In her study of public perception of urban woodland in Redditch, Bussey (1996) came to certain
conclusions regarding the character and location of urban woodland that are relevant to large scale ecological plantings of woody vegetation. Bussey found that people have a surprising need for woodland close to their home:
An urban meadow in a formal context—Parc des Poteries in Strasbourg, France
A woodland visit is not an ‘occasional event’ that has to be planned and prepared for. Where the resource is locally available, it is an important part of everyday urban life. This highlights how important it is, that in order that they function as people require them, the woods should be conveniently located on the doorstep, within the urban fabric, not on the urban fringe or in the open countryside.
Bussey went on to make certain specific recommendations based on her findings.
– Urban woods should be readily accessible to a wide range of people and the journey to
the wood should be considered part of the recreation experience and should therefore be made as enjoyable as possible.
– Provision should be made for access to a choice of woodlands within 300-650 m of the
– Woodlands of 7 ha generally appear to be satisfactory in terms of size. Smaller
woodlands should be configured so as to maximise depth to give sufficient enclosure, variety and complexity.
– Most respondents preferred mixed woodland with a canopy density around 65%.
Interestingly, the study did not support the conventional wisdom that large mature trees are preferred—people derived as much pleasure from relatively young plantations as they did from the ancient woodland sites.
– Hard-surfaced paths with lighting are welcomed, as are car parks, sign-posted walks
and nature trails, and information leaflets.
An important but unresolved issue is to what extent woodland should be integrated with built development, and particularly with people’s dwellings. In parts of Warrington New Town, the woodland forms part of the street landscape and is extremely closely integrated—in some cases no more than a couple of metres away from the dwellings themselves. Further work needs to be done to establish whether this degree of proximity is considered satisfactory. However, for woodland that does not form part of the streetscape, Bussey’s findings are clearly important indicators.
This chapter has attempted to explore current attitudes towards the use of both naturalistic and formal ecological plantings in public urban settings, and some of the cultural and social meanings underlying those attitudes. It has shown that public perceptions and expectations of urban landscapes are far more diverse and complex than some of the research would have us believe. It has also shown that there is room for natural and even wild-looking landscapes in towns and cities. It is not suggesting that such landscapes should replace more formal approaches to planting, ecological or otherwise. What is clear is that a greater understanding of the social issues involved in dealing with urban nature and nature-like landscape is required if the undoubted environmental and social benefits of a more ecologically-informed approach to landscape design and management in towns and cities are to be realised.