When it comes to the British landscape there’s no such thing as a blank sheet of paper.
The UK is crisscrossed with measures to safeguard wildlife or historic features, maintain access and amenity or retain well-known viewpoints but this is only the start of the complex matrix implicit in our land. Beneath the man-made elements or managed natural resources, lies the land form, its soil, gradients and the water patterns that shape site geography. The physical nature of the land influences the way vegetation grows and what will thrive in particular places. Britain’s landscape is diverse, and made specific by the interaction of many factors. Beyond that, large parts of the British Isles have been identified as being particularly special and they are protected by designations such as National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
It is particularly to these protected landscapes that major change is coming in the form of the government’s initiative to plant millions of new trees.
Planting new trees will potentially enhance the countryside, and help to combat climate change through carbon capture. But not all trees are helpful in supporting wildlife, and planting without consideration for the fit to the local area may be detrimental to the appearance of our familiar countryside.
The scenic beauty of the British landscape is immensely dear to us and to our visitors. Lately, through the pandemic, we have become more aware of the benefits of being in nature, and how it improves our health and wellbeing. While our parks and open spaces have become crowded during lockdown, we have realised the value of green space in supporting our mental health.
And we need more trees within rural and peri-urban locations, coupled with better opportunities for wildlife. Across Britain woodland currently amounts to a scant 13% of land cover, whereas in Europe as a whole the figure is closer to 38%. But this planting should enhance the beauty, amenity and value of its setting, at the same time as addressing the woodland deficit. The purpose of creating publicly perceived landscape and environmental quality, and access for recreation, needs to be balanced against the landowners’ drive for productivity through silviculture (trees grown for timber production). These purposes have different outcomes and the character of the woodland created is very different, but they must both fit within the government’s overriding need to address climate change through carbon sequestration.
In order to create woodland that responds to place and provides a productive crop, a new approach to woodland creation is necessary so that all the factors at play are properly integrated.
To do this the key professionals - Landscape Architects and Foresters - must forge new partnerships. Where foresters and land agents usually focus on silviculture, providing economic timber production for land owners, landscape architects are concerned with landscape quality, especially where landscape is designated as particularly special. They are uniquely trained to understand the requirements of biodiversity, landscape, heritage and public use and can engage with the public through visual representation of strategy and plans.
Using an integrated approach to woodland design the objectives of landowners, local people and visitors, as well as consideration of natural factors which include biodiversity and climate change could be considered as a whole.
With the skills of these complementary professions aligned, and real collaboration on new woodland projects, the countryside and community stands to gain immense benefits towards achieving the strategic objective of DEFRA to create ‘a cleaner, healthier environment, benefitting people and the economy”. And to support Defra’s 25 year environment plan ‘for our country to be the healthiest, most beautiful place in the world to live, work and bring up a family’.
With thanks to Richard Hellier, Landscape and Woodland Design Advisor Forestry Commission England