Taking It To The Streets

Yesterday I was doorknocked by a young man who has received a grant to create a wildlife corridor linking two creeks. Although there are some parks between the creeks these will not be used, as most lead to substantial dead ends as far as wildlife are concerned.

Instead he is digging up most of the nature strips along the roads linking the creeks and planting indigenous plants known to be popular with native wildlife. Further indigenous plants will be provided for private gardens for those living along the corridor who help dig up the nature strips. He has council approval, funding to work on it two days a week and, from memory, 40,000 plants.

I can see some problems with this. There are four reasonably major roads (with trams) along the corridor, plus numerous smaller ones. Birds may happily fly from one patch of plants to another, but he mentioned skinks as one of the species he was hoping to encourage, and I can see many of them ending up splattered on the bitumen. Rope bridges or tunnels are a possibility if the idea really seems to be taking off, but those won’t come cheap, or soon.

We already get occasional rainbow lorikeets in my street, hoping for lots more.

We already get occasional rainbow lorikeets in my street, hoping for lots more.

Still, the benefits for bird life should be huge. Its possible that there are species living in the creek valleys (one of which has been well restored to a relatively natural state) that could use telephone wires as the possums do. The first parts of the corridors, running from the creeks to the main roads should be relatively safe for nocturnal creatures, with few cars on the backroads at night.

I’m particularly in favour because as far as I know this is something of a first, at least for Australia. If the negatives outweigh the positives its very sad, but we’ve learned something. While the organiser told me mine was the only street with enough nature strips to use for the western part of the route, I imagine that if this is a success people will start to look for similar projects linking creeks all across Melbourne, and the benefits for inbred populations of native animals could be huge. Hopefully there will be a proper study of the effects.

What interests me more however, is what effect it will have on the local community. Being part of a huge planting day where a huge section of the street digs up their nature strips and installs the plants could be a great way to get to know the neighbours, something I am embarrassed to admit I’ve largely failed to do. I’ve heard of projects where a group of houses in a street get solar at the same time in return for a bulk discount, and I’d imagine this could prove a very good intro to such projects.

Selfishly, as a homeowner, I can imagine houseprices could rise noticeably as being part of the corridor becomes part of the real estate agent’s pitch. I also wonder if there could be a change in attitudes. The local booth turns out one of the highest (and possibly the fastest rising) Green votes in the state, but being part of this could cause even those who do not currently see themselves as environmentalists to alter their identity – particularly when the they see the benefits of their work in a carpet of wildflowers feasted on by rainbow lorikeets.

I’ve thought for a while there is a thesis in studying the way changes, like the opening of a handy new train station, can change people’s attitudes to apparently unrelated environmental issues. I think this could be a wonderful test. As one friend responded to my facebook post “This is how we will save the world. One street at a time.” I’d add: One street and a few hundred minds.

About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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