A Tale of Green Cities, Part 2: Melbourne University
Tucked behind the zoology building at Melbourne University’s Parkville Campus is a living museum.
The System Garden has been there since 1856, long before the brick university buildings fortified its perimeter. Promoted on Instagram as having an “emphasis on plant evolution and relationships”, the System Garden is rich with plant species, which represent many plant groups including ferns, mosses, conifers, cycads and flowering plants. They form a critical habitat for a suite of fauna, homing residents like the Rainbow Lorikeet, Eastern Rosella, Ringtailed Possum, Southern Brown Tree Frog and multiple species of bats. The System Garden is part of a wider incentive, as described in Melbourne University’s Biodiversity Management Plan of 2017, where the ultimate aim is to “manage the native vegetation on campuses effectively [by] planting more indigenous plants on campus and supplementing scarce resources through considered use of novel habitats”, for example the installation of nest-boxes for hollow-inhabiting species.
The university’s Biodiversity Management Plan, which considers biodiversity issues ranging from local to international concern, mentions that around two-thirds of the Victorian landscape is managed by private landowners. Melbourne Universities grounds are “regarded as some of the best managed and highly biodiverse privately owned landscapes in Victoria”. Melbourne University is exemplar in demonstrating how biodiversity-enhancing projects can be incorporated within privately owned urban areas, and is leading research into relevant projects.
The university’s Green Infrastructure Research Group (GIRG), an assemblage of academics and postgraduate researchers, is exploring the capacity for cities to become hubs for biodiversity.
The GIRG embarks on various projects to increase the vegetation found in urban environments, with a stand-out being the Burnley Green Roofs, which are carpeted with over 200 different plant taxa and 3,000 individual plants in total. Burnley’s demonstration, research and biodiversity green roofs are designed to accommodate a range of vegetation and other species-specific habitat features, including an ephemeral creek and pond, providing an important habitat for lizards, insects and birds.
Amongst the roof features something a little more unexpected has evolved, this time at the Parkville campus. It is lodged on the vegetation-less cement roof of one of the Swanston Street buildings, and yet it forms an important element of habitat: beehives.
“Cities are actually great places for bee colonies to be established, as there is usually a lot less pesticide present in the environment than in rural areas”, it reads in the article Biosecurity and the Beekeeper, and points to the scope of innovative biodiversity projects that can be incorporated in even the most plant-bare cityscapes. The potential for enhancing biodiversity in cities clearly has no limits.
The purpose the System Garden is not to be an isolated biodiversity exhibit enclosed by university buildings, nor for the Burnley Green roof to be a lonely green peak amidst the city’s many buildings. Ultimately, the projects run by Melbourne University aim to set an attainable example, which can be both followed and further developed in the to enhance Melbourne’s urban biodiversity; where nature corridors facilitate the mobility of fauna throughout the urbanised landscape.
Photo credit: Elena Piakis