In recent years, the proportion of people living in cities has overtaken that of those living in villages worldwide, marking a unique period in human history. By 2050, 68% of the world’s population, up from 55% now (UN, 2018), is anticipated to reside in urban areas. This change has a wide range of effects, including ecological and societal ones. Cities have grown into enormous centres of concrete, steel, and glass as the world’s population continues to urbanise at an unprecedented rate. The question of whether cities are sufficiently sustainable then emerges. I want to rephrase the question and ask: Are cities, or any urban agglomeration, far from nature?
And in order to respond to this, I’d like to examine it through the perspective of urban ecology, an interdisciplinary field of research which investigates the intricate relationships between the city’s built environment and non-human species. Due to my familiarity with the city, we shall examine the present situation of nature in Delhi in this blog article.
NATURE IN THE CITY
Urban ecologists frequently discuss topics like species composition, biodiversity, and the variables affecting each of these. Because of the ecological imprint of cities, urbanisation significantly modifies biodiversity patterns (the types of species we encounter/interact with within the city) and landscapes (Grimm et al., 2008). According to McDonald, Kareiva, and Forman (2008), the development and growth of urban settings have resulted in the serious degradation of natural ecosystems and a consequent decline in local, regional, and global biodiversity. However, even though they are sometimes viewed as “ecological deserts”, cities have the capacity to host thriving ecosystems and foster peaceful cohabitation between natural and human residents. There is thus, a chance to promote and value biodiversity in our cities amidst this urbanisation.
The busy metropolitan lifestyle, rich history, and lively culture of Delhi, India’s capital, are well-known. The question of whether Delhi’s citizens have adequate opportunity to interact with nature has come up in light of the city’s expanding concrete jungle and shrinking natural spaces. Despite these obstacles, Delhi has seen a number of conservation and improvement efforts for its natural areas. Delhi’s landscape is made up of a wide variety of ecosystems, from urban woods to heavily altered artificial landscapes in some parks. From its diverse plant life and avian population to the presence of unique mammals and wetland ecosystems, the city offers a remarkable tapestry of life.
Parks, gardens, and other green areas are essential for preserving a city’s ecological equilibrium. There are several green areas in Delhi that provide a haven from the bustling city. The “Urban Greens Initiative,” launched by the Delhi Development Authority (DDA), aims to create and preserve green spaces all around the city. Out of the 44,777 hectares of the total urban area, 8,722 hectares have been designated for recreational or green space. Delhi is one of the greenest cities globally since it has one of the highest percentages of green space in the world at 19% of the total area.
The Lodhi Garden, which spans 90 acres and is filled with historic tombs, lovely blooming trees, and well-kept walking trails, is one of Delhi’s most popular green spaces. Another example is Nehru Park, which has a sizeable green area with lush lawns, flowerbeds, and a melodic fountain.
Delhi is also home to a number of thriving forests that are extremely important for protecting biodiversity and offering opportunities for environment enthusiasts and conservationists. One of the largest areas of forest in Delhi, the Ridge Forest is home to several indigenous and threatened plant species. At over 7,700 hectares, it is one of the city’s largest green spaces. The vegetation of the Ridge can be generalised into native and exotic trees with beneficial and vividly coloured herbs, shrubs and grasses. Amongst the most common native trees are babul (Acacia nilotica), phulahi (Acacia modesta), katha (Acacia catechu), to name a few. Some of the noteworthy examples of introduced species include vilayati kikar (Prosopis juliflora), neem (Azadirachta indica), kadam (Neolamarckia cadamba), chudail papri (Holoptelea integrifolia), etc.
Despite its urbanisation, Delhi is home to a surprising diversity of wildlife species. The Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the southern part of the city, harbours various mammal species, including the Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca), Indian crested porcupine (Hystrix indica), and Nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus). Located in a human-dominated matrix, the Northern, Central and Western Ridges are characterized by the presence of small mammals like the Indian Grey Mongoose (Herpestes edwardsii), Small Indian Mongoose (Urva auropunctata), Palm Squirrel (Funambulus palmarum), Indian hare (Lepus nigricollis), Rhesus Macaque (Macaca mulatta), etc. Occasional sightings of a Small Indian Civet (Viverricula indica) or of a Golden Jackal (Canis aureus) in these parts may also occur. Due to restrictions like habitat fragmentation and degradation, these animals are confined to these microhabitats.
Situated near Hauz Khas Village, the Deer Park is a serene sanctuary where visitors can spot Chital (Spotted Deer) (Axis axis),Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), Sambar Deer (Rusa unicolor), etc. It is also a favoured spot for birdwatching where one can find birds like Coppersmith Barbet (Psilopogon haemacephalus), Grey Francolin (Ortygornis pondicerianus), Rosy Starling (Pastor roseus), to name a few.
Delhi’s avian population is nothing short of exceptional, with over 400 bird species documented within the city limits. From common urban birds like rock pigeons (Columba livia) and house sparrows (Passer domesticus) to rare and migratory species like the sarus crane (Grus Antigone) and the Siberian rubythroat (Calliope calliope), Delhi offers birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts a delightful experience. The Okhla Bird Sanctuary, located on the banks of the Yamuna River, provides a critical wintering and stopover habitat for a wide range of migratory birds, further adding to the avian diversity of Delhi.
Wetlands have a significant impact on the ecosystem because they replenish groundwater, absorb carbon dioxide, and generally improve the quality of the environment, sustaining wildlife in the area. They provide crucial locations for local and migratory birds to nest and relax. The Najafgarh and Okhla wetlands are only two of the many wetland habitats that Delhi is lucky to enjoy. These wetlands provide habitats for a variety of aquatic plants, insects, amphibians, and migratory waterbirds. The Okhla Bird Sanctuary serves as an essential resting and feeding area for migrating birds throughout their lengthy migrations, taking up a sizeable section of the Okhla wetlands.
The network of biodiversity parks in Delhi, like the Yamuna Biodiversity Park along the Yamuna floodplains, are distinctive landscapes that support a variety of plants, animals, and microbes living in ecologically sustainable biotic communities and providing multiple ecological services, like carbon sequestration and groundwater aquifer recharge, as well as benefits to the urban society in terms of education and recreation.
Sustainable and resilient cities are made up of a variety of components, including people, plants, animals, and birds, much like any other healthy ecosystem. Urbanised and natural areas may coexist if urban planners have an ecological orientation and value ecosystem services. The issue of nature is at the forefront as interest in urban sustainability grows. Cities have a distinctive form/manifestation of nature that was planted by people and is made up of flora and fauna that are frequently different from what originally existed. Critical research must be done on the services provided by this new assemblage of species in the metropolis (Pincetl, 2012).
The topic of whether and to what degree different animal and plant species can thrive in urban environments increases steadily in importance as urbanisation continues to be a major worldwide trend. From both a conservation and societal standpoint, it is crucial to comprehend, evaluate, and enhance urban biodiversity (Kowarik, 2011). The majority of people worldwide will experience “nature” and related ecosystem services predominantly inside the urban fabric, making the conservation of urban biodiversity crucial for human well-being and public health (Miller, 2005).
Cities are ultimately a result of human choice, influenced by economy, culture, politics, and history. Understanding these forces, or what Pincetl (2012) refers to as the political ecology of place, offers a conceptual framework for rethinking the character of cities and their role in the transition from modernist sanitary cities to green, sustainable cities.
- Grimm, N. B., Faeth, S. H., Golubiewski, N. E., Redman, C. L., Wu, J., Bai, X., & Briggs, J. M. (2008). Global change and the ecology of cities. science, 319(5864), 756-760.
- Kowarik, I. (2011). Novel urban ecosystems, biodiversity, and conservation. Environmental pollution, 159(8-9), 1974-1983.
- McDonald, R. I., Kareiva, P., & Forman, R. T. (2008). The implications of current and future urbanization for global protected areas and biodiversity conservation. Biological conservation, 141(6), 1695-1703.
- Miller, J. R. (2005). Biodiversity conservation and the extinction of experience. Trends in ecology & evolution, 20(8), 430-434.
- Pincetl, S. (2012). Nature, urban development and sustainability–what new elements are needed for a more comprehensive understanding?. Cities, 29, S32-S37.
- Sinha, G. N. (2014). An Introduction to the Delhi Ridge. Department of Forests and Wildlife. Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi.
- United Nations. (n.d.). 68% of the world population projected to live in urban areas by 2050, says UN. Retrieved July 2, 2023, from https://www.un.org/sw/desa/68-world-population-projected-live-urban-areas-2050-says-un#:~:text=The%20urban%20population%20of%20the,and%20Africa%20with%2013%25%20each
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