How Abu Dhabi's public forest park is championing biodiversity

The park on Reem Island features hundreds of local trees and plants, which were chosen to attract birds, bees and animals

A forest park in Abu Dhabi championing local trees and plants shows how nature can thrive even in harsh climates.

Al Fay Park on Al Reem Island – which opened in January – features hundreds of local trees and plants, which create a microclimate that keeps the temperature up to 10°C cooler than the surrounding city.

Its designer says it can help other cities address the large-scale loss of habitat, otherwise known as the global biodiversity crisis.

Children get this feeling of being in a forest in the middle of a city. It’s mega cool

Rasmus Astrup, park designer

Plants were also chosen specifically to attract birds, bees and animals, while reducing water consumption by 40 per cent compared with other parks.

It is the result of a self-funded year-long project to categorise the UAE’s 700 local plants by the Danish designer of the park.

“It’s very easy for us as designers to work with pavement and all these kind of hard areas and materials. But the grown environment is related to climate,” said landscape architect Rasmus Astrup, design principal and partner in SLA which designed the park.

“There was no soil in the UAE, so basically there were completely different conditions compared to what we are used to in Denmark.

“We work very holisitically with our design. I needed to get that plant knowledge and I couldn’t find it.

“So we spent a whole year writing our book about the plants of the UAE. There are about 700 species. We visited all the nurseries, the commercial ones and would look at nature itself.”

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, April 28, 2021. Al Fay Park. It's the UAE’s first urban biodiversity park. The 27,5000 m2 park is the first of its kind to focus on strengthening the region’s biodiversity while using the increased planting and wildlife to enhance the local microclimate - it's up to 10C cooler there than outside! The architects behind it spent a year researching plants in the UAE before they chose what to use. Victor Besa / The National. Reprter: Gillian Duncan for News
Al Fay Park on Reem Island in Abu Dhabi is spread across 27,500 square metres and features 2,000 local trees. Victor Besa / The National

That was back in 2017. He then drew up the first designs for the park in June 2019 after being asked by Abu Dhabi officials.

The company was awarded the project after participating in the Ghadan 21 Urban Realm Designer Workshop, where it presented authorities with its vision of creating an "urban forest" for the park.

Mr Astrup said the book was a foundation for the design of Al Fay Park, which is a celebration of the local nature.

The 27,500-square-metre space features 2,000 local trees, with areas set aside for sports and other activities.

They include courts for basketball and futsal, ping-pong tables, a skatepark, rock-climbing walls, and monkey bars.

Nature abounds, with several tree-lined, cobbled and water-facing walkways.

For young children, there is a soft play area and fountains, while the open-plan layout lends itself well to walkers, riders and rollerbladers.

“There is also a forest track, made of just stepping stones where you go up and down and in and out between the Ghaf trees and local species,” said Mr Astrup.

“So the children get this feeling of being in a forest in the middle of a city. It’s mega cool and it’s an attraction similar to the best playground and the coolest slide.

“Just to run around in the forest is maybe the biggest attraction.”

But the park represents more than an attraction, he said. “I think this is a showcase for the rest of the world of how any city could or should contribute to biodiversity,” said Mr Astrup.

“Every time you lose a species, you can never get it back.

“Biodiversity is the fundament. Abu Dhabi now plays a role in that. And it shows you wherever you are, whichever city you are living in, you can contribute to the biodiversity crisis.”

Al Fay Park opens - in pictures

Updated: May 9, 2021 11:23 AM

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