Conservation 101 for urbanites
As a born and raised city dweller, I tend to jump at opportunities that allow me to experience the great outdoors — in all its glory. Connecting with nature has always been an important part of my life, from simple walks in the park to hiking adventures in the forest.
For many urbanites, just being outdoors alone, as described above, is connecting with nature. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The best way to connect with nature is to build a relationship with the environment, which might mean lending a hand with the conservation of our natural spaces and the species they support. Participating in conservation work not only helps the environment, it helps us understand the complexity of ecosystems and their importance to us. This allows us to better connect with nature. We have a responsibility to ensure that nature is conserved here at home. And through conservation, we not only recognize the natural value of other species, we become an ambassador for all things nature.
Conservation for urbanites is two-fold: living in a sustainable manner and protecting the natural environment. These are both distinct but important parts that make up conservation.
To begin your conservation journey, try starting small and working your way up. No matter the size of the act, if you perform stewardship work for nature, nature will reap the benefits. And you will have the satisfaction of knowing your contribution to the big picture of conservation.
So ask yourself this: what can I do to help the natural world within my community and neighbourhood?
Minimizing your ecological footprint
A good and practical starting place is working with the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle. Although simple, don’t underestimate the power of this trio. It is best to first reduce and reuse and then, if necessary, recycle. This is because recycling requires energy to disassemble an item and reproduce a product from the dismantled pieces.
Reducing can come in the form of opting for electronic bills to reduce paper use and minimizing excessive energy use through energy-saving light bulbs. You can also buy fewer clothes and wear the clothing in your closet more often, before sending them off to a charity or second-hand store. When you shop, reduce your use of plastic bags by bringing reusable bags with you. The options for reducing, reusing and recycling are limitless.
In addition to growing native plants in our yards, there are other steps we can take to help protect nature. You can take further action to protect local biodiversity by avoiding the use of pesticides. Pesticides are harmful to small bugs and insects. As much as possible, we should be conserving wildlife and remembering that each species has a role within an ecosystem, regardless of its size. For example, choose natural insect repellents.
The underlying principle in minimizing our ecological footprint is incorporating sustainability into our everyday practices. Purchase reusable or “green” products, products with little to no packaging or packaging that can easily be reused or recycled. Think durable, not disposable. Make it a habit to actively reduce, reuse and recycle. These small-scale efforts have long-term benefits.
Hands-on stewardship for nature
With our increasingly urbanized world, it is important to conserve habitat for the wildlife that live there. In your own backyard, try gardening and landscaping with native plants, which is a great way to help restore and maintain biodiversity within a local ecosystem. Native species provide habitat and food for many wildlife species, particularly pollinators. Before you begin, thoroughly investigate which species in your area are native.
Consider getting involved with a citizen science project. These are projects that enlist everyday people to work alongside professional scientists by volunteering their time for a research project, such as monitoring species or engaging in biological inventories (bioblitzes) of an area. Not only is this a great way to learn more about nature, but you are helping gather critical information that helps scientists understand changes in landscapes and guides future stewardship efforts. Something as simple as taking pictures of wildlife and uploading to sites such as iNaturalist, a site filled with thousands of observations made by people around the world and that helps scientists understand where and when species occur, are helpful to nature conservation.
Volunteering for nature is perhaps one of the best ways to support and further conservation work. Many cities and nature-based organizations offer opportunities to get involved, such as participating in tree plantings or cleaning up local parks.
The Nature Conservancy of Canada offers many Conservation Volunteers (CV) events throughout the year to engage Canadians in the protection of natural habitats and the species they sustain. Find a CV event and sign up today!
While getting outdoors can sometimes be tough, we should also remember that we have the power to spread the message of nature conservation through word of mouth and social media. In doing so, we acknowledge, support and advance the need for conservation — a need and responsibility each of us has in protecting nature. It is important that we take action now for the future, because, as American civil rights leader John Lewis said, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?”
The Conservation Internship Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Summer Work Experience program.