Bringing the bush to the city is a growing trend and for good reasons – health benefits, boosting biodiversity, reducing heat and air pollution – it’s necessary for creating healthy places to live and work. But balancing the needs of lots of people, with those of plants and wild animals in an urban environment takes a lot of planning, maintenance and strategic decision making to successfully create a space we’re everyone feels safe and welcome. Most university campuses operate and look like a mini city, with multiple buildings, intensive infrastructure, and people from all over the world using the space all at once.

The University of Wollongong is carefully balancing these needs on the 84-hectare main campus which looks more like a large parkland or native reserve than a city or academic institution. Multiple ponds and creeks run through the central hubs of campus surrounded by wetland plantings, lawns, and many of the site’s 6000 established trees. With 17000 people here on a regular day, and a growing number of birds, insects, mammals and reptiles calling the campus home, there’s a need to manage the interactions between nature, infrastructure, and people to ensure the scenery and amenity provided can meet the goals of supporting wellbeing for staff and students.

Environment Officer Alison Scobie says, “When people are walking around, they think it’s always been like this or that we’ve cleared it to put buildings in,” but almost the entire site was intentionally planted with 50000 specimens since the university took over the “very dusty and windy site,” and they wanted to transform that and make it unique compared to other universities. This included keeping cars outside the campus, making it pedestrian friendly and they wanted to hide the buildings and include places to go outside and see the water features and have nice quiet contemplation outlooks. They started planting local natives such as the regionally symbolic Illawarra flame tree (Brachychiton acerifolius), and the regionally rare Bangalow Palm (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana), back in the 1970s.

Having so many thriving native plants not only provides shade and cooling benefits to the buildings, it acts as “a living laboratory for teaching and research.” The campus landscape is a biodiversity corridor between the Illawarra’s rainforest to the west, and the coastal ecosystem to the east, and attracts sugar gliders, powerful owls, frogs and even echidnas. Around the Duck Pond are a few significant trees including a Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) that was propagated from indigenous remnant trees and is important in terms of habitat.

“A lot of people walk around campus with blinkers on, but if you actually open your eyes, you see some pretty amazing things… it’s very special.” Alison and the team are compiling thorough fauna and flora lists and resources for students, staff, and researchers to help understand the ecological importance of the site and they also lead regular tours around the campus that are always fully booked!

For the full article on the Gardening Australia website, and link to the episode please click here. 

Credit: Gardening Australia website.