LI London Christmas Party, and talk Past, Present and Future: by Merrick Denton-Thompson at The George, London SE1, to the Landscape Institute London Branch, 7pm, Tuesday 6 December 2016
The December LI London Christmas do was again at The George in Borough High Street. We followed our established format of a buffet dinner, a talk, this year by our President, and then carol singing on the staircase gallery of this seventeenth century coaching inn. We we graced by our new CEO Daniel Cook and also Past President Noel Farrer. A great way to end a busy year.
Merrick’s talk was on the theme of past, present and future.
Merrick began by emphasizing that as President he is the servant of the membership. Following his childhood in the Falklands and the Rift Valley of Tanganyika, he studied landscape architecture at Cheltenham. Upon graduating he ignored the standard advice that you should never work in the public sector and not stay in your first job for more than two years. His public service has involved six years at Portsmouth City Council and 28 years at Hampshire CC.
He described early successes and failures. Successes have include application of the National Heritage Act to Lord Caernarvon’s estate of Highclere, which saved estate an inheritance tax bill of seven figures subject to:
- a) granting public access, and
- b) preparation of a management plan.
And this tax relief scheme continues administered by a Natural England landscape architect,
Then Merrick related the sad defeat at Twyford Downs near Winchester where the Department of Transport (DTp) carved the M3 motorway though a prehistoric landscape and destroyed two scheduled ancient monuments and two SSS1’s. He related the sorry tale of a totally inadequate EIA and appeals to the European Court of Justice, and deals done between Jacques Delors and John Major involving the Maastricht Treaty. The saving grace is that since the 1990s the DTp has fulfilled its EIA obligations punctiliously.
Merrick set out his ambition for the Institute which is:
- a) to support and empower the membership,
- b) to align Board, the Advisory Council and the membership,
- c) to broaden the membership (as planned since 1975 when we became the LI)
- d) to review education, and
- e) to re-establish the profession in the public sector.
One concern about current education is the disappearance of a solid scientific basis in our profession in the biological and social sciences. We should be more than just Photoshop wizards.
Current progress includes the promotion of the post of Head of Landscape and Ecology in the new local authorities in N.Ireland. In 2015 these were reorganized as eleven districts each with populations of between 100-200,000 with Belfast City as over 300,000. He is working with the Northern Ireland Branch and recently made a presentation at Stormont to the districts and was well received.
Other opportunities for our profession are the promotion of an understanding of green infrastructure in government, modernization of Green Belts so they are actively managed; and the opportunities that may follow from BREXIT such as new agricultural policies in lieu of the CAP which can cover not only food security but climate change resilience, catchment area management, ground water management, and saving our soils. He instanced this with a view of the South Downs National Park illustrating a “lethal landscape” which groundwater poisoned by nitrate fertilizer run-off, with dead soils, and with a depleted wildlife. He contrasted this with Henry Edmund’s 1000 ha Cholderton Estate, north of Salisbury, where nitrogen is taken from the atmosphere using N fixing plants such clovers and sainfoins and where you can find 18 species of English bee (see http://www.cholderton-estate.co.uk/index.php ).
For the future the role of the LI should be to promote health and wellbeing. The landscape is a resource for experiential learning, for young and old, for those with dementia. He touched on his work through Learning through Landscapes and celebrated the work of Professor Dieter Helm’s Natural Capital Committee (set up by the coalition government in 2012)
and DEFRA’s 25 year plan for the environment and noted the “pioneer projects” (a “Catchment” Pioneer in Cumbria; an “Urban” Pioneer in the Greater Manchester area; a “Landscape” Pioneer in North Devon; and a “Marine” Pioneer across two sites, one in East Anglia and an additional component in Devon to complement the Landscape Pioneer). This is part of DEFRA’s 25-year plan food, farming and fisheries.
We need clean air, clean water, living soils, and biological health. Those are Merrick ambitions What a splendid outline of the opportunities and challenges we can face.
Tom Turner’s video of the talk is on