• Monday , 25 September 2017

Sharing the Landscape

caged-lion-at-dublin-zoo

‘Every architectural move is set in a landscape strategy. The eighteenth-century grid cities of the New World are a strategy of reason, for example. Norman England was constructed as a network of strong points, in a strategy of occupation. Our predominant landscape strategy now is the economic exploitation of the earth.’
Paul Shepheard, The Cultivated Wilderness: Or, What is Landscape?

As the dominant species on the Earth, we have become adept at designing to control wild animals and creatures on a small scale. Take zoos for example: Dublin Zoo is home to over 400 animals including mammals, birds and reptiles in various recreated habitats across 28 hectares. For scale comparison, this is about equal to the size of the territory of a single wild badger (Hayden & Harrington, 2000), while a fox would roam over areas of between 20 and 100 hectares. A wolf pack such as the one living in Dublin Zoo would typically have a territory of 200sqkm, an area over seven hundred times the size of the zoo itself.
It’s worth noting the design of individual enclosures too: moats and islands are used to contain the monkeys and apes, while a combination of ditches with low walls confines ostriches and giraffes while affording visitors a good view. At the lion and tiger enclosures, fences of around 4m high are set 1.5m back from barriers beyond which visitors view the animals; and which presumably lessen the chances of fatal close encounters.

caged-wolf-at-dublin-zoo

While this containment of wildlife in smaller areas is reasonably successful in the sense that there are few escapes at least, our attempts to control wild animals become significantly less successful on a larger scale. Take the case of gulls in cities for example: in March this year Senator Lorraine Clifford Lee told the Seanad that ‘children and elderly people are particularly vulnerable to attack from seagulls,’ while in 2014 Senator Ned O’Sullivan complained that gulls ‘have lost the run of themselves completely.’ The reason most often cited for the presence of so many gulls in cities is the abundance of food, but the main advantage of a city habitat is a safe and warm breeding ground. Peter Rock, an expert on gulls based in the UK, explains: ‘Town has no predators and little disturbance. Additionally, ambient temperatures in town are 4-6 °C higher than the surrounding countryside (Heat Islands) allowing urban gulls to breed slightly earlier than those in traditional, wild colonies.’

The most common suggestions for preventing gulls nesting in town include oiling eggs, placing nets, and fixing spikes and wires on buildings, but many of these methods are ineffective due to cost, time and the sheer number of gulls. And as for shooting them, Rock explains succinctly that this ‘would require many guns and much time.’ It appears the gulls have adapted all too well to the environment we have created.

heron-and-gull-at-mcdonalds

In rural areas, our shaping of the landscape has created other habitats which wildlife has been all too keen to move into. In planting hedgerows to divide the land, we created the perfect nesting place for about 55 different bird species, not to mention rodents and other mammals. This resulted in an unintentional clash between us and the natural world, as environmental groups and farmers argue over whether hedgecutting should be allowed during nesting season.
Similarly, attempts to control upland areas of rough shrubs by burning can result in out-of-control of forest fires such as those captured on camera by NASA from space. Furthermore, the yellow flowered furze (gorse) bushes so abundant on our hillsides are the perfect home for small birds and insects, a point which led Michael Viney to describe the burning of gorse bushes as a ‘furnace of wildlife.’

But possibly the most visible symbol of the clash of the man-made and the wild world can be seen along the side of the road. The grand works of engineering which cross the countryside have broken age-old migration routes, resulting in a death toll which is distinctly one-sided. The Irish Wild Deer Association estimates around 300 road accidents involving deer take place every year, while surveys note the biggest casualty is rabbits. Our attitude is perhaps best illustrated in the words of a spokesperson for the AA who, commenting on their survey of roadkill on Irish roads, said that ‘animals can certainly be a significant risk to motorists.’

When we examine cases where the designed and the natural world collide, it becomes clear that one of two scenarios result: either the natural world adapts in ways we could not have predicted, or wildlife populations dwindle to the point of extinction. Our task as designers, surely, is to form a man-made world in which we share the landscape rather than appropriate it for our single use. A diverse, living landscape is beneficial to us all.

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