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Queen's partners with local community to promote natural solutions to climate change

Visitors flocked to Belfast's Botanic Gardens for an Open Day to mark the next stage of the UPSURGE sustainability project - a partnership between Queen's University, Belfast City Council (BCC) and community group Friends of the Field (FOTF).

Volunteers use willow boundaries for raised beds at the launch of the Community Garden, Lower Botanic Gardens, as part of the UPSURGE project

The EU Horizon 2020-funded UPSURGE project has been co-created by all the partners to test and provide evidence for nature-based solutions and is using land at Lower Botanic Gardens, next to Queen's PEC.

A community garden and a research garden are being developed along with new walking trails and planting of mature, native woodland. Later in the Spring, swathes of the site will be covered in wildflowers to promote pollinators and biodiversity. The gardens will use rainwater harvesting and solar panels to create sustainable energy for initiatives including a community kitchen, to provide food and sustainable-food training to local groups.

Urban Regeneration

Belfast has been partnered with four other European cities as 'demonstrator sites' in the Horizon 2020-funded project, providing scientific research and evidence that these cites and, eventually, other urban areas can use to inform environmental and town-planning policy.

Queen's lead on the project, Professor Jennifer McKinley explained:

"UPSURGE is the response to the challenges faced by these five cities - Belfast; Breda (Netherlands); Budapest (Hungary); Katowice (Poland); and Maribor (Slovenia) - which are working together to decrease the impacts of climate change in our urban environments.

"Urban environments that have more cement can lead to 'heat islands'. Having this sort of green area within a city helps to cool down residential land around it.

"UPSURGE closes a gap within the existing the knowledge base on nature-based solutions by providing a practical guide for inclusive, regenerative development that focuses on air-pollution alleviation and climate neutrality.”

Colin Shaw, from FOTF said:

“Our group’s goal is to establish a vibrant and welcoming growing space for the community. It's not just a weekend hobbyist garden - it's much more ambitious than that. Our garden will serve as a platform for the public to engage with sustainable food growing, learn about biodiversity, and promote environmental protection."

Queen's PhD Researcher Jennifer Newell, who is testing soil contamination and enhancement techniques in the Queen’s Research Garden said:

“My research is focussed on urban agroecology and I will be able to share interesting results with community growers.

"For example, I'm testing a number of potential solutions such as biocharand weathered basalt to see how beneficial they can be in reducing pollution such as heavy metals in the soil and trapping carbon emissions.

"I'm also growing crops such as clover and mustard to see how they perform in sequestering CO2 emissions and improving crop yields. Many of these nature-based solutions have multiple benefits, so they really can be a win-win."

Open Day

The recent Open Day saw locals try their hand at making bird-boxes and willow-weaving. Artist Zippy was also on site (pictured above, right), decorating beautiful, colourful panels for the entrances to the gardens, with support from Queen's Green Fund.

Sara Lynch, Head of Sustainability at Queen’s said:

“Queen’s Green Fund empowers our community to drive positive change within our campus, and surrounding communities. The Lower Botanic Open Day is proof of how supporting local, on-the-ground climate action can lead to real change for our staff, students and local communities."

Councillor Róis-Máire Donnelly, Chair of the Climate and City Resilience Committee at BCC said:

“Belfast City Council has initiated the first stage in the development of a scientific and environmental demonstrator site in Lower Botanic Gardens. This is following the successful award of funding from the Horizon 2020 EU ‘UPSURGE’ Project, along with the UK Government’s 'Levelling Up' programme.

"The project focuses on testing nature-based solutions in five demonstrator cities across Europe, with the aim of sharing learning and good practice on pollution alleviation, citizen health and climate resilience.”


Featured Expert
Photo: Professor Jennifer McKinley

Professor Jennifer McKinley

Professor of Geography in the School of Natural and Built Environment
School of Natural and Built Environment (NBE)

Inquiries to Una Bradley