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Tiiu Koff - Why do we need Wastelands?

21.02.2017

Even though the wastelands within towns are not the most aesthetic sights, they offer diverse living conditions to various life forms and hold information about our ecological, cultural and social past, says Professor of geo-ecology at the Tallinn University School of Natural Sciences and Health, Tiiu Koff.

Next to parks and other green areas in towns, there tend to be plant-covered wastelands in deserted industrial or residential areas, former railroads and the grounds next to them, as well as roadsides.

All the words we use for them – wasteland, barrens, badlands, hold a negative value. Such areas generally turn into dumping grounds, and tend to remain unused for years or decades.

However, they are necessary as they hold clues about the previous ground layers, which in turn offer shelter and homes to many valuable species. In addition, these areas offer valuable ecosystem services – recreational opportunities, water infiltration, alleviation of the heat island effect, etc.

These areas also offer much to researchers. They show us how the nature recovers from human activity, what are the first plants to grow in such areas, how  well do apple trees survive, why do blackthorns thrive in these conditions, what do people want to do with such areas, who they are and how old they are.

There is a goal to establish an integrated socio-ecological concept in order to more sustainably manage the city ecosystems and aid various interest groups, as well as the city ecosystem services. Researchers aim to find solutions to utilise wastelands in a more humane way by integrating science with practical research.

In addition to mapping natural habitats and the soils in them, our research also focuses on inclusive observation and work with various groups interested in using the wasteland. We aim to establish the expectations and possible plans from both the Estonian and Russian-speaking populace. It is vital, as renovating wastelands does not always produce the result the people involved were expecting, unless they were included from the beginning.

We also wish to see how, to what extent and which plants and biotopes are meaningful to the interest groups, as well as what meaning do they hold. We wish to turn these areas with a negative meaning into a human-friendly cityscape with room for nature and people, which would help find the opportunities and solutions to everyday problems, such as waste management and the active use of wastelands.

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