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Brownfield Landscape Design

Landscape design is an important integrated process for residential schemes, particularly where a site has complex geological and hydrological issues.


Many brownfield schemes which have contaminated soil require a sensitive scheme of planting which can tolerate poor soil conditions and in instances harsh climatic environments such as extreme rainfall (or lack of) and steep gradients which increases run-off and reduces available nutrients to the root structure within the soil below. Often within residential schemes trees can be seen suffering from poor planting conditions and lack of maintenance, combined with poor species selection these trees will continue to struggle and can eventually fail.

If brownfield sites were left to establish naturally, colonisation would take place, this process of succession would happen slowly over time and planting would need to overcome the often extreme pH values, ranging from 2.5-4.0 for some former colliery spoils, to much higher pH values in brownfield sites. Many of these sites consist of brick rubble, crushed concrete and stone with generally infertile, contaminated soils, as mentioned these brownfield sites would be colonised in a successional nature with immediate weed species such as rosebay, willow herb and coltsfoot with common grasses dependent on the area the site is located. If colonized by Clover this would raise the nitrogen and therefore fertility, eventually resulting in a coarse grass cover. Following this, scrub would establish usually by native willow species which can root into the consolidated soil. Other good pioneer plants include birch, hawthorn and alder.


Landscape proposals have dual purpose, appeasing planning concerns and comments whilst ultimately providing a pleasant environment for residents. Often larger infrastructure schemes such as Littlecombe include existing water courses and large open spaces which often need to contain play elements for several age groups. By retaining and enhancing these natural features the site can become more accessible and create open spaces of varied character and interest. The planting design needs to provide year round interest, where possible this planting will consist of indigenous species, these species increase wildlife habitats and if planted correctly will establish with less failures. The planting also needs to provide a contemporary aesthetic to match the modern architectural design and façade style to each individual plot.


Ultimately the external landscape design needs to be multi-faceted and draw on the rich heritage, varied geographical features and the vibrant social context within the context of each site. The landscape design emphasises these elements through carefully designed and specified materials, including hard surfacing and street furniture to create a contextually appropriate scheme. Once the planting design has been developed a detailed maintenance strategy for the site will be outlined within the Landscape Management Plan. This provides a cohesive and sustainable approach to managing all aspects of landscape, for example reducing the use of chemicals due to the proximity of the watercourse, with permeable paving used at the ground levels to provide sustainable drainage across the site and reduce run-off into the surrounding water course and therefore reduce the risk of flash-floods.

Overall, the landscape design proposals will be developed focusing on the historical and contextual influences within and surrounding the site, whilst applying contemporary elements to create an interesting, experiential landscape. This can be demonstrated through the general design layout, the materials and planting, providing historical references, social spaces, dynamic planting, and a varied and interesting aesthetic.


Liz Lake Associates have worked on many brownfield sites such as the former MG Rover site at Longbridge in Birmingham, read about our involvement in the project here

Lickey_Road, Longbridge

Three Minute Interview…Kristian Bowen

Brief introduction, name, job title, location.

Kris Bowen, Landscape Architect, Stansted Mountfitchet


When you were at school what did you want to be and why?

When I was younger like many boys I wanted to follow my farther into the fire service as I spent a lot of my time there. As I grew older I grew a passion for architecture and engineering.


How did you get to be where you are today?

I got here by a stroke of luck to be honest. During my A levels I studied design but wasn’t sure I wanted to take it further, I found it tough going and was going to drop it. But for my design teacher Mr Cavanagh who basically told my parents and I that It would be stupid for me to drop the subject and that I was ‘quite good’. This spurred me on and I continued and re-ignited my passion for architecture and with my teacher’s guidance I discovered landscape architecture and that I could peruse a career in it and 5 years of study later I’m here and loving it.


What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most, and why?

What drives me and what enjoy the most, is designing places that people will inhabit and enjoy seeing your designs on plan being brought to life. Designing places that people will use for years to come.


What is your proudest achievement?

I think it would be gaining my Masters, it was something I never thought It would be something I could achieve. That and being able to work on some of the practices biggest projects.


What is the best advice you’ve been given in life?

Similar to what Mat previously said, never get stuck always look to diversify your skills and improve your knowledge in many areas.


What is your next adventure / goal?

I want to continue to develop my skills as a landscape and work on and run bigger projects within the practice and push us to achieve higher acclaim within the profession. Just continue to design places people will enjoy.

Kristian Bowen

You can email Kris directly:

The positive impact of Drones & UAV in the landscape

UAV’s or more commonly known as ‘drones’ have been considered a nuisance by many & have been featured in the news on various occasions for air traffic control violations. Also reports of strapping small dogs & cats to them has not done the reputation of drones & their operators any favours. If we cast aside the negative perceptions the public has on UAV’s we can really get down the the incredible possibilities they are capable of.

The DJI Inspire 1 pro: a very popular professional UAV

To use professional grade UAV commercially you will need to gain permissions for operations from the CAA. This process begins with a ground school where the big emphasis is on safety & Airspace awareness. The 2 class days are rounded up with an exam, reinforcing what has been covered throughout the intensive study. On completion you will be asked to create an ‘Operations Manual’. This outlines the flight procedures required for legal operations by the CAA and should be closely followed on every operation. The final step is a flight test conducted by a CAA approved trainer, this was in experience the toughest part of the process but once its passed paperwork pending you are ready to operate commercially.


The possible applications for aerial works are countless & the industry is really starting to pick up momentum. The sectors that relate to landscape that would greatly benefit from aerial works would be Landscape Planning by increasing the ‘imageability’ of our space, enabling a higher level of legibility in visual communication. For site survey the drone can be programmed to operate autonomously gathering multiple photographs to then produce a 3D model based on cloud point data. That can be used to analyse back in the office to get accurate measurements from the 3D model. Pretty revolutionary I think you will agree!

The uses continue with the forestry commission using drones to check forestry health & also agriculture where aerial data can help land owners pin point areas of under performing crops.

Most recently we saw the use of drones first hand, assessing the damage caused by the tragic fire at the Grenfell tower block in London.

To summarise, UAV technology is here to stay & the application possibilities are increasing all the time!

To find out more about these incredible machines and options available, contact Steve Woodhouse.

Bristol’s Community Eco Self-Build is gaining momentum – why not try something like this…

Anyone interested in eco self-build community housing projects, it may be worth while taking a look at some of the things happening in Bristol. On the back of the success of the well-known Ashley Vale project in St Werburghs Bristol, a company was set up by Dr Steffie Broer, one of the original self-build pioneers of The Yard at St Werburghs. Her company is called Bright Green Futures and their key aim is to give as many people as possible the opportunity to build their own eco home and community.  Her journey is just beginning.


St Werburghs The Yard Ashley Vale

My wife and I have been following their work for some time and have recently decided to give it a try ourselves. So, we have recently been selected as one of 14 pioneers driving forward a new self-build community in west Bristol called Water Lilies (why this name?… because it promises a natural swimming pool in the communal garden, YAY!). We are still very much in the initial stages of the project, working together as a group to put together a planning application for the site. It will be a fascinating journey of exploration and adventure over the next 2 or 3 years, and some tears I’m sure.  At the end of the journey, the community will comprise 24 new homes focused around a central communal garden with a community hub building, fire pit / BBQ area, orchard, natural swimming pool (!), bee hives, allotment gardens etc. The community backs on to an existing woodland that stretches for miles and allows direct access to nature.

This blog entry is really to share this experience and get the word out about the work being done by BGF, because I believe this can be an answer towards genuine sustainable living, in the context of the threats facing all of us within our lifetimes, i.e. mass population expansion, climate change and impacts on biodiversity, etc. This is the first project that BGF have initiated in its entirety from inception and therefore it is a prototype for how companies like BGF can make a difference and give ordinary people the chance to design and build their own low impact, high performance home, and form a community. How empowering is that!

For anyone who would like to support the cause and help to get the word out, BGF would like to create a film that will showcase the project and tell the story to others once it is complete. They are trying to raise funds for the film.

Please follow this link to the crowdfunder site.  All you need to do is donate £1 as it is more about the volume of support we get rather than the overall amount. There are some potential rewards for those who would like to donate a bit more, but no need (only 20 days left to show your support).

Three Minute Interview…Philippa Heath, Landscape Architect.

Brief introduction, name, job title, location.

My name is Philippa Heath and I’m one of the Landscape Architects at the Stansted Office.

When you were at school what did you want to be and why?

When I was at school I never really knew exactly what I wanted to do. I always had an interest in Geography and Art and did a lot of music as well.

How did you get to be where you are today?

I came into Landscape Architecture in a more roundabout way than most. I took a gap year after school where I travelled around Europe and down the West Coast of Canada and the US. I then went onto study Geography at Lancaster University. I also studied for a year at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, which was what really inspired me to study Landscape Architecture as my Masters because of the huge variety of landscapes around Vancouver. I then went onto do my Masters at University of Sheffield. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In the middle of my Masters I worked at Liz Lake as a summer intern and when I finished my Masters last summer I came back to Liz Lake and have now been here full-time for about 6 months.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most, and why?

I really enjoy the fact that you’re never doing the same thing. Every project is different and once each project is complete its really satisfying to see how our input can really make a difference to a place.

What is your proudest achievement?

My proudest achievement to date is probably when I won the Landscape Institute Yorkshire and the Humber Award for Design Excellence for my final project for my Masters. It was a proposal for the design and planning of the Limehouse Cut in East London. I never thought I’d win anything and it was a massive shock on the day the exhibition opened.

What is the best advice you’ve been given in life?

Never to limit yourself to what you think you can do, because usually you are far more capable than you imagine.

What is your next adventure / goal?

My next work goal is to become chartered. Outside of work the next goal is to travel to every continent.

phillipa heath

You can contact Philippa directly: