Landscape Review: Case Study - Natural balance

A new 'park and ride' site creates a place for wildlife and native species as well as cars and lorries.

As you might expect, the new Park & Ride site in east Taunton will be chock-full and busy. But as well as the inevitable cars and buses, the site will be chock-full of trees and shrubs and busy with native species and wildlife.

Nearly 20,000 plants will pack out 10ha of farmland on the edge of the Somerset town - a site that has, in fact, been chock-full and busy for thousands of years.

The greenfield land was a bronze-age settlement and Roman burial ground. Indeed £250,000 of the £4.7m overall budget went on a full archaeological survey. The six-month dig unearthed remains of round houses, fragments of farming enclosures and the bones of 31 human skeletons.

Major schemes project manager Richard Needs of client Somerset County Council says: "After the initial shock of what we found underneath the ground, we've had to focus on what was going on top - we have a tight timescale to open around Christmas."

The site - an ecologically bland patchwork of ploughed fields - is being transformed into a landscape of mounds, ponds, wetland habitats, bat boxes and perch poles for birds of prey. Into the ground will go 18,000 trees including Populus nigra, Quercus robur Award of Garden Merit (AGM) and Salix alba.

These will wrap around parking spaces for 1,000 cars, which are surfaced with porous asphalt to absorb rainwater and channel it into the nearby ponds. A second phase of the project - depending on funding - could include a straw eco-building to house an exhibition of the site's history.

"Using native trees helps us meet the local authority biodiversity action plan to replace wherever possible native rather than ornamental species. Instead of planting a blackthorn hedge, which would have been a stock treatment a few years ago, we used mixed-species hedges and native trees.

"The desire to attract more wildlife has been one of the biggest drivers in recent years for tree trends. Many local authorities and other clients are choosing to go native. However, there is still a place for ornamental plants in urban contexts not suitable for native species."

But the native option is winning with specifiers. Needs' local authority completed another Park & Ride project to the west of Taunton four years ago with a sustainable urban drainage system for the nearby highways. The latest project in the east will link up with the west Park & Ride.

The first project, says Needs, is a marriage of perfect practical harmony between green and grey infrastructure, but even sexier is the planting. The native trees with a few ornamentals have proved enduring and so successful that the 12ha site is about to be designated a country park.

Back on the east side of Taunton, a complex plant layout will focus on a U-shaped swath of land that wraps around the main transport hub. The curving sweep of green will host intermittent rows of trees and shrubs in a configuration that aims to break up the massing of cars, buses and coaches. There will be a smattering of ornamental trees to add colour and variety.

Contracts manager James Langdon of soft landscape contractor UPM Tilhill says almost 4,000 aquatic trees will fringe two new ponds, which will take water run-off from the parking spaces and coach pick-up points.

Designs from landscape architects at Atkins worked into the scheme 13,000sq m of wetland grass and 20,000sq m of neutral grass areas as well as the trees and shrubs.

On the surface, a project bang next to the M5 to accommodate a forecasted increase in congestion does not bode well for wildlife in east Taunton. But blending native trees and shrubs should be enough to ensure the dormice, badgers and bats use the site as much as the local people of Taunton, says Langdon.

WHO'S WHO
- Client Somerset County Council
- Landscape architect Atkins
- Soft landscape contractor UPM Tilhill
- Main contractor Bardon Contractors
- Tree shelters Tubex
- Grass seed British Seed Houses

PLANT LIST
Trees

- Acer campestre AGM
- Alnus glutinosa
- Betula utilis
var. jacquemontii
- Carpinus betulus
AGM
- Fraxinus excelsior
- Populus
x canescens
- Populus nigra
- Quercus robur
AGM
- Salix alba

Aquatics
- Caltha palustris AGM
- Carex otrubae
- Epilobium hirsutum
- Filipendula ulmaria
- Iris pseudacorus
AGM
- Juncus articulatus
- Nymphaea alba
- Phalaris arundinacea
- Potamogeton natans
- Sparganium erectum


Transplants
- Acer campestre AGM
- Carpinus betulus
AGM
- Corylus avellana
- Euonymus europaeus
- Fagus sylvatica
AGM
- Ilex aquifolium AGM
- Populus x canescens
- Populus tremula
AGM
- Prunus avium AGM
- Sorbus aucuparia


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