Biodiverse futures

Growing Biodiverse Futures: Rewilding, Regenerating And Reimagining

(Adapted from the full article in the latest issue of Counter magazine)
By Dr Judy Friedlander and Dr Tania Leimbach

A number of Australian projects including the B&B Highway initiative showcase how biodiversity, appreciation of complexity and adaptive practices – through rewilding, regenerating and reimagining – enable life-sustaining food systems for the world’s growing populations.

Rewilding with the b&b highway

Rewilding encourages the return of species to diverse habitats and a new kind of ecological sensibility that accepts and welcomes cohabitation with fellow species. This work responds to the broader sixth mass extinction event we are living through and towards the restoration of ecosystems in the urban and non-urban environment. The B&B Highway is one example of a rewilding initiative. Other examples are Rewilding Australia’s reintroduction and protection of a number of Australia’s keystone species such as Eastern Quolls and Tasmanian Devils, and overseas initiatives such as the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park, which brought the species back from the brink of extinction.

The B&B Highway is a key initiative of the PlantingSeeds organisation. It provides urban corridors of ‘bed and breakfasts’ for pollinators including birds and bees, and aims to counter the alarming decline in pollinator numbers around the world. These declines raise serious concerns especially when we consider that one in three ‘bites’ of food rely on pollination. Importantly, research indicates that urban areas can help redress this trend by providing valuable habitat and sustenance.

Through the initiative, city dwellers are encouraged to consider the potential of the urban landscape for fostering biodiversity and supporting pollinators through associated educational programs and workshops. With the majority of B&B hubs positioned in schools, students and parents help to establish the pollinator gardens and participate in workshops convened by horticulturists, environmental educators and entomologists.

Additionally, a collaboration with the NSW Department of Education has led to the creation, with the PlantingSeeds organisation, of primary-school programming around biodiversity and design thinking. Since its inception in 2019, the B&B Highway now incorporates over 40 hubs or ‘pollen booths’, with many more planned.

Regenerating with sugar vs the reef

Regeneration recognises complexity in ecosystems and interactions between humans and nature. Human interventions are encouraged to follow a circular rather than linear model inspired by natural cycles of growth, decay and renewal. This can result in significant reductions in waste flows, a healthier balance of system components, a drawdown of carbon and investments back into nature’s regenerative processes.

Agricultural concepts such as terrestrial and marine permaculture are living examples of regeneration. At an institutional scale, the Wealth from Waste project developed by the University of Sydney showcases regeneration in the urban environment. The university has been processing 50 tonnes of food waste on campus per year into soil conditioner that goes to local farming communities in Western Sydney to grow garlic, which returns to the university for use on campus, as well as other commercial outlets.

Creative projects can also confront complexity and ecological dilemmas. Sugar vs the Reef explores pressures associated with coastal agricultural practices along the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland and proposes alternatives to damaging agricultural practices.

Over a period of three years, Sugar vs the Reef examined a central question: How can the environmental effects of sugar-cane farming be improved? The artists steering the initiative collaborated with farmers and community members in Mackay, Queensland. Together, they forged relationships with land, water, people and ecologies. They utilised storytelling, blogging, public events and exhibitions to bring communities together, opening up productive dialogues about the past, present and future of the region.

An important aspect of the project was to participate with local farmers trialling regenerative methods and to test their viability. For example, one sugar-cane farmer broke from monoculture farming to grow a mix of sunflower and sugar cane on his property. Through a measured experiment, he saw an increase in crop yield, reduced need for chemical intervention, reduced water consumption and a healthier, and more dynamic mix of micro-organisms in the soil.

Throughout all aspects of the project, the artists ensured that participants were aware of the complex ‘mosaic’ nature of environment, incorporating social and cultural influences.

Reimagining with melbourne in 2050

To actively reimagine the future encourages individuals to go beyond short-term, habituated modes of thinking, and to identify potential opportunities and anticipate future threats. Speculative methods within the field of design have evolved alongside ‘design-as-activism’, an approach to design that takes a critical and interrogatory whole-systems approach to humans, materials and immaterial things. Recent projects illustrating this thinking include The Things We Did Next and Claire Marshall and Mel Rumbles’ The Museum of Futures.

By 2050, it is predicted that two-thirds of people will be living in towns and cities. How would a speculative reimagining of an Australian city in 2050 appear, and how will its inhabitants be fed? These questions were taken up by urban design/landscape architecture firm Realm Studios in a recent project Melbourne 2050 – Lines no Fire could Burn.

The project is a vision of a city transformed through ‘polycrisis’ into a new urban ecology capable of supporting the co-existence of humans and other species through localised food production, thriving biodiversity and enhanced social and cultural resilience. By choosing 2050 as the starting point from which backcasting occurred, they were able to include ‘shifts that we know are currently baked into our environment: climate change, sea-level rise and catastrophic weather events’.

The speculative vision for Melbourne 2050 sees: ‘Fully half the surface area of Melbourne’s streets and roads converted to communal public space… a network of productive Commons, with community gardens, urban farms, orchards and pastures… The system is hyper-localised, sustainable and resource efficient.’ The project’s name, Lines no Fire could Burn, is given out of respect to the resilience of Aboriginal knowledge and the people who have sustained it since time immemorial.

Counter Magazine can be purchased online or in various stockists nationally.

Main header image by RealmStudios from their Lines No Fire Could Burn Project