Urban Nature Surveys in Arab Society: Spreading the Culture of Conservation
By Yael Zilberstein- Barzida, Director of SPNI’s Urban Nature Surveys Unit
Urban nature surveys are conducted by professional surveyors to monitor the urban environment and compile professional, up-to-date data on the natural resources, flora and fauna found within a given area to preserve its biodiversity. These surveys assist urban planning initiatives, support optimal management of natural infrastructure, and help decision makers and planners promote urban development while moderating the impact of urbanization and safeguarding urban ecosystems.
In addition, the surveys help promote sustainable development that can be beneficial in a variety of other areas, including advancing tourism initiatives, strengthening the local community, and supporting cultural, recreational and educational activities.
The surveys are conducted by SPNI's Urban Nature Surveys Unit, which is comprised of a wide variety of professionals, such as ecologists, botanists, environmental planners, and experts on mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, wet habitats and marine environments, among others. The SPNI Unit specializes in conducting surveys across local municipalities, utilizing the accumulated data to draft policy documents for the integration, conservation and management of natural infrastructure in the urban environment. Thus far, the team has completed 20 surveys nationwide, and 20 more are currently underway.
The various surveys have revealed that our cities are blessed with an exceptional array of unique natural assets and habitats that are crucial to the conservation of Israel’s biodiversity. Thankfully, many cities have embraced the movement to retain the unique character of local nature and fully support the preservation of natural sites in the urban environment. In fact, quite a few cities across Israel and around the world regard urban nature as a high-quality resource with low maintenance costs – that also provides values that can be utilized for diverse public needs – and have allocated large areas for the rehabilitation, preservation and management of natural systems within the city limits.
This year, for the first time in Israel, the Ministry of Environmental Protection selected several Arab municipalities as the subjects of urban nature surveys. SPNI’s Urban Nature Surveys Unit won the bid to conduct these surveys in Abu-Ghosh, Bosmat-Tivon, Kafr Qasem, Tira, Kalansua and Kafr Bara, Mazra'a, Kafr Kara, with the possibly of expanding to additional areas in the future. The surveys in Bosmat-Tivon and Abu Ghosh were launched in the summer of 2018.
Conducting urban nature surveys in Arab municipalities presents surveyors with unique challenges. In addition to navigating the language barrier, the fact that most of the land in Arab municipalities is privately owned means that additional preliminary coordination and logistics must be arranged before the survey can be performed on the ground.
On the other hand, the fact that so many areas in Arab communities are tended to by local residents means increased interaction between surveyors and residents, thereby yielding better information about the history of the area’s natural habitats and common species, as well as other important details.
Bosmat-Tivon was one of the first Arab communities to be surveyed. The initial findings highlighted several significant issues of environmental concern, including litter in open areas, numerous invasive species and a high number of animal carcasses. From an operational perspective, we found that the mayors and other city officials in Bosmat-Tivon and the other Arab communities are highly supportive of the survey and are excited to partner with us to create the most effective process possible. They assist by facilitating the survey of privately owned lands, informing the residents prior to and following the survey, providing all information requested, and promoting the public benefits of the survey.
The Urban Nature Survey Unit in cooperation with SPNI’s Arab Communities Unit are now working to promote a post-municipal election campaign, calling for public meetings with local residents who will be called upon to assist in the ongoing survey work.
We hope that these surveys will assist SPNI in its national urban nature preservation efforts, and that the finding and recommendations will be integrated into each municipality's short-term and long-term plans for the promotion of meaningful educational activities and the cultivation, development and planning of urban nature sites throughout their communities.