steps to control and monitor biodiversity, encourage urban planning projects that incorporate nature, foster awareness and education on biodiversity and offer integrated urban ecology plans in partnership with civil society. Relevant international texts should reflect the growing importance of biodiversity in urban areas.

R: Chamber of Regions / L: Chamber of Local Authorities
ILDG: Independent and Liberal Democrat Group of the Congress
EPP/CD: Group European People’s Party – Christian Democrats of the Congress
SOC: Socialist Group of the Congress
NR: Member not belonging to a Political Group of the Congress



Introduction................................................................................................................................... 3

1.         An international response to biodiversity decline................................................................. 3

International organisations committed to protecting biodiversity........................................... 3

Towards greater recognition of urban biological diversity..................................................... 4

2.         Cities as biodiversity zones................................................................................................ 6

The many benefits of urban biodiversity.............................................................................. 6

Climate change and biodiversity......................................................................................... 6

Biodiversity and urban risks............................................................................................... 7

3.         The need for territorial authorities’ intervention..................................................................... 7

Guiding principles for action in favour of urban biodiversity................................................. 7

Towards a reduction of ecological footprints........................................................... 8

Integrated actions towards an urban ecology........................................................... 9

For the well-being of future generations.................................................................. 9

4.         Towards integrated support and management of urban biodiversity.................................... 10

Awareness raising and education in biodiversity................................................................ 11

Priorities for territorial action............................................................................................. 12

Conclusion.................................................................................................................................. 12

The Secretariat of the Congress would like to thank Mr Claude Auroi, Professor of the Graduate Institute of development studies (IUED), Geneva (Switzerland), for the preparation of this report.


It is increasingly recognised by the public and by decision makers that preserving “nature” is essential if we wish to avoid the total destruction of many species and biotopes. However, it is less clearly understood that nature forms a complex whole and is not just a simple juxtaposition of natural elements. Furthermore, when people do understand “biodiversity”, they automatically associate it with the countryside, forests and marine biotopes.

Indeed, the areas in which biodiversity is considered to be at its strongest are those in which nature prevails, that is to say where there are few or no human activities, businesses, offices, communication links or housing. On the other hand, densely built-up areas such as towns, cities and conurbations are seen as settings with very little biodiversity and to a degree as somewhere where, by definition, it has no place.

These views are not scientifically correct as urban areas actually contain large numbers of animal and plant species. Medium-sized towns with 40 000 to 250 000 inhabitants harbour hundreds of species of plants and several dozens of animal species[1]. Biodiversity is even found in very large cities, where many species of mammals and birds (rodents, reptiles, hedgehogs, foxes, birds of prey, etc.) have established a strong and lasting presence.

Biodiversity in the urban context is in no way limited to parks and cultivated green spaces. Animal and vegetal species are also to be found in allotments, cemeteries, sports fields, parking lots, road and rail sides, pavement and wall cracks, wastelands and waterways. The richest biodiversity is often to be found in the uncultivated corners of cities such as derelict land and industrial zones.

If biodiversity is regarded as a system of structured, continuous relationships (or chains) linking plant and animal species and humans in a particular biotope, urban areas can in fact be viewed as “settings for biodiversity” and ecosystems just like any other.  Some species are more common than others of course but they interact with each other in complex chains and complementary relationships and in symbiosis with non-living elements, such as air, water and minerals or mineralised materials.  Biomass should be distinguished from biodiversity. Biomass is a relatively indistinct mass of plants, trees and other living matter whereas biodiversity is an organised arrangement of specific, ecosystem-based genetic components.

Biodiversity did not establish itself in towns and cities out of nothing, it developed at the same time, adapting to changes in the built environment. It is important therefore to determine its statistical parameters, its density and substance and the types and species and populations of wildlife present, before embarking on activities to protect certain species or whole biotopes. Some well meaning policies can be more of a threat to biodiversity than a certain degree of regulated laissez-faire.

1.         An international response to biodiversity decline

International organisations committed to protecting biodiversity

Urban biodiversity as such is very rarely mentioned in the international context. There is no explicit reference to it in the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) drawn up at the Rio Conference in 1992, save in Agenda 21, which talks of building "sustainable human settlements” and provides some ideas about ways of achieving this (1992 Earth Summit: 12‑13). At the eight Conferences of Parties to the Convention, which followed the Rio Conference, the main emphasis was on intellectual property and on access and benefit sharing, which are not specific to urban areas. The fourth Conference of Parties reinforced targets for reducing biodiversity loss by 2010, which was declared International Year of Biodiversity, but there was no specific reference to controlling genetic erosion in urban areas, as the 2010 targets related mostly to agriculture, forests and natural habitats in general.

None of the documents on nature conservation and landscapes produced before or after the CBD have anything more to say on the subject. Since 1970, a series of international instruments have been signed, relating primarily to the protection of particular species and biotopes. The main emphasis of these international documents is the protection of endangered species:

-       the Red Lists of the World Conservation Union (IUCN, 1963);

-       trade in animals and plants (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Washington, 1973);

-       protection of wetlands (Convention on Wetlands, Ramsar, 1971);

-       protection of sites and heritage (UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Paris 1972);

-       protection of migratory species (Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, Bonn 1979).

Recommendations also included the establishment of large national parks and strictly protected areas in each country. Attempts were made to exclude human beings entirely from these reserves to restore nature to its “pure” state, but in the countries of the South this led to frequent conflicts with the small farmers and indigenous people living in these areas. Human beings were expected to confine themselves to existing settled areas and restrict mining, quarrying and farming activities in northern countries to an absolute minimum.

The Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (1979) predates the CBD and provides, in some respects, the fundamental concepts in the field, with its references in Articles 2 and 3 to “wild flora and fauna” and “natural habitats” – and hence to notions which clearly do not include urban areas. These opposing concepts (natural versus artificial habitat) had a far-reaching impact on international instruments and national legislation, by establishing a debatable and somewhat idealised dichotomy. This Rousseauist vision divided the world into, respectively, an almost entirely intact form of nature that had to be preserved and towns and cities, where nature was of very little importance and humankind had shaped an artificial habitat for itself.

Fortunately, since the early 1990s, there has been increasing acceptance of the integration of local inhabitants and certain economic activities into natural areas of forest and grassland, giving rise to integrated concepts such as “Man and the Biosphere”. However, the same could not be said for thinking on urban areas, and it was only very slowly that research workers and environmentalists began taking an interest in biodiversity in towns and highlighting its importance[2].

Europe began to draw up legal instruments on biodiversity following the adoption of the Rio Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992. In 1994 the Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy was signed, which although very comprehensive, did not say anything about urban biological diversity.

In 2003, in the context of the Strategy, 51 countries in the pan-European region signed the Kyiv Resolution, whose aim was to curb the loss of biodiversity and set loss reduction targets for 2010. While targets are set for agriculture and forests and reference is made to “invasive alien species”, nothing is said about any other habitats, species or areas[3].

Towards greater recognition of urban biological diversity

The European Landscape Convention (2002) went further than the Pan-European Strategy and the Kyiv Resolution, acknowledging in particular that towns and cities are landscapes like any other. Two passages in the Preamble address the issue: “Acknowledging that the landscape is an important part of the quality of life for people everywhere: in urban areas and in the countryside, in degraded areas as well as in areas of high quality, in areas recognised as being of outstanding beauty as well as everyday areas”; “Noting that developments in agriculture, forestry, industrial and mineral production techniques and in regional planning, town planning, transport, infrastructure, tourism and recreation… are in many cases accelerating the transformation of landscapes”. Furthermore, Article 2 states explicitly that “this Convention applies to the entire territory of the Parties and covers natural, rural, urban and peri-urban areas”. Although landscape is defined in a very subjective manner as “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors” (Article 1), the traditional dividing lines between the natural and the artificial are starting to become blurred.

However, incorporating articles on urban biodiversity into more general texts such as the European Landscape Convention does not sufficiently highlight the specific features of urban ecosystems and equates them inappropriately with other natural areas such as forests and agricultural areas. Because the relationship between people and nature is so much more complex in urban landscapes than in others, it requires separate treatment. Our aim therefore should be to prepare and adopt a separate convention on the protection and promotion of urban biodiversity. In this respect, the issue of biodiversity in urban areas deserves to be addressed in forthcoming Council of Europe activities in the field of biological and landscape diversity.

Furthermore, it should also be noted that at European Union level, neither the very recently adopted Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities (May 2007) nor the contribution in response to the Charter by the mayors of major cities under the aegis of Eurocities[4] makes a single reference to biodiversity, all of which shows the urgent need to take specific action in this area.

Nonetheless, recognition of urban biodiversity is slowly emerging in the international context. Although it does not refer directly to urban areas, Resolution VIII/28, adopted in Curitiba by the Conference of Parties to the CBD (CPO 8) sets out voluntary guidelines on biodiversity-inclusive environmental impact assessment which can be used as inspiration. The final meeting in Curitiba adopted a Global Initiative on Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA), which contains a large number of suggestions concerning the promotion of biodiversity[5]

In the European context territorial authorities have taken action and in February 2007 launched the Brabant – Oisterwijk Appeal “Regions as champions for biodiversity 2010”[6]. The aim is to put the European biodiversity 2010 commitments into concrete actions at regional and local levels, developing an interregional European biodiversity programme and facilitating cooperation between regions and local authorities across Europe.

In this respect, local and regional authority associations have also initiated important exchange and cooperation activities. For example, Local Action for Biodiversity (LAB)[7] initiated by ICLEI aims to improve biodiversity management and awareness at local level.

In the same context, the Curitiba Declaration on Cities and Biodiversity of March 2007[8].  was initiated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It emphasizes the crucial role of local authorities in the global efforts towards the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity and the importance of conservation and protection of biodiversity in urban areas.

In October 2007 the Sixth Ministerial Conference “Environment for Europe” held in Belgrade[9] confirmed the role regions and local authorities are playing in the achievement of the 2010 target and in particular supported the Brabant – Oisterwijk Appeal. An opportunity to take this further and to explicitly address urban biodiversity will be offered by the 9th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to be held in Bonn in May 2008.

2.         Cities as biodiversity zones

The many benefits of urban biodiversity

According to McKinney (2002), plants react in three different ways to towns and cities – some are “urban avoiders”, some “urban adapters” and some “urban exploiters”. The plants which adapt best are the hardiest and least fragile ones, including those that can even grow on concrete such as moss, lichen and ivy. However, many other plants are cultivated by humans, in places specially reserved for them such as squares, parks, window boxes, balconies, flat roofs, entrance halls etc. There are no clear limits to the extension of urban biodiversity apart from the stresses engendered by air pollution, poisoned and compacted soil, excessive heat and water shortages.

The existence of relatively widespread urban biodiversity has benefits in several spheres:

-          the biomass generally acts as a climate regulator, cooling air that is too hot and dry;

-          the biomass absorbs and recycles the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted in excessive quantities by domestic and industrial plants, urban traffic and other greenhouse gases, and therefore also benefits health;

-          biodiversity itself is a means through which species regulate one another and relationships are established between specific species[10];

-          biodiversity is an aesthetic feature and a sign of a successful blend of humankind and nature;

-          biodiversity facilitates recreation, relaxation and play through diverse arrangements combining living items into specific grassland, wooded and aquatic biotopes. It has a soothing and restful psychological effect;

-          biodiversity has an educational function in urban areas where often nature is not seen as a vital element by the public and in particular by children. In Europe today, 80% of the population live in towns and cities and hardly know anything about the problems faced by other social groups such as farmers or forestry workers. Bringing nature closer to towns and cities therefore is essential for regional and social cohesion and for better intercultural understanding;

-          biodiversity can help to reduce towns’ and cities’ ecological footprints by recycling certain residual elements through gas absorption, through the use of compost as a nutritive substrate and for the retention of water, thus countering the effects of soil sealing

Climate change and biodiversity

Global warming is already causing widespread destruction and major climatic disturbances and these will be worse in the future. In addition to the predicable and irreversible consequences such as glacier and permafrost melt, submergence of low-lying coastal areas and islands and the desertification of some regions, the frequency of extreme weather events will lead to sudden phenomena including heat waves, drought and flooding which will to a large extent affect urban agglomerations. Natural areas, animals, plants, entire ecosystems, infrastructure and buildings will all be affected. 

Quite apart from causing disasters, climate change will have more gradual effects, notably:

-     temperature increases leading to a drying out of biomass- and biodiversity-poor urban areas, which already suffer from much more ultraviolet refraction due to the built environment. One of the consequences of drier air is high evaporation in areas with trees and aquatic environments (ponds, marshland, lakes); 

-     increased pollution in urban areas with persistent mist or fog and little wind. If there is not enough biodiversity in the urban environment, less CO2 will be absorbed;

-     invasive exogenous species of insects, reptiles, rodents, mammals and birds will be attracted by the mildness, shelter and food resources. With global warming and new urban living conditions, whole new ecosystems may form, even in densely populated areas, but no-one can yet say exactly what they will consist of;

-     on the other hand, some species may vanish because the urban environment subjects them to undue stress, but there are several different sources of stress and global warming is only one factor to be taken into account.

All of these climatic effects naturally require appropriate planning policies to alleviate them. The first requirement for protecting urban biotopes is to match biomass cover and biodiversity to warming and increased evapotranspiration. In practice, this means planting more trees and shrubs in towns, covering flat roofs with vegetation where possible, setting up urban farming areas and diversified wetlands and prohibiting traffic in overpolluted neighbourhoods. Detailed inventories of invasive and endangered species need to be drawn up so that they can be controlled or protected appropriately. 

Biodiversity and urban risks

While biodiversity is clearly beneficial for city and town dwellers, it is not always so easy to achieve and may be subject to certain constraints and risks, of which it is important to be aware. Some species (of tree in particular) cannot withstand car exhaust fumes or the continuous vibrations caused by traffic and are therefore not suited to urban environments.

Other species, such as pigeons, crows and magpies, proliferate more than others, and to their detriment. Small birds are at a disadvantage in this competition unless a balance is maintained. Biotopes are inevitably very small and fragmented in towns and cities and as they are not conducive to complementary relationships between species, food has to be provided by people (as with ponds for ducks and other birds). Some species may disfigure and progressively destroy the architectural and cultural heritage through their droppings (pigeons), incrustation (ivy) or sheer destructive impact (rodents).

So-called invasive species have particular effects on other elements of the natural and built environment. The urban biotope is not suited to exotic species such as snakes, tropical spiders and monkeys living in flats and they pose a threat to human health. However, in recent decades, many birds and animals from the countryside (especially foxes) have been able to adapt to urban areas after making their own way there. Their adaptation shows that they feel quite at home and that there is no reason to regulate them unless they are undermining public order or health. In a survey conducted by the City of Zurich (with a population of 1 million), it was found that the city was home to 4-5000 hedgehogs and contained a higher density of foxes than rural areas[11].

Although the biomass helps to regulate the urban climate, it must be watered and maintained and this entails costs for local authorities. Water management systems based on collecting used water and groundwater run-off should be undertaken in parallel.

To sum up, urban biodiversity cannot be left to its own devices. It has to be regulated by the authorities with the participation of the public.

3.         The need for territorial authorities’ intervention

Guiding principles for action in favour of urban biodiversity

Guidelines for local authorities and citizens wishing to protect and above all promote biological diversity in urban areas should be based on more general principles regarding the management of urban development and a clear vision of sustainable development.

In the field of biodiversity as in others, such as agriculture, the concept of sustainable development should serve as a guiding thread for urban management practices. This principle or paradigm requires urban development to be socially just and ecologically sustainable and it must not be at the expense of future generations.

While the principles of sustainable development must be taken into consideration when promoting biodiversity in urban areas, particular emphasis should be placed on reducing ecological footprints and preserving green belts which are not earmarked for development. Towns' and cities' long-term value for humankind and the biosphere can only be maintained if their ecological footprint is reduced and spaces are reserved for nature.

Towards a reduction of ecological footprints

Since biodiversity and biomass make a major contribution to preserving air and water quality, increasing the number of areas of trees and plants and aquatic environments such as ecological swimming pools can help to maintain the atmosphere’s gaseous balances and prevent water pollution. The Kyoto Protocol imposes measures to reduce greenhouse gases, which must particularly be applied in urban areas where human activity is intense. Extending biodiversity has a mitigating effect on air pollution and it should be recalled that towns and cities produce 75% of air pollution.

It should be noted that “greening” is not sufficient with regard to promoting biological diversity and efforts to plant and create green areas, cover roofs with vegetation and so on will not be enough to counter the increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Thus, promoting biodiversity alone is not sufficient to solve the problems connected with climate change. It must be combined with other measures relating to urban traffic, energy efficiency, the disposal of used water and waste.

An urban policy geared towards promoting biodiversity must devise, in addition to large-scale actions to reduce waste, ecological systems for recuperating and recycling waste and waste water such as separating and composting organic waste and re-using compost in municipal parks and gardens and on private properties.

Water policy is closely linked to biodiversity policy. Rain water should be collected and, where it is of sufficient quality, used to cover municipal watering requirements. In so far as possible, storm water should not be allowed to run into concrete collection and drainage systems but be directed towards the subsoil and sites conducive to biodiversity, such as parks, wasteland, gardens and ecological pools. Generally speaking, one of the main aims of water management policies must be to avoid wasting water. “Water must be equitably and reasonably used in the public interest”[12]

Account should be taken of the production of biodiversity through ornamental or vegetable gardens in urban areas. Such gardens and allotments must be preserved and more created with the involvement of the inhabitants concerned, and nurseries should be opened. In this respect, kitchen gardens at the entrance to blocks of flats are particularly interesting. Furthermore, people should be encouraged to grow plants on their balconies and terraces and conditions should be attached to architectural developments to ensure that biodiversity extends to the buildings themselves.

Native domestic animals such as donkeys, ponies, sheep and goats may also be kept in towns, among other things for the enjoyment of children but also for the maintenance of certain surfaces (through grazing). Zoos should be partly converted to offer this entertaining and useful service and should probably concentrate less on wild tropical animals, which do not always have a very happy life in captivity.

Furthermore, when introducing or reintroducing biodiversity into urban areas, some account needs to be taken of the specific cultural characteristics of each country or region in the pan-European spectrum. Ideas about the relationship between man and nature in northern Europe differ from those in the south, and those in western Europe from the countries in transition, which means that the basic principles have be applied flexibly. Attitudes towards private and public spaces, parks, paths and lawns differ slightly according to culture and climate. English-style lawns are not so highly prized in Italy and southern France, whereas tree-lined squares for playing boules are considered essential. It should be said in passing that uniform seed-sown lawns – or golf courses for that matter - are not the best examples of how to preserve biodiversity. Meadows sown with several species of grass and flowers offer the best model, although it is better to look out on to a lawn than a tarmac car park and a supermarket.

Integrated actions towards an urban ecology

Transversal projects and action plans which coordinate and flesh out biodiversity protection and development are part of local and regional authorities' responsibilities, as are issues of urban and peri-urban development, raising public awareness and improving ecological management of green spaces.

Some towns and cities have chosen urban “models” which have led to the creation of ecologically-sound districts. For example the Vauban residential development in Freiburg in Breisgau (Germany), where 5 000 people live in an area of 38 hectares from which cars have been totally banned. In the United Kingdom the Beddington neighbourhood project (BedZED) in the town of Sutton comprises 82 houses where the aim is to try to minimise energy consumption and reduce the ecological footprint to 1.6 ha per inhabitant[13].

Others such as London and Stockholm have adopted radical measures to increase the use of bicycles and soft transport and reduce city-centre pollution through the introduction of congestion charges on cars entering the centres of the city.

Some cities have affirmed their commitment to actively favour biodiversity and put in place ambitious biodiversity action plans, usually within the framework of the Countdown 2010 Initiative or Local Agenda 21s. Dublin in Ireland, for example, has initiated the Dublin City Biodiversity Action Plan which has mapped existing biodiversity comprehensively and set up a strategic plan to inform and involve the community in the development and implementation of policies, partnerships and mechanisms to create and enhance the natural heritage of the city.  Brussels in Belgium has initiated a study on the state of the city’s biodiversity with the introduction of indicators and ‘listening posts’ for some types of birds and animals[14].

The City of Zagreb in Croatia has launched a major project to raise awareness and public participation in biodiversity conservation. The city administrative bodies responsible for strategic planning, education, culture, heritage and agriculture are actively involved in the plan. They are joined by other partners including city districts, cultural centres, businesses responsible for sport, recreation and parks and the Croatian Regional Environmental Centre.

The city of Metz in France has made efforts to extend its parks, esplanades and other green areas, which it enlarged from 180 ha in 1970 to 450 ha in 2000 under the “Metz, cradle of urban ecology” programme. Numerous cities and towns practice integrated ecological management of their green spaces and do not use any pesticides.

Other towns and cities have built upon past initiatives to showcase how biodiversity can be fully integrated into the architecture. For example into the developments and buildings interwoven with natural features designed by the Viennese architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000), including the Green Citadel in Magdeburg and, in particular, the Waldspirale project in Darmstadt with its large sloping roof in the form of a tree-lined garden.

For the well-being of future generations

In cities and towns, or at least in their peripheral or semi-peripheral parts, brown-field sites, wasteland, areas awaiting development and abandoned industrial sites are often very common and are usually very rich in biodiversity. In some countries they cover a high percentage of the total urban surface (in Switzerland, for example, they amount to 50% of the total urban surface areas).

This has created reserves of building land which can be developed according to ecological principles (such as low carbon) and with a view to preserving biodiversity for future generations. Accordingly, there is a vital need for detailed inventories of these areas, with a view to their phased and balanced allocation to human and natural activities. Failing to do so will mean the rezoning of ever more peripheral areas currently used for agriculture and enlarging mega-cities which already take up too much space, leading to unmanageable externalities in terms of facilities, activities and travel to and from work and for leisure purposes.

Towns and cities should be designed as wholes, in which several types of functions can coexist without placing excessive burdens on the environment or the community. New neighbourhoods must incorporate the principles of diversity and avoid the uniformity of featureless housing blocks without any greenery around them. Travel must be reduced and mobility should be based on collective and non-polluting methods, trams, trains, subways and electric cars or “soft” transport modes (bicycle, walking) when possible.

As far as homes, industrial and business premises are concerned, a major effort must be made with associations of architects and town planners to design ecologically sound buildings both for new builds and renovations. Such green buildings should use less energy and water and non-polluting recyclable materials, incorporate biodiversity variables in the way they are built, contain different numbers of storeys and avoid uniformity and monotony. Thus there are models and standards of ecological architecture and buildings, for example Minergie in Switzerland[15].

Each of the three urban circles already mentioned include specific features which should take into account:

-          historic centres, where preserving the architectural heritage is the prime consideration;

-          peri-urban, or intermediate, areas, where building is less dense and there is scope for large areas of biodiversity;

-          peripheral areas in the outskirts, where there is a mix of activities and habitats as well as brown-field sites requiring specific planning.

Town planning must also make provision for large enough areas of biodiversity to cater for certain species which move around a great deal. Brown-field sites are often good sites to protect because they contain a wide range of biodiversity. This is often difficult to achieve in practice and so there should be networks of ecological or green corridors between different biotopes, making it easier for frogs, reptiles and small mammals to move around and birds to find nest sites.

4.         Towards integrated support and management of urban biodiversity

Regional and local authorities are best placed to manage the promotion and preservation of a balanced form of biodiversity in towns. The precise allocation of tasks should be reviewed for real results and efficient action in the field. A wide debate of ideas and exchanges of experience are needed in order to elaborate a shared vision of biodiversity in European towns and cities.

Numerous questions regarding the balance between human settlement and nature at regional level, in terms of zoning, regional parks, aquatic environments, ecological corridors, forestry areas, traffic routes and so on could be answered through greater collaboration between the member States of the Council of Europe, legislative assemblies, associations of local and regional authorities and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Committee of the Regions of the European Union which are representative bodies of elected territorial members.

However, if local and regional authorities are among the most immediately concerned, so too are citizens and civil society. New approaches to town planning and development and new building standards, particularly concerned with energy saving and the conservation of green areas and the species living in them, call for new ways of behaving, which those concerned need to understand and take on board. The public must be involved from the outset in the introduction of new measures, through citizens’ associations, neighbourhood committees and the like, and must be convinced that their attitudes and habits in such matters as selective waste disposal, growing plants on their balconies and visiting parks have a real impact.

As things stand, and on the basis of partial surveys, we have good reason to believe that awareness of biodiversity in Europe is not very high. The very definition of the term, as understood by the CBD, is little known to most people and probably to many decision-makers. The public must be involved in promoting biodiversity but this will only be possible with the right resources and tools. It can be achieved through awareness-raising and education (particularly for young people) and by involving citizens in the implementation of new measures.

Businesses and consortiums also need to be alerted to these issues, and they in turn can show the way by taking innovative measures and raising awareness among their employees.

Awareness raising and education in biodiversity

Awareness-raising and education about biodiversity can follow several different approaches and partnerships with representatives of civil society, business and education. It can be taught in a theoretical way, through schools, seminars, films, training schemes, Internet courses and so on. It is especially important to alert young people to the ecosystem-related aspects of biodiversity.

A partner in raising awareness in developing urban biodiversity is offered by botanic gardens, an 18th-century invention, which can be found in practically all large European cities. Many are currently in a state of relative stagnation and are in need of renovation or redesigning. An example of what can be done is Kew Gardens in London, which has been very intelligently refurbished. Botanic gardens and zoos can play a key role because they have the necessary scientific background and collections. However, new funding will be required for them to play an active part in biodiversity promotion.

Biodiversity offers a good opportunity for schools to combine education in the life sciences with civic awareness and also undertake field work and practical initiatives which can have a real impact on the immediate environment. There are numerous examples of this in all European counties, for example the Eco-schools Scotland which uses the outdoors and nature at teaching tools[16].  

However, learning through example, demonstration and “doing” is always more efficient and is often the only approach that will be truly registered and absorbed by the general public. For example, creating a biological swimming pool draws people’s attention to the “cleansing” properties of algae, reeds and rushes. Visiting an integrated sewage treatment plant helps people to realise that even sludge can be used to make biogas and that everything or nearly everything can be recycled if the right procedure is adopted. These procedures range from the simplest processes (sorting household waste) to the most complex (using the residual slag from water treatment for road construction). There is scope for practices supporting biodiversity at all levels of activity, from ordinary citizens to decision-makers.

Education in biodiversity must therefore take place at several levels and for different target audiences. It must include theory and practice and involve associations already working in the sustainable development field and those likely to be interested in such activities (socio-cultural associations, sports clubs scouts etc.). It must also involve natural history museums and art galleries and, above all, botanical gardens and zoos, whose prime function should now be to educate the public in biodiversity.

Priorities for territorial action

Before specific action is taken, preliminary town planning measures are required. There follows a list of these, which may offer guidance for local and regional authorities’ action;

-     draw up an inventory and ecosystem maps of biodiversity resources in towns and cities and their neighbourhoods, covering plants and animals as well as specific biotopes and reports on endangered species (under the IUCN Red List). This should all be done in co-operation with research institutes and botanic gardens;.

-     establish urban bio-indicator systems  which measure climatic effects on certain plant species[17] A good, although incomplete, example of this is Brussels in Belgium which has initiated a study on the state of the city’s biodiversity with the introduction of indicators and ‘listening posts’ for some types of birds and animals;[18]

-     draw up guiding principles accompanied by an action plan for biodiversity policy in urban areas, including short-, medium- and long-term aims and directives according to the urban density concerned;

-     take biodiversity into account in all impact studies undertaken with regard to urban projects;

-     support minimum standards in construction and rehabilitation projects which incorporate biodiversity (energy-saving buildings and materials, collecting storm water for watering, incorporating green areas into buildings, roofs and facades, corridors, indoor greenhouses, solar heating and district heating for greenhouses);

-     establish rules and standards for citizens on forms of behaviour that are consistent with biodiversity;

-     set up a municipal structure, service or office of biodiversity responsible to monitor the spread of biodiversity and the effectiveness of public policy measures. This biodiversity office should also be responsible for co-ordination with other bodies dealing with climate change, water policy, urban infrastructure and traffic and town planning in general;

-     organise awareness-raising and education in biodiversity with the public and private institutions concerned, including schools, foundations, NGOs and businesses;

-     promote all activities which support biodiversity, particularly public-private partnerships;

-     at international level, work and support activities undertaken in partnership with international organisations. Local authority associations should attempt to draw up  minimum standards for the protection and promotion of biodiversity (for example urban planning, ratio of built-up areas to green areas, minimum tree cover, water bodies,  ecological water treatment plants, land given over to family gardens, areas of small brown-field sites,  composting and recycling facilities, paths in and between naturalised environments, the soil permeability ratio, the choice of materials or techniques for shared spaces, parking areas, surrounds of buildings…);

-     the creation of ISO 14000-type labels and prizes for certain activities by local and regional authorities and public initiatives should be supported[19].


Local and regional  authorities have a responsibility to make urban areas sustainable and this entails a series of traditional town planning-type measures but also, and increasingly, measures concerned with air and soil pollution, mobility, spatial planning, public safety, recreation and education for young people, the rehabilitation of disadvantaged neighbourhoods and quality of life in general.

As to the promotion of biodiversity properly speaking, measures should be coordinated between public authorities and institutions such as zoos, parks and botanical gardens. School services should aim to increase public knowledge and understanding about the importance of biodiversity. Public private partnerships should contribute to carrying out changes which promote nature in towns and cities. Monitoring of biodiversity should be carried out through a series of observatories able to measure at several levels the degradation or progression of urban biodiversity.

2010 will be the International Year of Biodiversity. In several areas (agriculture, forests, island environments and so on) the objectives to be reached have been defined by the Johannesburg Conference. Unfortunately the cities have not been included in the plan to reduce biodiversity loss even though urban areas constitute ecosystems that are rich in diversity.

An international appeal to include urban biodiversity in its deliberations should be launched regarding to the forthcoming Conference of the Parties COP9 of the CDB in Bonn in May 2008.

Guidelines on urban biodiversity cannot be treated separately from those governing the preservation of biodiversity in general, whether at global, national or regional level. The rules on preserving biodiversity must be considered in conjunction with Congress Resolution 236 and Recommendation 215 (2007) on climate change: approaches at local and regional level, the European Charter on Water Resources of 17 October 2001 and other instruments, such as the European Landscape Convention. These all contain several measures that are necessary for preserving urban biodiversity.

[1] Klaus Gregor, “Ville et nature : y a-t-il vraiment incompatibilité ?” (Town and nature – are they really incompatible?) (Hotspot 8, October 2003)

[2]  Gyllin, Mats, 1999,  « Integrating Biodiversity in Urban Planning », communication in urban planning, Göteborg conference paper, oct,

McKinney 2002 "Urbanization, Biodiversity and Conservation", Bioscience 52: 883-890)

Auroi, Claude, 2006, "La biodiversité en milieu urbain" Revue La jaune et la Rouge, (Paris), juin.

[3] Pan-European Biological and Landscape Diversity Strategy, fourth intergovernmental conference, on “Biodiversity in Europe”, document STRA CO (2006) 8

[4] "Eurocities and the Leipzig Charter, Leading Sustainable European Cities", Leipzig, 23 May 2007

[10] Cats will eat mice and rats, preventing them from spreading, and small birds of prey can play the same role. Areas planted with trees and hedges will facilitate the spread of numerous bird species. Complementary relationships with plant species are not just food-related; they also include functional aspects such as pollinisation, nesting and shelter.

[11] Hotspot, newsletter of the Swiss Biodiversity Forum, “Biodiversität im Siedlungsraum” (“Biodiversity in urban areas”), No 8, October 2003.

[12] European Charter on Water Resources, Council of Europe, 17 October 2001, section 2

[14] (de Schuster et al. 2000)

[17] Greppin, H, R Degli Agosti and C. Penel, (eds.) 1998, pp. 249-262, The Co-Action between Living Systems and the Planet, University of Geneva.

Niemelä, Jan, 2002, « Monitoring Biodiversity in Urban Environments »,

[18]De Schuster et al. 2000

[19] The final meeting of the Conference of Parties to the CBD (CPO 8) in Curitiba adopted a Global Initiative on Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA), which contains a large number of suggestions concerning the promotion of biodiversity ( COP 8 Decision VIII/6)