Jerusalem’s Gazelle Valley Park meets the standard for implementing nature-based methods to solve ecological crises, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature says

Gazelle Valley Park in Jerusalem
Gazelle Valley Park in JerusalemץCredit: Emil Salman

Zafrir Rinat Oct. 4, 2021

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has cited Gazelle Valley Park in Jerusalem as a great example of implementing the objectives of nature-based solutions for environmental crises, including climate change and vanishing biodiversity.

The Switzerland-based organization highlighted the important part the park plays in rainwater storage and regulation, which prevents flooding in nearby neighborhoods.

Three months ago, the organization launched a global standard for nature-based solutions, which includes a wide range of methods, including the creation of parks, planning and maintaining ecological corridors, rehabilitating flora and fauna habitats and winter pools. The purpose of the methods is to use nature to provide environmental and social solutions for problems such as climate change and the disappearance of plant and wildlife species and to mitigate the effects of flooding and extreme heat and accessibility of city dwellers to open-air retreats and recreational areas.

The standard set by the IUCN is based on eight criteria that include strengthening biodiversity and the ecosystem as well as management that adapts to changes and examines findings from the field. Other criteria are suitability for social needs, economic viability and long-term sustainable management that takes other sectors and coordination with the authorities into consideration.

IUCN has recently been looking into how nature-based solutions have been implemented in cities in the Mediterranean basin. After a selection process that looked at 18 solutions, it chose to highlight eight sites.

The park was created after local residents fought against construction in the area. The residents, along with the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel, came up with a plan aimed at creating a natural urban park that allows for the safeguarding of the local gazelle population as well as other species of local fauna and flora.

The planners addressed the issue of floodwaters affecting nearby neighborhoods early on in the process. A lake was dug in the park to collect floodwater and allow it to seep into the ground. The water first flows through four pools, which reduce the intensity of the flow. The creation of a water basin has also drawn many birds to the park, including some that are endangered. One of the great successes in this area was the arrival of the endangered Ferruginous (or “swamp diver”) duck.

The park, jointly managed by the Society for the Protection of Nature and the city of Jerusalem, also has a system to pump water upstream and return it to the lake after it has undergone a natural purification process through vegetation. The international organization’s assessment of the park notes that the treatment of floodwater was one of the main factors that led the city to support the plan for its creation. Since the inception of the floodwater collecting system, flooding in the vicinity has stopped.

“During the preparation of the plan, the drainage authority for Sorek Stream asked the city to present solutions to decrease the amount of water flowing out of the city,” says park director Yael Hammerman-Soler of the Society for Protection of Nature. “That’s how flood water treatment became one of the major components of the plan. This was before anyone was using the term ‘nature-based solution.’”

Hammerman-Soler says that the park has a supply of water year-round from winter floods and from water purified at a plant in the nearby Har Homa neighborhood. As for the gazelles, they roam the two-thirds of the park that are off-limits to visitors. This is in line with IUCN’s assessment, which says that the park staff only takes steps to intervene – such as digging, restoring flora, approving visitor access and so on – after examining the possible implications, and only in certain seasons.

The only aspect in which the park does not yet meet IUCN’s global standard is its degree of economic viability.

Among other projects the IUCN evaluated is a plan to create green spaces and parks in Barcelona, Spain. Another one is a plan to turn a former military base in the heart of the Greek city of Pavlos Melas, near Thessaloniki, into an urban park.

Jerusalem’s Gazelle Valley Park is one of the few projects among those the organization examined that has already been created, so it could be tested for adherence to the global standard that it set.

Struggle in Zichron Yaakov

Meanwhile, the use of a nature-based solution is at the heart of a fight being waged by residents of Zichron Yaakov against a government plan to build a residential neighborhood and an adjacent road in the north of the town, located near Haifa. Residents claim this would damage an important natural area abutting Taninim Stream, and would reduce the area now serving to absorb water from the stream when it overflows in the winter.