Turn Off those Screens you are always looking at and get outdoors.
by Jordyn Noennig
Diversity is something that urban areas try to encourage in cities. Diversity of people, diversity of cuisine, diversity of festivals, and diversity of experiences. But something that can be easily overlooked in developing urban areas is diversity in nature.
Studies have shown that general health —everything from recovering from a sickness more quickly to a better mental health state—can be positively impacted by access to nature. I think that we as a society generally know this: that access to nature is good for your health. What I don’t think we know as well is that if we really want to psychologically and physically benefit from nature, putting a tree in a planter indoors or sitting on a Kentucky bluegrass lawn is not enough.
Psychological benefits of greenspace increase with biodiversity
Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, University of Sheffield,
Sheffield S10 2TN, UK
Institute of Energy and Sustainable Development, De Montfort
University, Leicester LE1 9BH, UK
At the Riverwest Currents, we dusted off a 10-year-old study from scholars in the United Kingdom to let you know that biodiversity in “greenspaces” has an even higher positive effect on human well-being than just a simple plant or animal.
“Our results indicate that simply providing greenspace overlooks the fact that greenspaces can vary dramatically in their contribution to human health and biodiversity provision,” the study reads. “Consideration of the quality of that space can ensure that it serves the multiple purposes of enhancing biodiversity, providing ecosystem services, creating opportunities for contact with nature and enhancing psychological well-being.”
The study looked at plant species richness, butterfly species richness, and bird species richness. That right there implicates that we not only want a variety of plants, but also a variety of members of the animal kingdom to have access and be a part of that ecosystem.
So, what does biodiversity look like in Milwaukee?
We went to the river to find out.
According to Milwaukee River Revitalization Foundation Program Manager (and publisher of this paper) Vince Bushell, biodiversity is everything from the colors that the plants produce, to the variation of landscapes that you see walking on the Beerline and Oak Leaf trails by the Milwaukee River.
“Things that are green in summer have different color in fall and spring, and there’s a grandeur in winter and changing season. To get out and see that and enjoy that is good for your health,” Bushell said. “And then there is the diversity of landforms or landscape. There is the flat floodplain in one area, and other areas are wooded, with some steep hills. And it’s all centered around the river which gives even more variety. There’s quite different landscapes here, since the trail … goes on for 6 miles.”
The ecosystem that surrounds the river supports a diversity of wildlife as well. There are the beavers hiding in their dens, squirrels running up trees and insects enjoying the various plants that surround the river. People walking their dogs along trails and the salmon that can be seen swimming upstream contribute to the positive effects that biodiversity give. Jordyn Noennig agreed to a writing project on the topic based on the technical study done in England.
There are other places in Milwaukee that provide biodiversity as well. Just look for places that have a variety of plants and a variety of colors, with a variety of creatures enjoying the space. But in the end, that is what makes the river such a great place to experience biodiversity, especially as it becomes even more important to use the outdoors as a morale booster in the coming dark months.
“I just love ice skating on the river; it is also one of my best memories from childhood,” Bushell said. “There’s the blue sky above and we would pull lawn chairs up. I think it has an even greater capacity to help you feel good.”
So, if you are battling a winter cold or some depression from dark days, give yourself a chance to go outside somewhere that you can enjoy all the differences this earth offers us.
Jordyn Noennig agreed to a writing project on the topic that is based on a technical study done in England. Noennig did this as part of service learning in an Environmental Geography class at UWM with River Revitalization Foundation. Noennig graduated in December with a Journalism degree. She is starting a new job as a journalist. Congratulations Jordyn on your degree and next step in your career.
Staff and Volunteers at River Revitalization Foundation were asked what benefits they see from the diverse landscape along the Milwaukee River and their past association with natural landscapes. Quotes and statements collected by Vince Bushell
Robin Cassar, Restoration Specialist
“Forests and fresh air are the psychological tranquilizers that I find most endearing.”
Kimberly Gleffe, Executive Director, RRF,
“When I take a walk along the river and hear the birds singing, feel the sun peeking through the clouds and warming my face, and see critter tracks in the snow, I smile, inside my soul and outside on lips… It’s a natural smile!
Aaron Zeleske, Greenway Director RRF
“The fresh air helps to clear my mind. Being in our urban nature lets me put everything else on hold while I focus on noticing the things around me: the spots on a Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum), the kingfisher skimming across the river’s surface, the fungi clinging to a rotting log, and the smooth ridges that give the musclewood tree (Carpuinus caroliniana) its name.”
Amanda Van Dongen,Outreach Coordinator, RRF
“As my two, tired feet traverse the river bank trails, I am returned to myself.”
Joanna Demas, Land Manager, RRF
I feel at my best both mentally and physically when I am outside surrounded by nature. Lately, the cold breeze on my face makes me feel alive. When enjoying our local green spaces I am flooded with emotions; at a moments notice my emotions flutter from serene while I soak up the silence of nature to pure excitement and joy seeing something uniquely beautiful.
I have been told by many other community members how much they enjoy and need the local green spaces as a place of reprieve from the hustle and bustle of the city. I think those folks will be astonished by how much more they will enjoy it and get taken away by experiencing a greater variety of species diversity both in wildlife and vegetation.
I have always enjoyed walking the trail systems throughout our park system, but I am constantly reminded of an Aldo Leopold quote: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.” This idea tugged at my heart often in the past when I would walk the trails along the river, but now as we (RRF) have had the opportunity to remove acres of invasive biomass and plant hundreds of native species, I feel energized for the increase in biodiversity in the coming years and the influx of wildlife we will observe as we create an improved habitat for both the human and wildlife benefit.
Ellie Kirkwood, Field Supervisor
For most of my childhood and all of my adult life… I struggle daily with… depressive moods that I have not yet figured out how to shake. So much of my job in the field of conservation adds to my depression—understanding the anthropogenic forces at hand, knowing my role in this as a rampant consumer, hoping I’m doing right by the land and the water, knowing how small our efforts by the river are in the “big scheme of things” …. But, beyond all of that, getting to touch the small pieces of nature that are left in the city is the power that keeps me getting out of bed, getting my boots on, and exploring our shared land by the river. Whenever anyone asks me for advice on shaking the bad thoughts, you can be sure I will say the same thing each time—Touch Plants.
Michael Lazaro, UWM Student and Volunteer,
“When I am in the woods or any natural habitat I feel a sense of freedom that I am not able to find anywhere else. The majority of my childhood was spent outside in North Carolina and believe that is what led me into getting a major in Conservation Environmental Science.”
Hannah Gleason, Volunteer.
I have been spending more and more of my time outside in the natural world since I first started hiking as a teenager in New Zealand, where nature is often not far from your doorstep. My reasons for this are varied, but predominantly focus on building physical fitness, strength and resilience, as well as understanding the need for a connection with the land in order to protect it and enhance it for the millions of species that inhabit this planet (including current and future Homo sapiens). The outside world is a challenging environment to live and play in, but it is where I believe we will find most meaning.
Sierea Taliaferro, Restoration Specialist, RRF, Birds and Diversity,
When I walk into a woods, no matter the size or length, I always look up. It’s a habit that I’ve grown to accept as a millennial birder and I’m fine with that. I love the thrill of searching for the visitors that hang out among the branches above me. That the space created around me of diverse plants, truly can define the needs for those birds who we’d like to attract, those that are here all year round, and those here for just a short visit on their journey.
We have a space for all to enjoy. I commend their efforts, and yet, I am so honored at the same time. Why? Because they could be anywhere else in the city, state or world, but they choose to be right here, in this place and make it feel so abundant. The land, no matter the habitat, really would be a blank slate without our diversity of plants to help fill them with the diversity of birds. The colors, the textures, and the types—tree or shrub, herbaceous or woody—can help attract and build a community just like ours.
Similar and yet, so different. These communities take time to build and see change in a positive direction. And, as our world shifts into a new dimension of human impact on these fragile, important communities in our green spaces, I look to them now more than ever before to hopefully retain their interests in our lands and continue to keep coming back.
So I plant. I give the land a small portion of my time and it shows its gratitude in flowers and trees that helps attract birds. I can’t imagine not having birds in any habitat, and I’d rather not. However, the continuation to restore and build lands where they can thrive for survival and safety– if not anywhere else, then at least here—is my motivation.
Vince Bushell, Project Manager RRF
To live, work and play close to wild lands is a boon to my spirit. All my senses are engaged, and often rewarded with a sight of a butterfly, sound of the river flowing, smell of fragrant flower, touch of the wind and sting of the snow against my face to remind me that I am alive.