Did you know that a wildlife welcoming revolution is going on in many Canadian cities? Where stretches of mowed and pesticide-sprayed park turf once lay, diverse arrays of wildflowers and grasses now bloom. In the hearts of busy downtowns, native bushes and trees provide a wide selection of food and homes for many wild creatures. Because chemical sprays are rarely if ever used, helpful insects like butterflies, bees, ladybird beetles, and praying mantises can go about their business unharmed.
This new trend in park maintenance is known as naturalization. For example, in Prairie cities with windy, dry climates and extreme temperatures, it makes sense to plant native vegetation that needs little maintenance or water. Coarse native grasses left unmown ensure dense, healthy growth that chokes out weeds, while allowing plants to reseed themselves.
Omand's Creek in downtown Winnipeg is one example of a delightful haven for wildlife. Prairie grasses and wildflowers wave in the breeze along the sloping banks. Pike, muskrats, and mallards cruise the waters, while a stone's throw away are parking lots, traffic fumes, and shopping malls. Once classified as a ditch, Omand's Creek was nearly paved out of existence to make way for a 16-storey apartment block, but a concerned biologist fought the plan and soon won the community's support. Eventually, developers moved the project elsewhere. Afterward, an area of native prairie grass that would also have been doomed by development was painstakingly transplanted to the banks of Omand's Creek.
Besides helping wildlife in a big way, naturalized urban areas offer other benefits:
• They protect topsoil from eroding.
• Unmown taller grasses in these areas absorb noise, act as a visual screen, and remove airborne pollutants.
• The growth of native plant species minimizes the need for watering.
• Wildlife diversity is increased.
• Money saved on lawn mowing can be used for natural weed control, or to purchase native grass seed.
• Naturalized areas are good for outdoor education.
What are the green spaces like in your town or city? Is wildlife repelled by chemical sprays and overzealous mowing? On the contrary, do songbirds, shrews, snakes, and salamanders find a welcome mat of pesticide-free native growth, tall grass, and clean water?
• Find out about your community's policy on park maintenance. Some larger centres have a naturalist working in their parks department.
• If there are naturalized areas in your town already, learn about the wildlife species that live there. Can your group help preserve these urban wildlife refuges?
• If your community green spaces are still persistently mowed and sprayed, you may be able to help change things. Write to cities that practise naturalization. Find out how it works for them. What are the pros and cons of their methods?
• Present your findings to your local council, stressing the benefits of naturalization. Request that council adopt more natural methods of park maintenance. Offer to help in any way you can.