Israeli hedgehog
An urban Israeli hedgehog. Photo by Haaretz
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A resident of Jerusalem's Gazelle Valley
A resident of Jerusalem's Gazelle Valley

Urban nature activists launched Operation Hedgehog II two weeks ago at Ramat Gan's Avraham Park. Its goal: getting the park's hedgehog population out of harm's way prior to renovations.

Last year, the activists, members of a grassroots Tel Aviv urban nature advocacy group, rescued hedgehogs from a building site in Tel Aviv. But the group does more than save hedgehogs hides. To help show them and like minded groups the way, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel this week published a guide to planning and management of nature in cities.

Conserving nature in urban settings has become particularly important in recent years as cities have spread outward and become more congested. Planning urban nature sites has become accepted in big cities like London and New York.

The guide, by SPNI's Iris Han and Amir Balaban, is based on the three surveys, the first of their kind, of natural urban infrastructure, conducted over the past two years in Netanya, Ramat Gan and Jerusalem, in cooperation with SPNI and the Environmental Protection Ministry. The surveys revealed that each of these cities has many dozens of natural sites worthy of protection, including an abundance of species of wild flora and fauna, from gazelles and hedgehogs to rare irises and endangered raptors.

The guide explains that various niches in the city provide habitats for wild animals, but can also create serious problems for both animals and humans. For example, the lesser kestrel depends on nesting sites in neighborhoods in Jerusalem, but a lack of food sources means many of their nestlings do not survive. In other cases, fruit bats have taken up residence in various underground spaces in some parts of cities but their waste has become a become a nuisance, leading residents to poison the trees that nourish them.

The guide recommends that every city have a team including representatives from the municipality, environmental groups and experts that will map and monitor sites.

Based on the information from the surveys, the guide advocates establishing a management plan for urban nature that would include intervention to make sure that city flora and fauna survive. In some cases, the sites will become incorporated into parks. In others, they are special spots in cities, like the Jaffa port, where the common kingfisher thrives, or the place where wagtails roost on Herzl Street in Rehovot.

In some cases a comprehensive plan is needed, like the one devised recently to protect the contiguity of rain pools that appear in the winter near the Holon driver licensing bureau. Artificial pools need to be created to protect life there, as well as bridges or ecological conduits for animals that are left cut off from open spaces. In some cities, urban nature conservation involves the community. In Holon, school children go out a few times a week to uproot invasive plants from the dunes and prevent them from overtaking indigenous species.