Urban ecology

Urbanisation is one of the most radical forms of land-use alteration and can potentially negatively impact biodiversity in a number of ways.  Yet the value of the urban environment is becoming recognised increasingly as of being of value for overall biodiversity. Habitats within urban areas, such as gardens and brownfield sites, can be of high conservation importance comparing favourably with rural habitats such as intensive open farmland.  There are also examples that demonstrate the importance of urban areas to individual species e.g. the English Song Thrush population is mainly found in suburban habitats and the Black Redstart’s remaining strongholds are located solely within the urban environment. The importance of urban biodiversity is highlighted in the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, a 25 year plan for the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in Scotland. There are threats to urban biodiversity. The loss of key habitat within already built-up areas can reduce the biodiversity value of existing urban habitat, for example because of encroachment onto existing public greenspace, loss of ‘brownfield’ sites and ‘infilling’, whereby large gardens are replaced by new dwellings.  Urban green spaces may also be poorly managed and sometimes dominated by non-native invasive species that are generally of low value for urban wildlife. Urban ecology is therefore increasingly an appropriate target for research and conservation efforts, offering huge potential for improvement through schemes to conserve and enhance biodiversity.

Despite the remoteness of much of Scotland’s terrain, around 80% of its human population lives in
Red Road Nature Reserve by Ronald MacLean
towns and cities, and gardens constitute around 30% of Scotland’s urban greenspace.  BTO Scotland has strong research interests in urban and garden ecology, working closely with research staff linked to the BTO Garden Ecology Team.  We have worked collaboratively on the development of methodology to predict the impact of demographic change and urban development on biodiversity, run a large volunteer-based survey of the birds and butterflies of Glasgow - the BIG project – and are actively involved in research based on long-term monitoring of birds and other wildlife in Scottish gardens (see The Changing Nature of Scotland – Settlements and Built Developments - PDF).  

BTO Scotland science in this area cuts across several of the BTO research themes, including monitoring and multi-scale habitats.

Staff contact: Liz Humphreys.