We can and should take even more advantage of the edges of the farms, ditches and unpaved shoulders to cultivate native plants or those beautiful wild ones that we call “weeds”. Our health and well-being depend on them too.
Last year I read something surprising: there are likely to be more pandemics in the coming decades, due to the loss of biodiversity and climate change. All three are apparently linked.
The plants and trees that we have in our urban centres and farm areas not only help reduce flooding on rainy days and beautify cities. They can also favour biodiversity and, therefore, our health. Amazing.
And here is a key issue: a century ago large parks were designed for the city of Buenos Aires, due to the need to improve the sanitation conditions of the Buenos Aires population.
Today, cities around the world are rethinking their green spaces so that, in addition, they help capture and retain more carbon dioxide from the air, reduce the impact of rain on urban areas and generate refuge spaces for biodiversity.
It is not a question then of making huge investments but of beginning to understand green spaces, parks, gardens, sidewalks and farms as an ecosystem. A carefully designed ecosystem.
The strategies that are applied to achieve this are multiple. In cities, increase the diversity of existing tree species in each sector of the city, replace part of the park lawn with flower meadows or other nodes of biodiversity, introduce native and adapted species, value some of our “weeds”, avoid the use of agrochemicals or sowing the wastelands with flower meadows and/or adapted or native grasses are possible lines of action.
In rural areas, cultivating only 10% of the surface with flowery meadows generates a significant ecological impact in favour of biodiversity. For this, the edges of the farms, ditches and unpaved shoulders can be used.
These sites offer refuges to insects and pollinators, some of which live on the ground, such as the Bicho Bolita and the Vaquita de San Antonio. Although with the exception of the butterfly, we do not usually appreciate them very much, the fact is that they are fundamental to our existence.
Apparently, if insects went extinct, a large number of species would too. In our case, we could have trouble sustaining some essential crops that depend on pollinators.
A bit sceptical that a small green space can easily be transformed into a microhabitat, last year I did an essay: I set up a small garden in my 3 x 3 m patio. Great was my surprise when four months later, the place was full of small insects that inhabit the ground, butterflies, bees, wasps and the odd little bird. A sector this small is enough to benefit nature and, by extension, our health.
Studies on how to promote the biodiversity of insects, bacteria and fungi are still incipient. Even so, we know that the richness of the soil is essential, so it is convenient to pay it. The complexity of the environment is also key, for this, it is better to cover the ground with pruning debris, fallen leaves in the fall or other organic materials. Native plants are excellent, but some exotic species are also useful, adapted to the local climate and attracting the species we want to favour.
And, finally, it is always optimal to have large naturalized green spaces, but the small ones also work and, the most important thing, is to be able to connect them in some way, so that the pollinators move from one place to another.
We need grass to sit and drink mate and play ball. But we also need sugar, nectar, pollen, mixed living fences, small orchards or fruit trees in our houses and flowers from early spring to late fall throughout our city.