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PhD Research in the Department of Landscape University of Sheffield

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Helen Hoyle
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Summarises research showing over 75% people positive about introducing non-invasive non-native planting in UK public spaces
Helen Hoyle
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Helen Hoyle
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Urban populations experience the multiple health and well-being benefits of nature predominantly via urban green infrastructure. If this is to be designed and managed optimally for both nature and people, there is an urgent need for greater understanding of the complex relationships between human aesthetic experience, well-being and actual or perceived biodiversity. This integrative study assessed human aesthetic reaction, restorative effect and perceived biodiversity in relation to fine-grained categories of woodland, shrub and herbaceous planting. We surveyed 1411 members of the public who walked through planting of varying structure, species character and percentage flower cover whilst completing a site-based questionnaire. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were then carried out with 34 questionnaire participants. Correlations between perceived attractiveness and perceived biodiversity were identified for three out of four biodiversity indicators. There was a correlation between perceived attractiveness and restorative effect yet this was not strong. Colourful planting with flower cover above a critical threshold (27%) was associated with the highest level of aesthetic preference. Subtle green ‘background’ planting afforded a restorative effect. These results are discussed with reference to the Circumplex Model of Affect. Our findings indicate that people appreciate colourful flowering public planting for the ‘wow factor’, but that green planting outside the narrow flowering season of most species is greatly valued. Planting moderately or most natural in structure was perceived as significantly more restorative than that least natural in structure suggesting that people in the UK may be increasingly accepting of a messier ‘ecological aesthetic’ in urban planting.
Throughout Europe climate change has rendered many plant species used in contemporary urban planting design less fit for use in public greenspaces. A growing evidence base exists for the ecological value of introducing non-native species, yet urban policy and practice guidance continues to portray non-native species negatively, focusing on their assumed invasiveness. In this context there is a lack of research focusing on the cultural relevance of non-native species in the urban landscape. To address this gap we surveyed 1411 members of the UK public who walked through designed and semi-natural planting of three levels of visual nativeness: “strongly native”; “intermediate” and “strongly non-native”, whilst completing a site-based questionnaire. Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were then carried out with 34 questionnaire participants. A majority (57.6%) of our respondents would be happy to see more non-native planting in UK public spaces, rising to 75.3% if it were better adapted to a changing climate than existing vegetation. Respondents recognised the three broad levels of nativeness, yet this was not a factor driving perceptions of the attractiveness of the planting. In addition to climate change, we identified four key factors driving acceptance and rejection of non-native planting: aesthetics; locational context; historic factors and inevitability; and perceptions of invasiveness and incompatability with native wildlife. Our research indicates that in the context of a changing climate, focus should be placed on the potentially positive role of non-invasive, climate-adapted, aesthetically pleasing species within urban planting schemes as these could be well-received by the public.