Tag Archives: climate action

Urban Nature can Help Protect our Planet

Nature surrounds us and supports us, whether a large forest a few miles away or a street tree right in front of your home. The nature around you provides a number of services that help us withstand the impacts of climate change. So nature based solutions, like protecting existing natural areas and restoring damaged habitats, are key to solving climate change.

But it’s important we remember that cities also have an abundance of nature, which means we can use these nature based solutions in every Massachusetts community. Let’s explore a few examples.

Boston Food Forest and Boston Nature Center, Boston

Boston Food Forest Coalition and Mass Audubon Boston Nature Center & Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Boston Food Forest Coalition (BFFC) is working with neighbors across the city of Boston to build a network of community-based edible gardens. Urban farms can offer pollinator habitat while boosting local access to green space and mitigating extreme heat felt in cities. Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center & Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the first flagship food forest demonstration site, which provides access to healthy food reflective of the surrounding community’s preferences.

Bridgewater State University Green Parking Lot, Bridgewater

Photo © Horsley Witten Group

When Bridgewater State University needed to upgrade the parking lot for its Marshall Conant Science and Math Building, they worked with the Horsley Witten Group to incorporate a little bit of nature by planting vegetation in trenches between the parking rows. The design accommodated more parking spaces. It also created bioretention trenches that catch and store stormwater runoff from the parking lot, filtering it before it soaks into the ground. 

Alewife Stormwater Wetland, Cambridge

Photo © Catherine Woodbury, City of Cambridge

The City of Cambridge and partners restored the degraded banks of Alewife Brook with engineered stormwater wetlands that manage the surrounding community’s stormwater and flows into the brook. Enhanced walking trails in the public park provide overlooks of the wetland, which is hard at work absorbing stormwater and filtering out pollutants.

Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary Rain Garden, Worcester

Impervious surfaces like roads, driveways, and buildings prevent rainfall from soaking into the ground, creating stormwater. Rain gardens, like the one at Mass Audubon’s Broad Meadow Brook Wildlife Sanctuary, help to manage our stormwater problem. A rain garden is very intentionally designed to capture water and return it to the ground. The rain garden at Broad Meadow Brook purifies runoff from the parking lot and provides native pollinator habitat.

What You Can Do in Your City

You can help restore and protect the nature in your city. See whether your community participates in the state’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness program. If they do, remind them that Action Grants can support land protection, and if they don’t, urge them to join. And to take action in your own yard, check out ways to restore native habitat on lawns.

– Danica Warns, Climate Resilience Coordinator

When it Rains, it Pours – This Type of Garden Helps

A residential rain garden in Leominster, MA – EPA.

A rain garden is a collection of plants, often native grasses, shrubs, or flowers. Sounds just like a normal garden, right? Except rain gardens do something a little extra by helping absorb storm water, therefore lessening the damage of flooding. As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of extreme storm events, flooding is a real consequence we must learn to adapt to.

Let’s take a look at how this works.

Dealing with Impervious Surfaces

Roads, roofs, and sidewalks (among other artificial structures we build) are made up of materials called “impervious surfaces” due to the fact that they are water resistant. That means when water hits these materials, it’ll sit on top and pool instead of soaking into the ground.

Impervious surfaces create a tricky situation during any sort of storm event with precipitation, because it exacerbates flooding as water continues to collect with nowhere to go.

Enter Rain Gardens

Rain gardens are built in depressed areas of the ground and comprise of deep-rooted flora that enjoy extra water. When storm water builds up and overflows from impervious surfaces, these rain gardens can catch it before it floods important infrastructure. With help from the right types of soil, the garden slowly sinks the water into the ground. So instead of allowing storm water to build up and flood our houses, apartments, neighborhoods, and towns, rain gardens redirect storm water into the earth.

Added Benefits

Rain gardens are typically made of native plants, which is great for pollinators already facing threats from climate change, pollution, and other environmental issues. Not to mention the plants, soil, and mulch that make up rain gardens help filter out pollutants in storm water, preventing nutrient runoff that results in consequences like algal blooms.

Where to Start

If you want to see a real example of a rain garden, visit Mass Audubon Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Worcester. The Barbara Elliot Fargo Education Center is surrounded by rain gardens to absorb storm water runoff from their parking lot.

Before planting your own rain garden in your home or in your community, see if one is appropriate for your space. Then, check out the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of resources on how to get started, with specific resources for Massachusetts as well!

Don’t have the time or space to plant a rain garden?  Reducing the amount of impervious surface or lawn cover at your home or in your community is another way to manage storm water. Consider native plants that are particularly thirsty to fill these spaces instead.