Introduction to landscape management
How we manage the landscape
The development of Milton Keynes demonstrates that a new city can be built in a relatively short time. However, a mature and well-structured landscape takes significantly longer to develop and requires regular and continuing management.
In the early years of the new city, to create a green and attractive landscape quickly, trees and shrubs were planted at high densities with large numbers of fast-growing plants used in the planting mixes.
It was always planned that as the planted areas became established, rigorous management would be needed to create a healthy and sustainable environment. Many of the techniques we use to achieve this are traditional, and would have been familiar to those who lived in this area centuries before the arrival of Milton Keynes.
To create, develop and manage healthy woodlands we use a combination of traditional thinning and coppicing on the trees and shrubs. Species such as Poplar and Willow are usually culled - and re-growth from the stumps prevented - to stop these species crowding out a rich variety of other vegetation. Other shrub and tree species are usually coppiced so that the resulting re-growth will form a strong shrub layer beneath the tree canopy.
This approach is broadly similar to the historic way woodlands were traditionally managed in lowland England. Known as 'coppice with standards' it is a system which creates a visually diverse and healthy landscape comprising widely spaced trees of varying age and height with a shrub or coppice layer of variety and colour underneath.
Over time this will be the pattern for much of the wooded Milton Keynes landscape but you can already see what an attractive environment such techniques create by visiting Linford Wood, Shenley Wood or Howe Park Wood, where we have been using this traditional approach for several decades.
The results are a healthy landscape for both our leisure and for the rich wildlife which thrives within the trees canopy and the undergrowth.
As trees in the newer woodlands and landscapes grow they need more and more space to develop good crowns and stable root systems. A few years after high-density planting there is inadequate light and space for all the trees, so a number must be removed by the process of 'thinning'.
If thinning is not undertaken, the trees become thin and spindly, no crown or root development can take place, eventually the plantation collapses, the trees snap or blow over. Most of us, at one time or another, have sown a tray of seeds: if the developing seedlings are not thinned out they simply grow too tall and fall over. This is similar to what happens in tree plantations, though the timescale with trees is obviously much longer.
Coppicing is the process of cutting back woody plants to about 100-150mm (4-6 inches) above ground level, and allowing the stump or stool to re-grow. Most coppicing is carried out in the dormant season and the plants quickly re-grow when spring arrives. The coppicing cycle varies from 3 to 15 years depending on the tree or shrub species.
As well as promoting healthy regrowth the new stems can bring vibrant colour to the local landscape. For example, Cornus varieties can be seen in many parks and alongside the roads, bringing wonderful splashes of crimson and yellow in winter when there is less colour about.
In other spots there may be practical reasons to coppice, for instance, restoring sightlines for traffic on the roads, redways and footpaths, or preventing plant disease taking hold.
Other species that respond well to coppicing include Hazel, Rose and Willow – growing back with renewed health.
Managing Milton Keynes’ waters
Regular dredging and clearing of the streams and rivers that run through our parks is essential to keep them healthy and accessible, encourage wildlife and reduce the danger of local flooding. Left to themselves water plants grow so densely they act like dams and prevent the flow of oxygen and the water’s own movement creating a healthy environment.
Examples of modern water course management techniques can be seen at Loughton Brook (pictured), Furzton and Broughton Brook. Rather than carrying out a major dredging operation every ten years or so - which is very disruptive to wildlife and the water’s delicate ecosystem - the brook's main channel is being kept clear with occasional treatment of vegetation.
With the channel once again clear, winter rainfall allows heavier currents to act like scourers, moving debris on upstream. We then use a safe herbicide to manage regrowth of the water plants.