Cycle from the city to a nearby nature reserve during a hot summer day, and you’ll immediately notice a few degrees difference. The higher temperatures are a result of the urban heat island effect. Smart urban planning with room for greenery and water can help to counteract this urban fever. Natural areas close to the city may also provide natural air conditioning.
Together with nature conservation organization Natuurpunt, CurieuzeNeuzen investigates how natural areas can take up their role as natural climate buffer and air conditioning for our living environment. Stefan Versweyveld, head of the Projects Department of Natuurpunt: “We are looking for answers to questions such as: is the cooling effect of a nature reserve greater close to the city than further away from it? Is the cooling effect of natural areas perceptible in the surrounding gardens?” Therefore, researcher Stijn Van de Vondel (University of Antwerp) will install 200 “garden daggers” in nature reserves across the province of Antwerp. The results will be compared with measured values in nearby gardens.
It is mainly the wetlands that can play a role in cooling our cities in summer. Stefan: “Wetlands provide very important ecosystem services. They retain water in the event of severe drought, replenish the groundwater level, mitigate flooding during heavy rainfall, and possibly play a crucial role in cooling our warm urban environment during heat waves.” Because Flanders has lost some 75% of its wetlands over the past 60 years, Natuurpunt has started the ‘Wetlands4Cities’ project: restoring and creating existing and new wetlands to give a boost to wetlands in urbanized areas. “CuriousNoses in the Garden now makes it possible to start effectively quantifying the cooling ecosystem services of wetlands.”
The management of these nature reserves is in the hands of Natuurpunt’s voluntary nature managers. They are responsible for the purchase, management and opening up of 25,000 hectares of Flemish nature. And it is these volunteers who will follow up the measurements in the field.
“The volunteer nature managers are very involved in their nature reserves,” says Stefan. “They observe the negative effects of climate change and desiccation on a daily basis. It poses great challenges to them and to us: mowing seasons have to be brought forward, large summer floods send site management into disarray, and the absence of frosts prevents ice mowing.” *
Through the dashboard, the nature managers themselves gain insight into the state of their area. “Because good water management in a nature area is crucial for plants and animals, our managers also already monitor water levels at regular intervals to keep track of their evolution. The soil sensors and the associated Internet of Things technology from the citizen science project ‘CurieuzeNeuzen in de Tuin’ will be of great benefit. After all, the data are immediately available, and in this way we can monitor the situation much more closely. We therefore expect to use more of these new monitoring techniques in the future. Our volunteers are therefore enthusiastic to participate in the project.”
More information (in Dutch) on the CurieuzeNeuzen website.
* In the winter, reeds are cut to get dense reed vegetation and to keep the water clear. If the water is frozen, this can be done by mowing or cutting the reeds on the ice.
Great article. Here in Texas before air conditioning, it was the custom to plant large oak trees around houses to provide cooling. The prairie land west of my location acted like a sponge during high rainfalls. Unfortunately, most of that area has been developed and we have suffered with flooding after storms such as Hurricane Harvey.
Thanks! Yes, land development makes the relationship with extreme weather events much harder to endure. Here in Flanders we’re having lots of people on a very small surface area, so the amount of nature helping us to buffer is very limited.