Microbiome rewilding: biodiverse urban green spaces strengthen human immune systems (by University of Adelaide)

credit: Jacob Mills

A research team led by the University of Adelaide has found that revegetation of green spaces within cities can improve soil microbiota diversity towards a more natural, biodiverse state, which has been linked to human health benefits.

In the study, published in the journal Restoration Ecology, researchers compared the composition of a variety of urban green space vegetation types of varying levels of vegetation diversity, including lawns, vacant lots, parklands, revegetated woodlands and remnant woodlands within the City of Playford Council area in South Australia.

The purpose of the research was to understand whether it is possible to restore the microbiome of urban green spaces, a process known as microbiome rewilding. It is believed this process could expose us to a greater variety and number of microbiota (organisms living within a specific environment) and provide a form of immune system training and regulation.

Lead author of the journal paper, PhD student Jacob Mills from the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences and Environment Institute, says historically humans lived in more rural and wild landscapes, and children spent more of their childhood outdoors, allowing exposure to more microbes.

“Urbanisation has radically changed our childhoods. More time spent indoors, poor quality diets and less exposure to wild environments has led to significant increases in non-communicable diseases such as poorer respiratory health,” says Jacob.

children looking into tree canopy
Children exploring woodland at Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses

“Exposure to biodiverse natural environments carries ecological benefits—green spaces with higher eco-system function give children better exposure to pick things up from soil, for example, there are microbial compounds in soil that reduce stress and anxiety.

“Put simply, the more diversity in microbiota that children are exposed to, the healthier they will grow up,” he said.

The research found that the revegetated and remnant woodlands examined comprised more native plant species than other green spaces such as lawns and vacant lots, and had greater diversity of microbiota.

Furthermore the soil microbiotas in revegetated urban green spaces were similar to those found in remnant woodlands, and differed greatly from lawns and vacant lots, which had lower microbiota diversity.

“This indicates that the revegetated woodlands soil microbiome had somewhat recovered to its previous more natural biodiverse state,” says Jacob.

“Plant species richness, soil pH and electrical conductivity were the main variables for microbial communities in our study, the more diverse the soil biodiversity the better the eco-system function. Urban spaces low in microbial diversity tend to be more conducive to pathogens and pests, also known as microbial ‘weeds.'”

“Increasing plant species diversity is important for the structure of microbial communities and increases eco-system function,” he says.

Jacob says the findings of the study has implications for urban design, landscape architecture and councils.

“Our study provides a footing for urban planners and designers to place the environmental microbiome and access to diverse green spaces in their design principles when developing and rejuvenating urban areas.

“Greater biodiversity comes with the potential to reduce non-communicable disease rates through improved training of our immune systems to fight illness and disease.

“It could be implemented as a potential preventative health measure, particularly beneficial for lower socio-economic areas and could lessen the burden on our health systems.”

The study is believed to provide the first evidence that revegetation can improve urban soil microbiota diversity towards a more natural, biodiverse state by creating more wild habitat conditions. This evidence supports initiating further studies within the growing field of microbiome rewilding.

“We hope that this work will inspire further research to understand and measure the impact of microbiome rewilding on human health,” Jacob says.

Building stronger communities – growing for our neighbours, part 2

Beautiful vertical seedling garden, sent from Claudia

Here are some ideas of ways to re-distribute your seedlings. Please get in touch if you have other ways of doing it: incrediblelambeth@gmail.com, or you need some support.

If you have links with a school, find out all students registered for free school meals and share a message with the school that they can pass on to those families (leave veg at the school gate)

Find your nearest mutual aid group on WhatsApp and send a message there (if you don’t have access to this, we can help)

Find your nearest faith group – churches and mosques are a great network to tap into

Get in touch with your nearest childrens’ centre – they may not be open, but they will definitely be in contact with families who would appreciate some extra veg

You may have a local community garden or allotment that would welcome some summer seedlings; check out our online map to find one near you

Perhaps you have a neighbour who is still shielding – would they like a couple of plants?

Leave seedlings on your doorstep and invite neighbours to take a pot – maybe say something about how they reach people who wouldn’t normally grow food? There’s a downloadable print out for you at the bottom. Invite any growers to get in touch with us for support through email incrediblelambeth@gmail.com

If you live on an estate, talk with the TRA and see if they can help with distribution. Urban Growth is working on several estates across the borough and will be helping us with this.

Perhaps your local GP surgery or pharmacy knows of people who could do with some extra food.

Once you have some plants to give away, download and print out the message below, which you can display along with your seedlings. If you are able, try to keep a count of what you hand on and to how many people.

Community gardens in Stockwell partner with the NHS

Amazing things happen in times of crisis; we’ve seen extraordinary acts of kindness and selflessness by many people in our communities – not least, amongst our health workers. Incredible Edible Lambeth was therefore so pleased to be approached to work with Stockwell’s GP Wellbeing Team.

This week, one of our community gardens will be making up bundles from the garden to give to five GP practices as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to our incredible local NHS staff.

The beautiful Landor Garden – a secret space tucked in behind Landor Road will be making this first offering. We hope that a partnership will evolve, linking green spaces with health centres, providing opportunities for GP’s (and pharmacists) to offer alternative places of sanctuary to their patients. We know that ill health can be a result of isolation and loneliness and that community and Nature, though never a cure-all, is so restorative.

We very much hope that this scheme can be replicated around Lambeth – get in touch if you’d like to find out more incrediblelambeth@gmail.com

Schools during lockdown

We were so sad not to launch our new film Growing Up in which we highlight the work of four amazing primary schools in Lambeth – do take a look, it will make you smile.

We realise that during this pandemic, many schools are staying open for the children of key workers. We want to support these schools through this period and encourage them to join our Growing for our Communities scheme. Some schools are looking to share seedlings with all their parents and kids during this time – is this something you’d like to do too? If so please get in touch with us and we can help you achieve something amazing! incrediblelambeth@gmail.com.

Our friend and fellow IEL member, Seonaid from Sprout Up is creating simple How to Grow videos – she has just published her first one – follow her here. Seonaid works tirelessly with kids to promote food growing in schools.

Finally, if you’re reading this and are not yet a member of IEL, please consider joining today as a Group Member and join the other schools in Lambeth who are already IEL members.

Growing Up

Earlier this month, we had planned to launch this lovely short film about four amazing primary schools in Lambeth who are growing food. Our current crisis meant we were not able to meet together to celebrate (and encourage new food growers) but we thought you’d like to watch the film anyway, so here it is:

Growing Up, a film about four food growing schools in Lambeth (click the link ‘Growing Up’ to watch on YouTube)

child with microscope looking at insects outdoors

Covid-19 and our gardening

EDITED: 15th October 2020

For anyone uncertain about visiting their community garden, we have compiled guidelines for visiting our community gardens from a variety of sources.

Food Growing for our Communities: we have received more funding to keep this going through the winter..get involved today!

Blooming Lambeth Awards 2020 – our biggest event of the year has had to go virtual this year; judging is under way – and we will hold an online celebration on Tuesday 17th November, from 7pm – check out this link to join.

All our events are virtual and are run through zoom – from member discussions to zoom garden tours – we will keep you in touch with our activities through our social media. If you have an idea for an event, get in touch incrediblelambeth@gmail.com

We have posted downloadable versions of our walks onto the website – please do print out and use them for your daily 30 minute exercise; our new Vauxhall map shows how many steps and Km the two routes are.

Insect Love

Have you heard about the catastrophic decline in insects? There’s been a 76% drop in insect life in the past 20 years. “If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos” E.O. Wilson.

But don’t feel helpless – get informed and watch our Biodiversity Emergency webinar to learn more and gain some very practical advice.

And here are six steps you can take right now:

Step 1: never use harmful pesticides (sign our pledge and go pesticide free).

Step 2: put pressure on your local plant centre or DIY store to stop stocking harmful pesticides

Step 3: Let Lambeth Council know that you no longer want your street or estate sprayed with harmful pesticide. Contact your local councillor and streetchampions@lambeth.gov.uk. Or email us today for more information – incrediblelambeth@gmail.com

Step 4: ‘Say No to the Mow’: let your grass grow longer, or if it’s not your lawn, put pressure on your Management to get the contractors to mow less regularly (hashtag nomowzone). PlantLife are running a campaign.

Step 5: plant pollinator-friendly plants. For bees of all kinds, the two single best plants are willows and brambles. There’s a bee plant list at https://www.cotswoldgardenflowers.net/some-hints-and-tips/. Pollinators generally love buddleia, solidago, hylotelephium (formerly known as sedum), ivy, daisies of all kinds, fennel and other umbellifers. For caterpillars: nettles, ivy, mustard, garlic, birds-foot trefoil, holly and rhamnus. Register with Grow Wild for guidance on wildflower planting.

Step 6: make or buy a bee hotel – it’s as simple as drilling some holes in a block of wood! (IEL plans to hold a bee hotel workshop soon!)

Would you like to share your experiences as a food grower?

Do you sometimes rely on the food you grow to feed yourself and/or your family?

If yes… 

Would you be willing to show Hollie around your food growing space and answer some questions?

You would be contributing to Hollie’s research at UCL into urban food security – hopefully helping others in the future.

It shouldn’t take longer than an hour. You can withhold your identity if desired. 

Your help would be appreciated 🙂

You can email us incrediblelambeth@gmail.com or Hollie directly on ucbqhca@ucl.ac.uk

Thank you!