Enhancing local landscape and biodiversity values in an area is feasible in a wide range of situations and spatial scales. Even small amounts of green space (such as green roofs within urban areas) can deliver notable benefits.
Structural diversity of habitats can be increased within existing green spaces by relatively simple changes to management regimes where recreation and safety needs permit. Examples of simple management regimes to increase suitability for wildlife and extend foraging areas could include:
- Relaxing mowing regimes at the periphery of sports pitches.
- Retaining deadwood habitat on the ground in wooded areas.
- Allowing scrub belts to develop (particularly incorporating fruit-bearing species).
- Removing scrub from wetland areas.
Information and interpretation boards should be provided where possible to educate the public on the reasons behind segregation of areas and long grassed areas are intentional, encourage sympathetic use, and raise awareness of landscape and biodiversity generally.
There are a number of ways in which both habitats and landscapes can be incorporated into new development. These range from processes that interpret and compliment the existing landscapes in adjoining areas, to hard engineering projects that restore landscapes that have been modified through earlier development processes.
Reflecting local character
A successful green space will promote and reflect the identity and culture of a local community. Early in the process, developers and their professional consultants need to survey the site to identify features that can be built into the design.
Knowledge of the local area and its history will provide inspiration as demonstrated in the Stevenage Town Centre Gardens case study, where ‘creative’ consultation with the local community ensured that the masterplanning reflected the community’s understanding of the relevance of the park to Stevenage’s new town heritage as well as meeting the future needs of the town.
Case Study: Stevenage Town Centre Gardens
Consultant: HTA Landscape Design, Greenheart Partnership and Stevenage Borough Council
Development Type: Community-led regeneration of the town centre gardens
In August 2006, Stevenage Borough Council commissioned Green Heart Partnership to undertake a community consultation prior to the redevelopment of the Town Centre Gardens. The consultation process was aimed at informing the Masterplanning process that addressed the site’s existing problems, met the future needs of the town as well as reflecting the community understanding of the relevance of the Gardens to Stevenage’s New Town heritage.
As part of the consultation process, two local artists were commissioned to lead a piece of creative consultation that followed the Perception Area: Snapshot model. The artists worked in residence at the park, capturing the perceptions of local people at a specific time i.e. snapshot of people who live near by, passed through the park, worked in the adjacent town etc. Further consultation was then carried out as part of developing and finalising the Masterplan.
The first phase of the project was completed in the Spring of 2008 and included new planting, a new footpath and 400m jogging track. During the summer of 2008, the team developed designs and a number of supplementary plans for the second phase of the project. Again, the local community were heavily engaged in the process whilst a local artist provided support to the design team on New Town Design Heritage. The Masterplanning publication was Commended in the Communications and Publications category of the 2007 Landscape Institution Awards.
Treatment of green 'edges'
Unlimited public access can directly conflict or have a detrimental effect on areas with high biodiversity values. A clear definition of the boundary between publicly accessible green space and any adjoining private areas should be made to delineate where activities within the public space can occur. It is important that the acceptable use of spaces is clear through permeable fencing, hedging or other means as the diagram below helps to illustrate.
Click to enlarge.
Often linear in form, boundary planting can soften settlement ‘edges’ as well as provide additional refuges for wildlife, forming valuable ‘wildlife corridors’. Management regimes should be relaxed where possible. Long grass can be left alongside hedges. Log piles may be incorporated in the base of hedges or landscaped embankments, providing suitable habitat for reptiles and invertebrates.
Many rivers have been heavily engineered to combat flooding and enable urban development. Addressing morphological issues is an important aspect of meeting the requirements of the Water Framework Directive and funding is available from a variety of sources.
The restoration of waterways to more wildlife-friendly natural forms can include:
- Recreation of meanders.
- Stepped sides and wetlands (which flood in time of higher flows).
- Rre-profiling channel width and depth to create a more natural form.
- Reinstating natural gravels.
- Installing deflectors.
- Planting in a deep channel using floating reed rafts.
- Removal of weirs/provision of fish passes.
Case Study: Hartham Weir, Hertford
Development Type: Replacement of existing weir to protect existing trunk sewer and to enhance current recreational use of the river.
The primary aim of the project was to stop the collapse of the main sewer trunk from Stevenage that runs underneath the river. Recognising the important role that the river (and particularly the weir) has for both wildlife and recreational activities in Hertford, a number of complementary works were undertaken to enhance the site.
As well as rebuilding the existing weir, the project also included the provision of a ‘fish passage. The two stage design which provided the necessary hydraulic conditions for coarse fish migration and a ‘white water effect’ for learner canoeists traversing down the river. The project was commended at the 2010 ICE East of England Merit Awards.
Incorporating natural play
Related to green space provision is the issue of access to nature, which can be realised through ‘natural play’ (which also aids children’s development and interactive skills). Recently published guidance by Play England highlights the wide-ranging benefits from children’s play in natural settings.
The challenge for planners, developers, designers and managers alike is to create innovative play spaces that are stimulating and exciting, within a safe, simply managed environment, which encourages imagination Elements, which children like in their play areas include:
- Vegetation, including trees, flowers and long grasses.
- Animals, creatures in ponds, and other living things.
- Sand, best if it can be mixed with water.
- Natural colour, diversity and change.
- Places and features to sit in, on, under, lean against, and provide shelter and shade.
- Different levels and nooks and crannies, places that offer privacy and views.
- Structures, equipment and materials that can be changed, actually or in their imaginations, including plentiful loose parts.
Case Study: Barton Way Play Area, Croxley Green
Consultant: Three Rivers District Council
Development Type: An integrated and multifunctional play space completed under the national Playbuilder programme
The Barton Way Play Area incorporates Natural Play as part of a programme designed to improve community play spaces. Jointly funded through Three Rivers District council, Hertfordshire County Council, Croxley Green Parish Council and the National Playbuilder programme, extensive community involvement helped shape the new play space.
The play area, designed and installed by The Childrens Playground Company, includes a bespoke jungle climbing unit, set on top of a large grassy mound, large stone boulders for climbing and seating, an extensive sand play area with a crawling tunnel going through two grassy mounds and an embankment slide. Set within the wider landscape of Barton Way playing fields, the future development of the project includes the development of a meadow area, two willow domes and planting in and around the play equipment.