Melbourne's Green Laneways: Back Creek Reserve & the Importance of Urban Green Spaces

Just how important are green spaces in urban environments? What animals use these spaces? How valuable are these spaces to people? With increasing urbanisation occurring across Australia and indeed the world, it is becoming more and more important to answer these questions so that these small tastes of nature can remain as cities expand.

The team at Wild Melbourne has pondered these questions for some time, so we set out to find the answer. Using Back Creek Reserve in Camberwell as a case study, we set out to find just how important urban green spaces are to maintaining biodiversity, as well as keeping people in touch with nature.  To do this, we spent a couple of weekends at the reserve documenting every species of animal we saw or heard, as well as chatting to passers-by to find out their feelings towards the space. Read on to see what we found: 

Mammals
Chances are, if you live in a remotely leafy suburb of Melbourne, you’re likely to be familiar with two species of marsupial: the common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) and the common ringtail possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus). Green spaces such as Back Creek are havens for possums, as they provide plenty of cover from predators such as powerful owls, and food resources such as flowering native plants.

Common RIngTail possums are found throughout Melbourne's Green spaces (Photo: Emma Walsh)

Common RIngTail possums are found throughout Melbourne's Green spaces (Photo: Emma Walsh)

Whilst Melbournians are quite familiar with a few of the mammals that call our city home, there are also a few that fly under the radar, so to speak. These are the winged variety of mammal: flying foxes and microbats. Back Creek appears to be a stopover for grey-headed flying foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus) on their evening journey, whilst the space appears to be home to at least one microbat: the white-striped freetail bat (Tadara australis). This tiny bat is one of the only microbat species whose ecolocation is audible to humans, and can be heard in most parks around Melbourne as they search for food.  

The kookaburra (Photo: Cathy CavAllo)

The kookaburra (Photo: Cathy CavAllo)

Birds
The birdlife spotted along Back Creek was quite diverse. The 22 species recorded fell into five ecologically distinct groups. Amongst the carnivores were the grey butcherbird (Cracticus torquatus) and the laughing kookaburra (Dacelo novaeguineae). These two species often feed on insects, but also feed on small lizards and other vertebrates. To our surprise, a collared sparrowhawk (Accipiter cirrocephalus) was also spotted. This species feeds mainly on small birds, which shelter in green spaces such as Back Creek. The nocturnal tawny frogmouth (Podargus strigoides) were also observed. 

Several insectivorous passerine species were recorded, including brown thornbills (Acanthiza pusilla), willy wagtails (Rhipidura leucophrys), grey fantails (Rhipidura abiscapa), silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis) and white-browed scrubwrens (Sericornis frontalis). These species are attracted by the food sources provided by urban parks, and require shrubs and bushes for shelter in order to hide from predators.

Several species important for pollen dispersal were recorded, including both parrots and honeyeaters. Ecologically-important species such as rainbow lorikeets (Trichyglossis haematodus) and galahs (Cacatua roseicapilla) were seen frequently. Honeyeaters observed included eastern spinebills (Acanthorhychus tenuirostris), red wattlebirds (Anthchaera carunculata) and noisy miners (Manorina melanocephala). These species feed on the nectar produced by flowers, and in doing so help to disperse pollen and therefore influence the reproduction of various plant species.

Other species observed include the Pacific black duck, and omnivorous corvids such as the Australian magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen), the little raven (Curvus mellori) and the pied currawong (Strepera graculina). Several invasive species, such as spotted turtledoves (Streptopelia chinensis), Indian mynas (Acridotheres tristis), common starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) and common blackbirds (Turdus merula) were also observed.

The noisy Minor is a common sight in many parks and green spaces (Photo: Emma Walsh)

The noisy Minor is a common sight in many parks and green spaces (Photo: Emma Walsh)

Amphibians
We also recorded two species of frog calling at various times: the common brown tree frog (Litora ewingi) and the pobblebonk frog (Limnodynastes dumerilii). Green spaces with running water such as Back Creek Reserve can provide a rare opportunity for frogs to persist in urban areas. Frogs are also fantastic indicators of water health, which suggests that Back Creek must be in good condition to support the observed frog community.

The People
The benefits of nature extend beyond aesthetics and the conservation of wildlife. Numerous studies have shown that interaction with nature can vastly improve mental and physical health. Living next to green space has been shown to lower stress and anxiety, and even improve concentration in children. But can we experience this same effect in what appears to be just a small sliver of wilderness in the heart of suburban Melbourne? The overall consensus of up to 76 people interviewed along the Back Creek trail was that the area offered solace, was quite relaxing and provided a much-welcomed escape from the urban environment and their daily stressors.

The continued success of Back Creek is also a shining example of community involvement. The restoration and maintenance of the area is a source of pride for locals; many have contributed to the wellbeing of the environment, the fruits of their labour clearly extending to the happiness of the broader community. Back Creek’s ability to provide an escape amidst the hustle-and-bustle and pressures of modern life is testament to the power of just one of Melbourne's many 'green laneways'.

Overall, we recorded 28 species of fauna across just two weekends of surveys at one urban green space in the middle of Melbourne. This, along with the feedback from people using the park, is a strong indicator of just how important green spaces can be for both biodiversity and our own wellbeing. It is therefore critically important that we look after our green spaces, as they are a vital part of a healthy community - for both humans and other animals alike.