A balancing act in urban social-ecology: human appreciation, ponds and dragonflies


Green spaces in cities provide cultural ecosystems services (CES) such as nature connection, wildlife interaction and aesthetic appreciation which can improve aspects of human well-being. Recognising these benefits, researchers are now examining the complex relationship between humans and nature in urban social-ecology. Most studies investigate people’s appreciation and valuation of different green space features and their contribution to urban biodiversity. Recommendations arising from such studies are best practices to achieve a balance between landscape aesthetic and ecological objectives, but many knowledge gaps still exist. In a social-ecological project in Greater London, appreciation of ponds and dragonflies in urban green spaces, and the environmental factors determining dragonfly diversity were investigated. We found ponds and their appearance were valued by people as enhancing their green space experience. The preference for wild-looking ponds was moderate. Dragonflies were enjoyed for their colour and high visibility, especially by those who had basic dragonfly knowledge. Species richness of dragonflies was positively associated with habitat heterogeneity in and around a pond. However, people were unable to relate a heterogeneous pond to more dragonfly species. For the first time, some factors that influence the human appreciation-ponds-dragonflies (HPD) relationship in an urban context are revealed. To fully realise the CES potential of ponds and dragonflies in Greater London, a HPD framework is proposed. The framework underpins strategies that foster cultural sustainability for ponds and dragonfly conservation.

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Absence of buildings within 100 m of pond


Convention on Biological Diversity


Cultural ecosystem services


Presence of emergent macrophytes

EM > 50%:

Emergent macrophytes >50% of pond


Presence of floating macrophytes

FM > 50%:

Floating macrophytes >50% of pond


Greenspace Information for Greater London


Generalised linear model


Human appreciation-ponds-dragonflies


The Imperial College Research Ethics Committee


International Union for Conservation of Nature


Presence of long grass/shrubs within 100 m of pond


London Natural History Society

NEE > 50%:

Pond margin >50% natural earth embankment


Presence of submerged macrophytes

SM > 50%:

Submerged macrophytes >50% of pond


Presence of trees around pond


United Kingdom


Presence of vegetated island in pond


Presence of wooded areas within 100 m of pond


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The following persons (in no particular order) were generous with their advice, support and inspirational discussion: Albert G. Orr, Raynald H. Lemelin, Philip James, Chloe Smith, Stephen J. Brooks, Mike Averill, members of the British Dragonfly Society, managers of the 12 green spaces surveyed, and the 360 wonderful interviewees who permitted the first author briefly into their lives.

This research is part of a Master of Science course in the Centre for Environmental Policy of Imperial College London funded by the Ministry of National Development EDGE Scholarship (Singapore) and the Chevening Scholarship (United Kingdom).

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Correspondence to Robin Wen Jiang Ngiam.

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Ngiam, R.W.J., Lim, W.L. & Matilda Collins, C. A balancing act in urban social-ecology: human appreciation, ponds and dragonflies. Urban Ecosyst 20, 743–758 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11252-016-0635-0

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  • Urban social-ecology
  • Cultural ecosystem services
  • Parks
  • Ponds
  • Dragonflies