20 Aug 2015

Designing Landscapes with People in Mind

From Our Changing World, 9:20 pm on 20 August 2015

By Alison Ballance

“Often ideas of sustainability and being environmental are very abstract. They’re conceptual ideas. But the way people identify with those ideas is place, it’s with landscape, it’s making a difference in a specific place in a specific way. That’s the excitement I have for landscape architecture in terms of what it can bring to this country. It’s about connecting people to places … and the way that people are beneficial rather than just somehow a negative impact on the environment.”
Mick Abbott, Lincoln University

Landscape architect Mick Abbott is a tramper and climber with a strong ecological bent. He’s also a strong advocate for not just involving people in restoration and conservation projects but giving them a lifelong link to that place.

Mick Abbott in the Design Lab, with designs for the 'living lab' that is being proposed as part of the Punakaiki coastal restoration project.

Mick Abbott in the Design Lab, with designs for the 'living lab' that is being proposed as part of the Punakaiki coastal restoration project. Photo: RNZ / Alison Ballance

When I went to visit him in the design lab at Lincoln University he was keen to point out that it was a collaborative space that he worked in with three other people. And it was clear that this strong sense of collaboration underpins the three diverse projects that he’s currently involved in.

One is the Punakaiki coastal restoration project (PCRP), which is taking an abandoned pilot mining site on the Barrytown Flats, on the West Coast, and restoring it so it enhances the neighbouring breeding habitat of the Westland black petrel. This is a joint project between the Department of Conservation (DoC), Rio Tinto, Conservation Volunteers and Lincoln University. It involves some of the more than 300,000 tourists who visit the area in meaningful conservation, encouraging them to volunteer in activities such as nursery work, predator monitoring and replanting. Through mobile apps and other kinds of ongoing communication Mick hopes people will have a strong sense of connection to the place even after they leave.

In March 2010, the PCRP site was officially declared a Nature Reserve, Te Ara Tāiko Nature Reserve, and in January 2014 Lincoln University, including Mick, became a partner in the project to help develop an ongoing master plan.

The idea of providing a meaningful conservation experience, says Mick, stems from Department of Conservation research that has found that “although national park visitors report that what they do is go walking, sight-seeing or hiking, when they’re asked about the benefits of conservation they talk about completely different things such as preserving and protecting the environment, saving species, looking after it for future generations. So what we’re trying to do is design an experience with those values.”

Mick is also working with Ngai Tahu on their large Eyrewell dairy development on the Canterbury Plains. Along with other Lincoln University staff he has been developing amenity and restoration planting plans for the farm, using a mix of native and exotic species around the houses and as shelter belts , and creating a large ‘braided river’ of native plantings with a main backbone of totara. Mick says about 350 hectares of forest will be created, which he hopes will provide a significant forested stepping stone on the mostly barren Canterbury Plains to enable kereru to travel between the forests of the Southern Alps and regenerating Banks Peninsula.

Mick is also involved with the DoC and Fonterra ‘Living Waterscollaboration, which is working with five different wetlands nationally to show that it is possible to have dairying alongside healthy waterways. Mick is developing a restoration plan for the L2 catchment, which is part of the large Te Waihora – Lake Ellesmere catchment, and he hopes it will help the growing township of Lincoln develop a strong sense of ownership of the lake by hands-on involvement planting a corridor of vegetation between the town and the lake.

Mick also write a regular column for New Zealand Wilderness Magazine, used to design packs and tents, and has developed environmental games for children including the free Kiwi Ranger activities for children that are based at a number of conservation sites around the country. he co-edited the book 'Wild Heart: the possibility of wilderness in Aotearoa New Zealand' (2011 Otago University Press).