UK: Ecology, culture and passion

Richard Scott from Landlife tells us how they make things happen...

Starting points are critical in determining the places you might get to. They are the launching platforms for what is possible. “Culture” said Liverpool poet Brian Patten “is a by-product of people’s aspirations; it’s to do with achievement, endeavour, hope, and all things that make us a little more than we begin as.”

glorious wildflowers with bus passing in the background

Liverpool defied the odds to become European capital of culture in 2008. Landlife defied the odds to create a creative conservation philosophy and practice over the last three decades that focuses on creating the right starting points. Landlife’s creative conservation culture feeds on such incremental gains.

It requires creative thinking and creative action. In this way creative conservation will become more important in the future. In addressing the impacts of an increasingly urbanised and climatically chaotic environment, ecology has to be presented up front in a bold and imaginative way.

children standing among wildlflowers

There is the parable of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, where building began in 1173. From 1298 onwards 17 committees considered "the Tower Emergency". By 1990 the tower's movement had brought it to the brink of collapse and made it unsafe for tourists. The last committee was installed the day after the closing of the Tower and it was only at this very last moment that an effective solution was realised. After 800 years engineers finally moved the tower back 45 centimetres and made it stable. The problem in the tower’s history was that no one wanted to be on the committee that actioned a mistake and a fallen tower - a recipe for procrastination if ever there was one.

This Pisa timidity has typified the nature conservation movement. There has been an inability in policy and decision making to accept the fluidity of nature. We have been very good at monitoring species to extinction with a reluctance to react decisively for fear of changing old maps. There may be a resistance to do the sensible thing for fear of change. As in business, art, design, and architecture some of the most exciting and best solutions develop out of risk. Like a poker hand, or the throw of the dice, there may be an element of luck, which parallels modern mathematical models for evolution. Functional ecosystems must satisfy an extraordinary balance between function and fluctuation, between hard physical rules and subtle effects of randomness. Nature is robust to a complicated and even chaotic environment, and we should embrace the dynamics of change this brings to the natural world. Prescriptions can easily become moribund as we establish Masterplans, Biodiversity Action Plans and character maps. Looking ahead we need to be aware of a need for flexibility, and the recognition that this is healthy. We should be cautious about following tight prescriptions of National Vegetation Classifications, while not savouring the time to observe and celebrate the evolutionary dance of nature before our eyes. It is about whole picture rather than the frame - and not confining nature to the margins.

Landlife’s work in council estates in Knowsley on the edge of Liverpool, engineering good starting points and simple sowings, have built diverse wildflower landscapes of national note in a short time. Such places are beacons of hope and show the advantage of the helping hand. It is by involving people in these processes of change and transformation that offers the most in terms of environmental justice and education. This is creative conservation working adaptively with circumstance and resources. Nature is about opportunity; nature is about change. It is the wildcard that brings surprise, passion and delight. Conservation should be about responding to the hand nature deals and celebrating the opportunity change can bring.

wildflowers with tower blocks looming in the background

Some of the greatest achievements in science and the arts have happened by chance in eureka moments. In a sense individuals have been educated by accident in a process of discovery through imagination and courage. In turn Landlife is an organisation that looks to positive elements of chance, keeps moving, keeps exploring new events and contacts. For example, after proving the opportunity of infertile topsoils and creating one of the most sustainable landscapes in the UK (at no cost) in the middle of a council estate in Huyton we envisaged turning the soil upside down to address the problem of over productive soils. We found a plough in Denmark and with farmland bought by the Forestry Commission and support from the Woodland Trust we began to experiment. Eight years on and we have proved there are viable alternatives to the traditional ways of planting trees in grass. The trees grow faster, survive climate change impacts better and are presented in a rich matrix of biodiversity. 

In 2008 we celebrated capital Culture Year with our own SuperLambBanana, a new Liverpool  sculptural icon, scattered through the City, but each year we add something new to Liverpool’s hidden gem, the National Wildflower Centre, as we pursue our Trojan Mouse mission to spread and share the creative conservation experience.

sculpture of super lamb banana



(All photographs courtesy of Landlife)