by Kylie Soanes

The newly released State of the Environment report paints a predictably grim picture. Species are in decline, ecosystems are at breaking point, and threats abound. For many of us, it can feel like a problem that’s too big, too complex and too distant to solve.

But this report also shows every Australian can be on the conservation frontline. We can save species in the places we live and work. According to the report, Australia’s cities and towns are home to more than 96% of our population and 46% of threatened species. We have mapped the occurrence of hundreds of threatened species in urban areas.

We share our cities with iconic koalas, charming gang-gang cockatoos and floral wonders like Caley’s grevillea. And, as the report notes, some species are found only in urban areas – our cities and towns are the last chance to save them from extinction. What an incredible opportunity to reconnect Australians with our fantastic natural heritage and protect it at the same time.

Our research shows a huge appetite for saving nature in cities. Councils, industry and community groups all over the country are working to make change.

Here are five things we can think about to improve the state of our city environments.

1. Small but mighty

Don’t have a lot of space? That’s OK! Whether it’s a small pond, garden strip or solitary gum tree, these often provide a key resource that isn’t found elsewhere in the nearby landscape. This means they pack a punch when it comes to supporting local nature.

2. Embracing the ‘in between’

Conservation doesn’t just happen in nature reserves, which is good, because urban areas don’t have many. Backyards are already making huge contributions through “gardens for wildlife” initiatives.

3. Grand designs for wildlife

People aren’t the only ones facing a housing crisis – wildlife struggle too. The tree hollows, rock piles and fallen wood that many species call home are often removed in favour of sleek lines and tidy urban spaces.

4. Creative connections

Moving safely through cities can be risky for wildlife. They have to navigate cars, fences, roaming pets and swathes of concrete.

Many councils and road agencies are looking at creative ways to help wildlife get from A to B. Solutions range from rope bridges for western Sydney’s sugar gliders and tunnels for Melbourne’s bandicoots to forested bridges for Brisbane’s bush birds. Some gardeners in Bunbury even built their own backyard “possum bridges” to help the endangered western ringtail possum in their neighbourhoods.

5. People power

Having threatened species live close to people is typically seen as bit of “negative'” in the conservation world. But this closeness can be an advantage if the community is aware and engaged.

Orchids like the sunshine diuris and Frankston spider orchid would surely be extinct if not for countless hours of volunteer work, crowd-funding and the passion of the local community.

Get involved through your local council or “Friends of” groups to see how you can support nature in your neck of the woods.

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