The Urban/Wild Divide

Over half of the world’s population now live in cities, and this figure is rapidly increasing. Our progressively more urban world brings the future of wilderness into question. There is a need for a better relationship between urban and wild spaces. Nature and the wild has the potential to become valuable, if not a vital partner in urban environments.

We are a species that construct and delimit ‘wild’ spaces, with our National Parks and wildlife reserves, places where humans are mostly absent. We also built our ‘human’ places like cities, where the wild is assumed to be kept away or non-existent.

Many assume that in an urban environment, with often limited space, there is no room or perhaps need for wilderness. There is this notion that our green spaces must be created, designed and manufactured by humans, with no thought to let nature set its own course.

The famous conversationalist and author, Aldo Leopold, once wrote; ‘No tract of land is too small for the wilderness idea. It can, and perhaps should, flavour the recreational scheme for any woodlot or backyard’.

It is easy to see, however, why people would think that the wild doesn’t belong in urban settings. Urbanisation impacts greatly upon the environment; fragmenting existing habitats, altering the composition of not only the land, but also the hydrology and temperature, whilst creating new pressures such as light, air and noise pollution. All of this results in major impacts to ecosystems and on wildlife.

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Is There Room for Nature Here? (Source; Tony Bock)


Despite the challenges to it, nature and the wild endures in urban environments. Nature utilises the available resources, and over time as it adapts and becomes ‘urbanised’, habitats and species have the ability to flourish.

Insects have become very well adapted to urban living. Due to phenomena such as the heat-island effect, there are actually more insects living in cities than in rural areas. These insects are now a vital component in urban ecosystems.

Despite their importance, insects represent a much berated class in society. Most people want rid of them as they associate insects as being pests, from the creepy crawly in the bathroom to the ants in the back-garden.

Many studies have shown the benefits insect species can in urban areas and on many areas of human life. They perform vital tasks such as; helping break down dead plants and animals to controlling pests.  Bees and other pollinating insects are fine examples of underappreciated species, yet they are common in urban areas and play a vital role in human health, food production and agriculture.

Bees, of which there are over 100 different species in Ireland, help in the pollination of food crops, such as tomatoes, apples, and strawberries. The same food crops which we rely upon for sustenance, rely upon pollination to help maximise fruit production and nutritional quality.

A better connection with our urban wildlife can lead to numerous benefits and provide great values to humans. Although many of the benefits are hard to quantify, they include opportunities for recreation, mental and physical health, and scientific values.

Urban wilderness also acts as a multi-generational living resource. A multi-purpose resource for young and old, capable of acting as a playground, potential area for research and study, even purely as a retreat for people from their busy urban lives. It offers all of these functions, and many more, providing numerous co-benefits at little to no cost.

It is clear that there are both positive and negative interactions between people and urban wildlife. There is a need to move the focus away from the idea of a conflict and towards the benefits  that wildlife can offer. For this to occur more value must be placed on urban wildlife. This can be done through better wildlife education.

Outdoor Classroom (Source; Hagerty Ryan)


Better education prevents misconceptions, ill-informed decision making and has the potential to spark a cultural shift to the view of wildlife as an integral component of urban spaces.

There are other ways that are developing in science and engineering that are helping to reconnect people and our cities with nature and dissolve the imagined wall between the wild and urban spaces.

Concepts such as nature-based solutions hold only have the potential to act as a bridge between nature and urban spaces, but also can become a ‘solution’ to many of our climate-related challenges and social issues.

As defined by the European Commission, ‘nature-based solutions to societal challenges are solutions that are inspired and supported by nature’ (EC, 2015b). This management approach offers the opportunity to bring in more diversity, nature and natural features to our urban landscapes.


Installations such as green belts around cities, and living roofs and walls in buildings, are nature-based solutions that result in not only reconnecting people with nature, they create healthier work/living spaces, reduce the impact of extreme weather events, increase urban biodiversity, offer educational opportunities, the list goes on.

Wild nature is already present in many of our cities, it often just goes unnoticed or is simply just perceived as suspected neglect and is associated with disorder. By establishing acknowledged wild nature in our urban spaces we can create the acceptance and appreciation needed to form nature into an integral part of our urban environments.


Blog by Adam Fowler, Connecting Nature Intern, TCD. Adam is currently studying for an MSc in Global Change: Ecosystem Science and Policy at UCD.    




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