Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Sustainability exchange

By Dr Lindsey Atkinson (@LJA_1)

In August/September the University of Hull welcomed two visitors from the University of the Western Cape, South Africa.  Desleen and Hestelle had travelled on an Erasmus Mundus scholarship to spend some time looking at how universities in the UK and other parts of Europe were integrating sustainability into their activities.
The University of the Western Cape (UWC) is located in Belville, a suburb of Cape Town and has recently been awarded the African Green Campus of the Year Award (2012).  Desleen works in Services and Operations within UWC and is their green team leader.  Hestelle is the manager of the UWC Nature Reserve and takes a lead on environmental education and nature conservation.  They met with many people from around the University including our Environment Manager, Grounds and Gardens Manager and academic staff to discuss approaches to sustainability in Higher Education.  We found contrasts (not just in climate!) but also some common themes.  Both universities are taking measures to improve energy efficiency, sustainable purchasing, recycling etc but we have some different resources available to us.
UWC is privileged to have its own designated nature reserve:  the Cape Flats Nature Reserve which consists of 33 ha of critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos and endangered Cape Flats Dune Strandveld.  It has a number of endangered species (Red Data Book species) and is managed to minimise invasive species.  In addition there is a nursery for indigenous plants, an Environmental Education Centre and the reserve is also used for research.  Have a look at the Cape Flats Nature reserve website for more information and some great photos.
An autumn day at
Thwaite Gardens
We can’t boast a nature reserve but we do have a botanic garden consisting of approximately 10ha with ornamental gardens, a lake and some mixed temperate woodland. Unfortunately the day Des and Hestelle visited it was a very autumnal, cold and damp day!  Known as Thwaite Gardens, the site is listed as a Grade II Garden of Special Historic Interest by English Heritage and contains an exotic collection of trees representing North America, Europe, the Mediterranean and China. There is also a collection of native hawthorns and greenhouse displays of desert plants and ferns maintained by the Friends of Thwaite Gardens.  Biodiversity in the gardens has been enhanced with cultivation of a meadow area and provision of bird and bat boxes. The main campus grounds are also managed with biodiversity in mind working to a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) which links in to the local area BAP. Although there are many contrasts between UWC’s nature reserve and our botanic garden, both are oases for wildlife in urban areas and both are used in education (and both have problems with invasive species!).
Thwaite Gardens on a sunnier spring day

An interpretation board
overlooking the lake
We also discussed the importance of effective communication in rolling out a sustainability programme to staff and students.  We looked at ways of raising awareness, for instance, in both universities we include a talk about sustainability in our induction programme for new staff.  Des and Hestelle particularly liked our interpretation boards which highlight habitats and species that can be found on campus and describe how we are managing the grounds for biodiversity.  While they may have left the UK with lots of ideas I think we also learnt a lot from what they are doing at UWC.  Oh, and they are thinking of starting a blog....





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