Landmark has for many years created interpretive materials such as environmental interpretation boards to guide visitors around sites such as nature reserves, public amenity areas, cultural heritage features, nuclear power stations, and National Park centres, to name just a few. The purpose of our work is, on behalf of our clients, to increase the enjoyment of visitors to the site and to enable everyone to have a positive experience of its environmental and cultural interest.
One of the ways of achieving this is to use interpretative panels that tell the story of the site and the point to the things that make it most interesting. Good quality and well-sited panels can be extremely effective at doing this. Badly produced and wrongly sited panels are, at best, counterproductive and at worst, a waste of money.
The skill required to create ‘good’ interpretation is often underestimated. It involves firstly, an aptitude to translate technical or scientific language into terms and ideas that people who aren’t professional specialists can readily understand. Secondly, the information provided must be entertaining and interesting to these people. Thirdly, it is important to understand who will be visiting the site so that the interpretation is relevant to them.
The need for, and benefits of, environmental interpretation is not limited to special or designated sites however. Landmark’s ecology and graphics teams have recently worked with David Wilson Homes to create public information boards at its Marnel Park housing development near Basingstoke.
Marnel Park lies adjacent to Popley Ponds Site of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) which is an important breeding site for great crested newt. The housing scheme was carefully designed to safeguard the great crested newt population from construction works, and one of the requirements of the planning permission was to ensure that neither the newts nor their habitat are inadvertently harmed by people living in the new houses.
Planning permission therefore required installation of signage to actively direct pedestrians to use Public Rights of Way, to be alert when working gardens and allotments, and to encourage understanding of, and respect for, the adjacent woodland which is a designated Site of Nature Conservation Importance.
Our approach to providing this information was different to that required for a ‘visitor site’. The people who will read the boards are the local residents who have invested their future at the site. It was important that the information boards were attractive and useful rather than simply giving instructions or directions. The information also had to be accessible at a glance, and worthy of a second visit to reinforce resident’s understanding of and interest in the natural environment around their new home.
We therefore used an imaginative combination of text and visuals, including clearly labelled photographs of great crested newts to aid identification, annotated plans to locate sensitive areas, and a simple checklist of tips to safeguard wildlife. The work has been welcomed by the local planning authority ecologists and we look forward to feedback from local residents.