BEST FORCES FORWARD FOR 2013

Mike Beardall reveals a “think-tank” landscaping group giving the New Year a boost by putting best brains together to deal with the issues affecting the industry
LANDSCAPING had its share of highs and lows in 2012 with contractors battling appalling weather, work schedules thrown into disarray and hired machinery tied up for months instead of weeks.m The Olympics triumph, with landscapers winning praise, and the Diamond Jubilee joy almost washed away the fact that for most of the year we were facing torrential downpours.And the early spring ‘drought’ announcement came with promises of a barbeque summer and threats of hosepipe bans. Let that be a lesson to long-term forecasters and newspaper headliners!
Representatives of many major industry organisations got together for a “think-tank” day – aimed at giving landscaping and environment specialists a chance to flag up ways of dealing with vital issues and the government.
The working title of ‘Landscape Collaborative Working Group’ was largely the idea of former BALI chairman Paul Cowell who called industry contacts together for an initial meeting and now has more organisations on board.
“I do believe that although we had a tough trading year the outlook for our industry should remain positive,” says Paul, who has been in landscaping for 27 years, 20 of them running PC Landscapes.
“As all the suggested environment legislation is land-based orientated it places our sector firmly in the spotlight, so we need to raise awareness and promote the valuable work we do – particularly to the government.”
At the Merrist Wood day will be representatives from the HTA, RHS, Institute of Professional Soil Scientists, Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management, the European Landscape Contractors Association, International Federation of Landscape Architects, Natural England and the Knowledge Transfer Network – with other organisations still to come on board.
“The idea is to put all our expertise together and decide where we can combine to deal with the right people in government to discuss various issues,” says Paul.
“We need to get the government’s high-level thinking down to ground level and to show them what the practical problems and issues are, whether it is from water management – too much or too little – to waste management and recycling.
“Now is the time to get those issues that affect us all in the landscaping industry within an educational framework so that we can give the young people coming along the information they need to carry on the work we have done so far.”
In 2012, says Paul, the driest spring on record was followed by the wettest summer – and as we speak there are major floods and flood warnings in force across the UK, with villagers evacuated by boat in Devon and Somerset.
“Life has been very tough for contractors, designers and landscapers facing terrible weather conditions that affect the profit margins,” says Paul.
“The most important thing for all of us in 2013 is to make sure tenders are in the right place at the right time and that we don’t miss out on business.”
While the industry can do nothing about the weather it can plan to deal with problems in a more collected way.
“Landscapers, planners and builders should be putting in place surfaces that allow for drainage, not building in flood-risk areas with surroundings of concrete and slabs,” he says.
“We have the brightest and most knowledgeable people in the world here in Britain,” says Paul. “Our landscaping is the envy of the world and we have superb natural resources that must be protected.”
He and other colleagues have already formed a working group to look at water – both lack of it and too much.
“It’s a resource that we see flooding away, or not being stored, and we must look at all the ways we can manage water – and the problems it can cause.”
Landscaping and environment issues cover such a wide range of topics that the more expertise that can be found, the better for the industry, he says.
With amenity landscaping, public space management, sportsturf, domestic gardens, natural landscape management, arboriculture and horticulture all being discussed so early in 2013, the outlook is bright.
In parks, public gardens and on golf courses there is an awareness of how introducing amenity flowers can improve biodiversity, attract insects and birds and make surroundings more natural – with a lower-maintenance regime that cuts labour and costs.
Dr. Sid Sullivan, senior advisor on local authority parks and gardens across the UK through SGS Consultancy, says the landscaping industry must speak forcefully with one voice and promote “thinking locally and acting locally” instead of “thinking locally and acting globally”.
“What we all do in our various areas has a greater impact on the environment than is generally imagined,” he says.
“Smaller scale planting of shrubs and perennials has a much more useful impact on landscaping than trees which are not properly cared for.
“I am not convinced by the argument that planting more trees is an answer to all our problems. Likewise water management has to be an important issue for the industry.
“Local authorities should be looking at wiser use of water and irrigation systems, with self-watering devices that help plants survive.
“We lose water that we should be saving and planners do not seem to take this into consideration.
“Climate change is a current reality – not something happening in the future. We must adapt landscapes to that reality.”
Natural planting of wildflowers in urban environments is one solution to utilising wide areas that need little maintenance.
“There is a real place for this in the short-term – but care should be taken that we do not create jungles,” says Sid.
Sid is very upbeat about 2013. He says that the landscaping industry should prepare for the economy to recover “as it undoubtedly will”.
Peter Holman, chief executive of London in Bloom and chairman of South and South East in Bloom, believes landscapers and landscaper designers will have a major role to play in environmental issues this year.
“There must be greater innovation in design on schemes to reduce maintenance and utilise materials that drain better,” he says. “Modern technology has produced remarkable materials which are permeable.”
Peter is also lead UK judge for Entente Floral, the ‘communities in bloom’ scheme that runs across 12 countries each year. He see the results that landscapers and designers are producing in those countries.
“We all have to keep an eye on schemes that are better at utilising water,” he says. “It’s all very well producing stunning gardens for Chelsea and Hampton Court – but there must be practical ideas in there that can be applied within local authorities.
“We have shown we are the best in the world at landscaping with the Olympic Park and we must continue to carry on that outstanding reputation we have built for ourselves.
“Clients may give designers and landscapers some briefs that are not environmentally friendly but I think it is the job of the landscape industry to inject common sense into schemes.”
Peter says the landscape industry has been going through a tough time because of the weather – but has still managed to produce superb work.
“Parks and gardens have never been more important and local authorities have to be creative in their thinking on planting schemes for the future – taking the weather and the environment into consideration.”
Landscape and sportsturf contractors have also been coming out of a tough year – virtually all down to the weather.
Speedcut Contractors managing director Dick Franklin, who founded the business at his Oxfordshire base in 1977, says: “The weather last year was the worst on record for contractors. The problem with constant rain is that we arrive at a job that is then delayed and the machinery, some of it hired, is tied up at that site until the ground conditions improve.
“We managed to complete a wide variety of construction and renovation jobs by working between weather fronts and by being vigilant not to create undue damage to areas.
“The only upside of the dreadful weather is that we have had increased inquiries about drainage for 2013 – let’s just hope we don’t have a repeat of last year’s weather while we are trying to install schemes.”
Green Flag Award judge Chris Worman has judged parks for 16 years. He thinks parks are still going to be a major focus and priority for local councils in 2013 – even in time of cutbacks.
“There were seven Green Flag Awards in 1996 and 1,424 in 2012,” he says. “The idea of the Green Flag Award was to do for parks what the Blue Flag did for beaches – and it has certainly had an impact.
“This year standards will be maintained against all the odds.”
Local residents, which have a vested interest in keeping their parks pristine, have also become increasingly active. There are now 5,000 local ‘Friends Groups’ – which work with local authorities – in the UK.
Drew Benellick, who is in charge of parks at the Heritage Lottery Fund, says engaging people with their local parks is just as important as conservation and providing new facilities.
“If you repair a bandstand, but don’t teach people the value of it, it can be re-vandalised within weeks,” he says.
He cites Myatt’s Fields Park, in Lambeth, south London, as a lovely little park that has put the community at the heart of its regeneration.
“There are greenhouses for growing food, which they partly sell, and partly use in soups. There is a baking group. It is in a part of London that is a cultural mixing pot, and they are really imaginative. They put on Afro-Caribbean nights and Indian-themed nights,” he says.
“Everyone should have a good quality green space within a five minute walk of their home, as evidence suggests some people further away won’t travel,” says Paul Todd, manager of the Green Flag Award scheme.
It is estimated that there are 2.5billion visits to public parks in the UK every year.
And the landscaping industry is working hard to see that the standard of amenity spaces doesn’t deteriorate in 2013.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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