We are leading on an ongoing six-year project to better understand how biodiversity dependent ‘ecosystem services’ benefit those living in urban areas.

Key facts

    • In urban areas, green space tends to be divided up into small pieces or fragments, by roads, buildings and other human uses of the land. The Urban BESS (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability) project is investigating what determines the functions of individual fragments of green space and how these are linked together.
    • The project brings together our post-doctoral researchers, PhD students and academics with those from Sheffield University and the University of Exeter, along with the British Trust for Ornithology.
  • Funded by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) as part of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services Sustainability project

Impact of our research

Understanding how we live with our ecosystems is crucial for the future as urban expansion continues to meet the needs of a growing population. The Urban BESS team hope that their findings might allow town planners of the future to account for understanding and encouraging greater biodiversity in built spaces for people to enjoy, mitigating climate change, and protecting and expanding species which underpin human society.

Emerging key findings:

  • Doses of nature improve mental, physical and social health in urban environments
  • Full wave-form aerial laser scanning provides improved measurement of the three-dimensional structure of urban vegetation
  • Flows of diverse ecosystem services are sensitive at different scales
  • Biodiverse urban meadow plantings benefit people and wildlife
  • Urban form determines movement of garden birds and the flow of cultural services that they provide
  • A high proportion of nature experiences are concentrated within a small proportion of urban human populations.

Some of the findings already published include considering how the spatial scale of environmental models of urban space can make a considerable difference to model results. This is because cities and towns are complex landscapes that include many varied features and land types. The extent to which this complexity is taken into account by the models affects their predictions, as small features in the landscape can make a big difference by storing carbon or acting as barriers to erosion.

In addition to forming a springboard for future research, we have already put into practice lessons learned by beginning to plant areas of the Cranfield campus with biodiversity seed mixes designed to attract pollinators and look attractive.

Why the research was commissioned

Across the world, most of the human population now lives in urban areas. These areas are defined by dense human populations and human-built structures and spaces – yet we still enjoy certain benefits from all the other living things in the urban environment; from plants and birds to microbes and insects. To better understand how ‘ecosystem services’ benefit us in urban areas, we are leading the urban studies of the Biodiversity and Ecosystem Service Sustainability (BESS) project to determine the links between them and biodiversity.

Why Cranfield?

We led the consortium proposal and integrate work packages across many disciplines ranging from soil science, botany, ornithology, mapping and social sciences. We are at the cutting-edge of this type of integrated approach.

The main area of study is the ‘Cranfield Triangle’ which includes the nearby urban areas of Luton, Bedford and Milton Keynes. These have been chosen as they represent different types of urban space, including the industrial development of Luton, the medieval roots of Bedford, and the modern planned space of Milton Keynes.

Biodiversity planting experimental sites in Luton

Facilities used

Along with the extensive monitoring and experimental work carried out in Bedford, Luton and Milton Keynes, we have established experimental plots on the Cranfield campus itself – behind the halls of residence and near the Social Club.