“Variety is key for biodiversity”

“Variety is key for biodiversity”

Landscape maintenance at UM

20-06-2022

Adding some trees here, removing a few paving stones there: recent years have seen a growing number of initiatives to make the university campus greener. To meet the needs of humans, animals and plants alike, landscape management is working together with the Centre for Nature and Environmental Education (CNME) in Maastricht and the surrounding area.

Karel Pisters has been doing landscape maintenance at Maastricht University for fifteen years now, but his job has considerably changed over the past three years, he says. “Before, I mostly maintained what was already there. It always gave me a sense of missed opportunity, but it was just the way it was. There was no call for more green spaces on campus back then.”

But things have changed. Take the stretch of grass near Universiteitssingel 40, which was empty for a long time. A couple of picnic tables and a table tennis table were later added. Now, there are flower beds with native plants, a hedge to hide the road from view and several nut trees. “I thought the students might enjoy gathering nuts.”

Reused tiles

The area behind the buildings of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences has also been redesigned. “There was this whole paved area that was only really used to set up a tent during faculty introduction days, a few weeks per year”, says Pisters. “They agreed to set up the tent in the car park instead and plant greenery here. We reused some of the tiles to make seats.”

In collaboration with the CNME, native plants were planted around Tapijnkazerne. The grass in several places is mown less often to help bees and butterflies thrive. Pisters also has plans for the stretch of grass near Duboisdomein 30 and the garden near the School of Business and Economics (SBE). Whether his plans will become reality depends partly on funding. “The money usually comes partly from the faculty and partly from the central board. These are serious investments, though. I’d like to create a sloping garden at SBE, and at Duboisdomein 30 the unused stretch of grass would become a flower meadow.”

Misunderstandings

From an ecological point of view, more greenery is not necessarily more interesting to nature, explains ecologist Peter Alblas of the CNME. “Variety is key for biodiversity. More of the same is just more of the same.” That said, any kind of greenery will always offer another important benefit. “It’s about the relationship between humans and nature. The average Dutch person is quite disconnected from nature.”

Pisters agrees. “We’ve been making the green spaces on campus larger and more varied, making it more inviting for employees and students to go outside. It creates a positive feedback loop: it inspires people to come up with ideas to make the campus even greener.”

According to Alblas, it actually goes one step further. He says there are more options than just borders and trees, once you’ve cleared up a few misunderstandings. “Interesting things can happen in unplanned spaces if you just leave them alone. Take the old Calatrava campus. They filled the hole with different kinds of soil, using whatever they had left. As a result, the vegetation is very diverse, ranging from very green to steppe-like. People tend to put nutrient-rich soil everywhere, but wildflowers, for example, grow in dry soil.”

Warm car park

And even car parks can be home to various organisms. “Some insects like to lay their eggs in the damaged grass, where the ground gets warmer. If you put sticks in the strips of grass that often separate car parks from roads, bees and digger wasps will make burrows there. If you leave a little more space between paving stones, viper’s bugloss can grow there. It attracts a very picky species of bee that only eats the nectar and pollen of this specific plant. The bee would become a Maastricht icon – it would only come here.”

There is one condition, though: the plants must not be seen as weeds to get rid of. “That’s the tricky part. Landscapers tend to want to uphold a certain standard. They want a tidy and controlled look. We should have areas that we keep unkempt on purpose. Put a sign up if you have to!”

This is the fourth part in a series of articles on sustainability at Maastricht University. The first one a about electrical vans you can find here, the second one about fighting food waste here, and the third part about the UM Star Show - who will lead us into a sustaibable future? here.

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: Joey Roberts

Tags: sustainability,climate change,sustainable,green,garden,policy,fasos,fhml,landscape maintance,cnme,instagram

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