CORNISH CHARACTER: INSPIRING PLACES FOR PEOPLE AND WILDLIFE
PUBLISHED: 10:41 18 September 2014 | UPDATED: 13:16 30 August 2017
Lucy Wilson-Richards, Senior Landscape Architect at Cornwall Environmental Consultants Ltd, about the importance of balancing the needs of people with our wonderful wildlife and incredible environment.
Being lucky enough to live in Cornwall means we are surrounded by acre after acre of distinctive, stunning and varied landscapes – woodlands, coastlines, parkland, farmland and former industrial sites. Many of us make the most of getting out and about to enjoy our landscapes and people come from far and wide to enjoy them during precious holiday time. But how many times do you stop and really read the landscape around you, what would it mean if you did, and how many times do you notice a new development that sits comfortably in its surroundings?
When people think of wildlife friendly design it’s normally connected with the finer details such as bird boxes, ponds, wildflower meadows and maybe the odd Cornish hedge. What most of us don’t realise is that every time we take a stroll through any one of the landscapes which make up Cornwall’s environment we are surrounded by features that can be used in new developments to make them more valuable and to help protect our wildlife and wild places. It is called Landscape Character’ and it’s something that the landscape architects at Cornwall Environmental Consultants (CEC) use all the time.
CEC is the consultancy arm of Cornwall Wildlife Trust, Cornwall’s leading local wildlife charity, and whilst our input to development schemes may not be obviously connected to the Trust’s work we pride ourselves on creating innovative ecologically sensitive designs which work on the ground such as the Threemilestone Park and Ride in Truro.
So what exactly is Landscape Character and how do we incorporate it in design? Essentially landscape character is a combination of the landform, habitats, settlements, field patterns and boundaries, transport networks and historic remains that are present in an area and which make it distinctly different to another. In Cornwall these include granite tors, the coastlines and river valleys, woodlands, moors, slate hung cottages, roadside chapels, small irregular fields bound by mature hedges, Cornish hedges, mining remains, farmland and wind turbines.
Look closer at the areas we are all familiar with and you will soon be picking out their own characters – the dramatic North Coast with its rugged cliffs, engine houses perched on eroded ledges, steep valleys and old villages clustered around harbours that once heaved with mining trade; the unspoilt wilds’ of the exposed and open Penwith Moors scattered with prehistoric stones and settlements, wind sculpted trees, isolated farms and derelict engine houses; the wide deep Fal valley with the urban bustle of Falmouth and Penryn dominated by maritime industries past and present and the twin castles of Pendennis and St Mawes all set against a rolling green backdrop of farmland and the parklands of Trelissick and Tregothnan.
Site layout, building style and materials used within a design are crucial to how it fits with its surroundings and if landscape character is considered properly from the earliest stages it will automatically have benefits for habitats and wildlife – either by retaining what’s on site as the backbone of the scheme or by including new features. For example, a development of half rendered slate hung cottages’ will look as out of place in Camborne as they would in Cambridge, a row of Georgian terraces away from a town centre will never sit’ in the landscape, a site bordering countryside with all the hedges taken out will stick out no matter how well the buildings are designed. If the features on site are analysed to start with they can usually be easily incorporated into a successful design – hedges will define layout and provide corridors for wildlife, ponds create a focal point and a habitat and using locally sourced building materials cuts costs and emissions.
CEC worked with Cornwall Council on the Threemilestone Park and Ride from the concept design stage with both landscape and ecology teams involved. We evaluated the proposed sites and when the final one was chosen landscape and ecology surveys were undertaken to draw out the constraints that would define the final design. The concept of the scheme was to provide a Park for People and Cars’, somewhere that retained the site’s bowl shaped landform and mature hedges to provide a green space that could become a public park once its life as a car park ends. Our design respected and reflected the quality of the area’s rural landscape with sustainability at the heart of the scheme and great care was taken to retain and protect wildlife on site – the trees, hedges, bats and badgers. We included areas of scrub, wildflower meadow and wetland to increase the site’s wildlife value as well as an ornamental planting scheme reflecting heathland, grassland and trees to break up the lines of parked cars, and granite boulders were handpicked from Carnsew Quarry. The scheme has won several sustainability awards and now it’s matured the planting is capable of supporting nesting birds, dormice, bats, badgers and insects such as butterflies.
Elsewhere we have retained flood plains and increased bat roosts at the Cornwall Hotel in St Austell, used hedges to create a framework and keep bat foraging routes at Hidderley Park in Camborne, created a series of habitats in a wild space at Camborne Met Office, and designed green roofs using coastal grassland habitats in Newquay and St Ives. It’s not hard, it just requires a little thought, an understanding of where you are and a passion for high quality environmentally friendly design – CEC Landscape!