Development and maintenance of green areas that add value to the life of citizens as well as to biodiversity is a challenge that can only be addressed in close cooperation with all the relevant stakeholders in the city. In Kraków, this resulted in many initiatives, including a Code of Good Practice for green areas to improve conditions for pollinating insects.
Kraków’s policy and plans take the natural environment into account. The city believes that an appropriate green urban management strategy is crucial for the process of urban enlargement.
Protection of the biotic diversity in urbanised areas is one of the main challenges in managing urban greenery. Priority actions in this area include the active protection of pollinator insects and their habitats.
Pollinating insects are deeply and negatively affected by humans. The rapid decline in the number of pollinating insects in recent decades proves that it is necessary to take active measures to protect them. The Kraków Code of Good Practice is a collection of concrete solutions which focuses on protecting pollinating insects.
The key to the protection of pollinators is to understand that the responsibility for improving the situation of this group of insects rests on the shoulders of all citizens, in local governments, schools, universities, and associations.
The Code of Good Practice was therefore created by the citizens of Kraków.
Kraków has been carrying out a number of activities for pollinating insects in the city for a long time. The Code of Good Practice is a complementary set of individual actions implemented, as well as a document setting the directions of future activities.
The Code of Good Practice activities include:
- Conserving natural habitat areas that are protected by law. These include ecological sites, landscape parks, and Nature 2000 areas.
- Converting some of the traditional lawns into flower meadows, allocating as much as 10 ha in the first stage.
- Prohibiting chemical plant protection products in the care of green areas in Kraków.
- Introducing a pollinator-friendly strategy for maintaining green areas, including strategic plant choices, creating areas with limited grass, leaf and tree maintenance and creating flower meadows.
- Increasing and improving the quality of the food base for pollinators in the city by successively increasing the area of flower meadows, natural zones, community gardens, and school gardens.
- Creating gardens in primary schools as part of the city’s “Garden with Class” programme.
- Improving the quality of the pollinator habitats by creating more ecological niches in the form of insect houses built with natural materials. In those green areas, the dead wood is left to rot and bird baths or fountains were given to volunteer citizens for their gardens and terraces.
Many of the activities implemented in Kraków can be classified as some of the first in Poland. Initially, the task of converting the lawns into flower meadows had a lot of challenges.
The first challenge was the lack of companies providing this type of service. It was necessary to select the optimal mixture of plants for the conditions of Kraków and to train subcontractors responsible for the maintenance of green areas.
Another challenge was to persuade Kraków’s citizens that flower meadows were not only beneficial for enhancing biodiversity, but also better for human health. The challenge was to convince people of the fact that in the first stage, the existing turf had to be removed, and the soil prepared, and that it was necessary to wait several months to see the results.
Nevertheless, multicoloured flower meadows quickly gained the approval of the citizens, and the idea of creating flower meadows also spread to other cities.
Another challenge was to introduce changes in the traditional maintenance of green areas by reducing the frequency of mowing or creating zones without interference in some of the green areas. This created some controversy among the inhabitants.
One group would expect the transformation of as many green areas as possible into zones devoid of any maintenance interference, while the second group perceived this type of activity as a symptom of carelessness.
Our experience shows that the key issue is finding a compromise between the expectations of both groups.
Educational activities and transparent forms of communication with residents are also extremely important.
Changing the ways of managing lawns adjacent to busy communication routes by transforming them into flower meadows or rarely mowed lawns directly contributes to the reduction of secondary air pollution (this is pollution not resulting from pollutants that are directly emitted from a source, like vehicles or power plants. Instead, it forms as a result of the pollutants emitted from these sources reacting with molecules in the atmosphere to form a new pollutant).
The initial steps to transform traditional lawns were high in cost, but they are profitable for the city in the long run. Costs related to the maintenance of lawns are reduced (including costs related to mowing, raking).
The social effect associated with participatory and educational activities focused on the protection of pollinating insects is also invaluable. For example, the project "Nice meadows for balconies" cooperated with local cafés and restaurants which became the distribution centres of nectarous plant seeds.
Residents could pick up a free batch of seeds and sow them on their own balconies.
Many NGOs were involved in the project, helping prepare and distribute the seed packets. Thanks to the involvement of NGOs, packages with seeds could also reach people who, for various reasons, could not collect them in person (the elderly, people with disabilities). In total, they distributed 40,000 seed packets in the campaign.
One example of numerous actions undertaken together with the inhabitants was the joint collection of seeds from flower meadows created in Kraków in order to sow them.
Another example of activities concerned the creation of so-called "seed balls" (mixtures of clay and seeds), which can then be thrown, for example, into post-industrial / wasteland areas in order to increase the share of nectar plants in the environment.
It is also worth mentioning the joint crowdfunding project "Butterfly Garden", in which a unique recreational place with educational value was created on the initiative of students of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, at the same time providing a rich food base for pollinating insects.
Findings and recommendations
The general recommendation for implementing projects for the protection of nature in urban greenery is to seek a compromise between nature conservation measures and citizens' expectations of the other functions of green features, such as recreational or sports.
Experience shows that the best solution is to differentiate the green spaces by ways of developing green areas. In new and revitalised spaces, there should be places for people as well as elements supporting biodiversity. The proportions between elements of greenery and different functions should depend on the expectations of local communities and the individual nature of the green area.
Another important issue is environmental education. Most of the educational activities in Kraków are aimed at children, but experience shows that education should be aimed at all age groups and should be carried out without barriers.
Cooperation with scientists is also very important. Educational and research walks are conducted by experts from various scientific fields.
Cooperation with other entities is equally important. Groups such as foundations working for equality, prison inmates through rehabilitation activities, people with disabilities, schools and educational units, the public-private sector via sponsorship packages and NGOs are involved in our activities.
There are also technical issues related to proper spatial planning of activities or adaptation of procedures for the maintenance of green areas.
For example, when creating areas attractive for pollinators, such as rarely mown meadows, attention should be paid to their location, because too high of vegetation in the vicinity of pedestrian crossings or intersections may limit the visibility of drivers.
It is also worth remembering that the newly introduced standards for the maintenance of green areas should be preceded by appropriate training for subcontractors providing services in the field of green maintenance, as they will often perform the entrusted task for the first time.
The key issue is also appropriate supervision by the manager of green areas over the work of subcontractors. A good solution we use is to divide green areas into permanent zones, such as zones with different mowing frequencies . This allows for the simple scheduling of maintenance treatments and subcontractors as well as ensuring the continuity of the habitat of the areas.