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Wildflowers.ie

  Handing on
our Heritage

Problems and opportunities - Landscape

 

Protected landscapes, beauty spots and sites of cultural significance (views in and out) including IUCN Category V (National Parks) and World Heritage Sites are areas where perhaps most care should be exercised in the planning of new schemes but not exclusively. Care needs to be exercised along the boundaries of such areas depending on their robustness; strict avoidance or breaching a boundary line could result in a greater landscape impact than an alignment within it. Much depends on landscape character, scale and grain in relation to the direction of the route, for example avoid creating nicks by earthwork cuttings and vegetation clearance on the skyline of an escarpment, avoid the need for great embankments on the valley floor or cuttings creating scars on bluffs of hillsides, avoid alignments along the immediate foreshore in lakeside locations (Cooper 2000).

 

The landscape assessment as part of the EIA requires an understanding of the character and the dynamics of the wider area through which a route passes including the way that the landscape is likely to respond in the longer term – for example loss of hedgerows in the adjacent area through land exchange, or pressures for built development associated with improved access. Early anticipation can assist in safeguarding significant features of landscape, historical and cultural value. Where possible the environmental assessment should enable the selection of an alignment which can flow with the landscape.

 

At a further level of detail, and to improve integration into the wider landscape is the design of structures. These should respond to the local landscape character and small adaptations may be able to provide facilities for wildlife crossings (Highways Agency (1996). Other structures such as noise barriers associated with certain roads and railways require integration and can double up as visual barriers (false embankments).

 

Roads

 

Roads can cause significant changes in the landscape with consequential implications to diversity. The assessment of roads in the landscape needs to be considered both from the road and of the road. The former relates the road user experience and influences driver safety for example induced drowsiness from a long straight alignment. The view of the road can dramatically alter the landscape with respect to the road itself and day and night time movement from vehicles. Lighting can be particularly disruptive in a remote landscape on account of the night-time "glow" and regular occurrence of lighting columns. Upgraded roads are vulnerable to future built development on account of improved access.

 

Planting of the road embankments and off site areas can provide screening for both the engineered structure and traffic movement but should be related to the landscape character. Close liaison with the ecologist should assist with the appropriate habitat enhancement/creation, for example species rich grassland, planting associated with animal crossing points as well as the longer term management of the soft estate.

 

Railways

 

Compared with roads, the more restrictive vertical and horizontal alignment required for the railway track reduce its flexibility to easily integrate with the landscape. In addition crossing structures may need to be substantial, and clearance zones, including cuttings are required to ensure safety from avalanches, falling rocks and trees. Safety requirements can reduce the potential screening benefit of planting on such embankments. Integration is simpler when the line is able to follow the landscape grain e.g. round the side of a hill.

 

There is a need to distinguish between long established parts of the network and those subject to recent upgrading or construction. With the benefit of time some sections may have integrated into the landscape but in other cases there is still discord between the alignment and the present day landscape character.

 

Legislation relating to land take associated with construction differs on a national basis. In some states compulsory purchase of land is restricted to that required directly for rail building with proposals for wider scale remedial planting being the responsibly of the municipality and the agreement of landowners therefore is less certain (Bakker 1997).

 

Waterways

 

The artificial structures associated with canals cut across the landscape with little relation to the natural scale (depending on the size of the channel). In lowland areas relatively small increases in height of an embankment are obvious over a wide area, and can form a regular skyline dam-type feature across the landscape.

In contrast, the natural origins of navigable rivers mean they are most closely linked with the landscape character. However, the visual effects of canalisation, dams, bank works and regularity of the flow for both navigation and flood prevention purposes should not be underestimated, for example the loss of seasonal changes associated with freezing, flooding, and low flow; irregular channels are associated with braiding, islands, and marsh land (Travers Morgan, 1987). Such regulation directly erodes the landscape diversity of river valleys. This is particularly important to understand on account of the relatively few remaining natural rivers.

 

Large bridges are often associated with navigations. These provide an opportunity for spectacular structures, which can unify a landscape or create an eye sore! As with roads and railways, bridges need to be appropriate to the landscape character and attention to detail is all important (Highways Agency 1996).  

 
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