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Celebrating Capability: Studies of Placemaker’s Work Prepare for Tricentenary

29 April 2016

Celebrating Capability: Studies of Placemaker’s Work Prepare for Tricentenary

RPS commissioned to conduct parks study ahead of Capability Brown celebrations.


Moccas Court. Copyright: Jonathan Billinger; and Highclere Castle. See end for full details.

In preparation for this year’s 300th anniversary of English landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s birth, RPS has been involved in a study assessing the effects of his work on local landscape character and biodiversity.

Appointed by Natural England and with access to some of Capability Brown’s most celebrated gardens and estates, RPS provided expertise on Ecology (Cambridge office), Landscape Architecture (Southampton office), Arboriculture (Milton Keynes office) and Archaeology (Oxford office) with the aim of exploring the hypothesis:

“Understanding the contribution of historic designed landscapes to landscape character, ecology, ecological connectivity and ecosystems services with examples of good practice management, based on a selection of Capability Brown landscapes”

Unarguably, one of the most significant English landscape architects or Placemakersi, Brown remains a popular household name – not least for the proliferation of his work, but also because so much of his influence still survives. Brown’s legacy is assured by his ability to approach a wide range of terrain and successfully create natural looking dramatic landscapes on an enormous scale with a significant and aesthetically pleasing result. This adaptability earned him great popularity, many commissions and a royal appointment. His description of sites as having ‘capability’ for improvement earned him his moniker.

The project involved collating and analysing existing available data to provide a comparative overview of the environmental contexts, attributes and management issues associated with 130 estates designed at varying levels by Capability Brown. RPS created an extensive GIS resource using bespoke tools to model and interrogate more than 50 different datasets including designations, habitat types and current condition of the sites. This was followed up with a more in-depth analysis of five selected sites that represented a variety of scales and environmental contexts. These were Highclere Castle, Berkshire; Syon Park, Middlesex; Croome Court, Worcestershire; Moccas Court, Herefordshire and Wrest Park, Bedfordshire.

Croome Court. Copyright: Philip Halling (left) and Copyright: Phillip Halling (right). See end for full details.

Following the burgeoning fashion, Britain’s wealthiest estate-owners were employing the most popular designers to deliver the artifice of a painstakingly constructed naturalistic landscape within their groundsii incorporating classical built structures such as they would have viewed during their Grand Tours. The style was in sharp contrast to the rigid symmetry of the earlier landscape styles.

In practice, Placemaking brought a measure of both disruption and conservation to the landscape and environment. Entire villages were sometimes demolished in order to achieve the perfect composition from the focal point of a client’s grand house, although Brown’s demolition of Croome Court’s (National Trust) neighbouring village was mitigated by his plan incorporating a facsimile rebuild of it at a more aesthetic location a few miles distant. At Croome again, several acres of marshland was drained but an intrinsic device of culverts and a hand-dug 1¾ mile serpentine riveriii – worked with the wet terrain whilst reclaiming important grazing land to be filled with hares and other small game animals besides herds of Holderness and Alderney cattle. The functionality of the eco-systems is benefitted by extensive pastures of buckwheat, Dutch clover and ryegrass, whose hardiness has survived the introduction of thousands of middle eastern and Asian shrubs and plants in the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries including banksia, andromeda and garden favourite: the rhododendroniv. More recent programmed replanting of native species at the site has also helped to maintain the balance well.

The serpentine river – a trade feature of much of Brown’s work – was also employed at the 200-acre Syon Park (Historic Houses Association) where many acres of arable farmland were ‘returned to nature’ and the river was complemented by a large artificial lakev. The 40-acre Tide Meadow – already a century old – was and still is retained, now as a valuable SSSI. The employment of grazing pasture has been a key contributor to the long-standing balance of ecosystems at Syon Park, extensive grassland provides a habitat for small invertebrates and food source for the bird and bat communities that thrive on the site.

Bath House folly at Wrest Park. Copyright: Paul Gillett; and Highclere Castle from the estate’s folly. Copyright: Andy Beecroft. See end for full details.

Brown was employing around 20 foremen to oversee his projects (including Syon Park) by 1758 and was also working on the delivery of a Chinese temple, a Mithraic altar and a ruined bath house at Wrest Park – all of which have survived. English Nature has just completed a 20-year restoration plan for the Garden Grade I listed park helped by a £1.14m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. At 90-acres, Wrest is noted as one of Britain’s largest ‘secret gardens, retaining over 300 years of garden design evolution and lush with species-rich neutral grassland and veteran beech, yew, oak and lime trees – home to skylarks, linnets, hawfinches, cuckoos, bullfinches and lapwings.

By the time Brown was starting to establish himself as an independent contractor many estates had already added follies, a number of which either remained untouched or were incorporated into Brown’s overall design. Around 1,000 acres at Highclere Castle were remodelled during the second half of the 18th Century when Brown’s commission there started in 1771 following on from Robert Herbert’s 1740s commissions including the Jackdaws Castle folly. Highclere is now a designated AONB site.

Many of the winding tracks that once led the visitor through a sequence of entrancing viewpoints at Moccas Court (English Nature) have not survived and Brown’s area of immediate influencevi is perhaps dwarfed by his client’s considerable expansion of the estate in the years after. Historians have, however, been able to trace a reasonable idea of Brown’s layout by following the lines of beech trees, planted around the estate in a pattern of heights to accentuate the undulations of the land. Careful maintenance of deadwood has helped ensure its status as a National Nature Reserve partly due to the insect biodiversity that depends upon the site’s ancient tree-planting, and its mature permanent pasture land is home to many traditional English species including sedge and bugle. Similarly, the central waterbody has a well-developed marsh flora of sedge, hairy willow-herb, golden saxifrage and water forget-me-not.

Whilst Brown’s influence has been attributed to over 150 sites throughout the course of his career, his level of involvement and resultant impact varies from site to site. Although his particular trademarks are the serpentine river and the ha-havii, the ‘Brownian’ movement as a whole further embraced a prevalence of strategically placed follies and considerable beech, lime and oak planting that were not unique to his style. From 1752 Humphry Repton (1752-1818) also continued the movement and was frequently employed by Brown’s former clients after Brown’s death in 1783.

Changing fashions have obliterated, retained or incorporated features of past designs as has suited the client, or the whim of later designers. This has presented its own challenges to varying degrees across the study sites. Such has been the continuing passion for Brown’s landscapes that his influence remains undimmed. A renewed interest in his work is helping to not only celebrate his influence but to further identify and preserve it where it survives. RPS’ study revealed the lasting influence of a valuable landscape resource and an undervalued but clearly positive biodiversity resource within the wider surroundings – contributing effectively to the sustained balance of various diverse and complex ecosystems. Furthermore the study has helped to identify and plan for best long-term environmental management of the sites.

Mithraic altar at Wrest Park. Copyright: Rob Farrow; and Grazing at Highclere Park. Copyright: Graham Horn. See end for full details.

The Capability Brown Festival:

The Capability Brown Festival is managed by the Landscape Institute and with funding from partners and supporters and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Festival is a year-long celebration of Brown’s extensive influence on this significant period of British design and aims to educate and inspire new generations of visitors to the many parks whose design heritage is closely associated with him.

For more details of events visit the Capability Brown Festival website (external link not affiliated with RPS):

Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown:

The fifth child of a Northumbrian yeoman farmer, Lancelot Brown was baptised in August 1716 and began working as a gardener at Kirkharle in 1732 (aged 16) for his father’s employer Sir William Loraine before moving to garden at Wotton in 1739. He came to Stowe in 1741 as an under-gardener where he studied the new landscape design or ‘Placemaking’ trend for neoclassicism under William Kent then head gardener at Stowe and a founder of the new English Landscape style. Brown then moved to commissions at Petworth and Croome which results enabled him to work independently from 1753 until his death in 1783.


i Landscape architecture was not a known term until well into the 19th C. Brown styled himself as a ‘Placemaker’ by trade.

ii Such scenes as Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) – the French painter most famous for the creation of the dramatic landscape – epitomised in his paintings – artfully combining the most dramatic features of (mostly European) landscapes to present an imagined ideal. This composition technique for constructing the dramatic landscape on canvas was later echoed in J.M.W. Turner’s work (1775-1851).

iii Commissioned to resemble a miniature of the River Severn.

iv Croome was renowned for its wide-variety of plant species by the late 1760s – boasting some 5000 listed plants from the East Indian Shrub Abroma to the Zygophyllan or Syrian Bean Caper – a greenhouse shrub.

v Brown’s work at Syon Park began in 1754 and his commissioned work there continued for 20 years. His client, the Duke of Northumberland was greatly impressed with the quality of Brown’s work and was a key supporter of Brown’s petition for royal gardener in 1758. He was appointed Royal Gardener to King George III in 1764.

vi Furthermore Brown is only definitively known to have produced the design plans for Moccas Court’s gardens – his client Sir George Cornewell appears to have been the main overseer of works.

vii A low sunken ditch ending in a barrier – usually a sub-ground level stone wall.

Image notes:

First block (from left): 4507501 Moccas Court© Copyright Jonathan Billinger and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Highclere-Castle-848297 Image: Pixabay. Reproduced under this Creative Commons Licence

Second block (from left): 042447 Croome Court © Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. 275659 Croome Court © Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Third block (from left): 3154059 Bath House, Wrest Park Folly designed as a picturesque ruin with a thatched roof © Copyright Paul Gillett and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. 4165329 Highclere Castle from the Estate's Folly The view is looking almost due north. © Copyright Andy Beecroft and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Fourth block (from left): 3964312 Wrest Park - Mithraic Altar © Copyright Rob Farrow and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. 360269 Grazing at Highclere Park © Copyright Graham Horn and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

RPS Acquires DBK Partners Ltd

26 April 2016

RPS Acquires DBK Partners Ltd

Property and construction consultants DBK Partners Ltd has been acquired by RPS Group PLC, an international, multidisciplinary UK quoted consultancy that employs more than 5,000 staff across 125 countries.

The agreement means that DBK becomes the first Project and Cost Management Consultancy to join the group in the UK. The DBK team will join RPS' BNE business and spearhead the growth of the new business stream in the UK as part of the RPS expansion strategy.

DBK currently employs over 120 people across four offices.

Tim Downing, Duncan Berry & Steve Kelly, Managing Directors of DBK said: “DBK has enjoyed an incredible decade of growth and employs an extremely talented and enthusiastic workforce."

We pride ourselves on our long established client relationships and also successfully attracting new clients from new sectors to our portfolio. We have identified a substantial pipeline of opportunity with RPS and we are in a great strategic position to continue to expand."

Trevor M Hoyle, CEO of Built & Natural Environment – Europe at RPS said: “One of our key strategic objectives is to extend our range of services and geographical cover by bringing high quality, specialist companies into the Group and supporting them to achieve further expansion.

DBK supports that objective and has demonstrated consistent growth over the years. It has great potential to progress to the next level as part of RPS and we are delighted that we can provide the support that will enable it to do so.”

RPS Appoints New BNE–Europe COO

21 April 2016

RPS Appoints New BNE–Europe COO

Image: Robert Jiang

RPS has appointed a new Chief Operating Officer to its Built & Natural Environment Europe (BNE–Europe) business. Jonathan Marsh joins from a successful 22-year career with Golder Associates, where he was European Chief Operating Officer for the last five years and a board member for its African Operations.

Jonathan has significant experience in managing pan-European operations, working across a wide range of cultures. He has a solid track-record of delivering performance improvement and has a strong background in corporate processes and systems including risk management, human resources, information technology and project management.

Jonathan will be working from RPS’ Newark, UK office.

RPS’ BNE–Europe encompasses the group’s planning, engineering and environmental services across the UK, Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands.

On Jonathan’s appointment Trevor M Hoyle, BNE–Europe CEO, commented:

“We welcome the strong operational experience that Jonathan brings. We are confident that he will contribute well to the next growth phase of our European businesses.”

Jonathan commented:

“I am delighted to join RPS. My experience in the consulting industry means I am well aware of the great brand and reputation RPS has with clients. I believe my previous operations experience will support in driving further growth of the business.”

RPS and SWIRE Shows Quality Preparedness for Spill Response

13 April 2016

RPS and SWIRE Shows Quality Preparedness for Spill Response

Detail of Beach pollution. Moldovan

RPS APASA is pleased to announce the continuation of its partnership with Swire Emergency Response Services (SERS) to deliver 24/7 modelling services to support response to marine oil and chemical spills.

The partnership offers the highest quality preparedness and response to unplanned spill incidents by combining RPS APASA’s expert trajectory and fate modelling and analysis with rapid mobilisation of key personnel and equipment by SERS.

RPS APASA’s 24/7 Response Modelling service provides critical situation awareness related to the future movement and direction of spills, where and when impact to shoreline is likely to occur and an optimal response strategy.

RPS APASA General Manager Murray Burling knows around the clock availability and rapid turn-around on forecasts and advice is critical to any response.

“Our partnership with SERS since 2014 means we can maintain our ‘one call activation’ that provides seamless engagement of the response team, including modellers, and direct delivery of critical information to those that need it without delay.”

To support this service, RPS APASA combines modelling software that has been proven over years of practical application to real emergency events, including OILMAP (for oil spills), CHEMMAP (chemical spills) and SARMAP (search and rescue or recovery), with the COASTMAP Environmental Data Server system that ensures multiple reliable metocean forecasts are always available for trajectory prediction.

RPS APASA services a wide range of emergency scenarios from spills of oil or chemicals onto the water surface through to complex subsea blowouts in deep water. All fate assessments consider the weathering and transformation based on the specific physical and chemical properties of the pollutant of concern, supported by a database of oil and chemical data properties. Outcomes are modelled using multiple sources of the best available metocean forecast data sets, with the degree of consensus providing important guidance on the safety factors that should be applied.

RPS APASA specialises in high-quality environmental modelling services to support offshore and coastal industries in Australia, South-East Asia and the South-Pacific region. For more than a decade, RPS APASA has been at the forefront of development and application of computer modelling and analysis tools for the assessment of impacts in marine and freshwater environments.

RPS APASA personnel are highly experienced with a blend of expertise in oceanography, environmental engineering, marine science and hydrodynamic modelling. In addition to providing desktop based studies for risk assessments and emergency response, RPS APASA also provides desktop or server based software solutions for oil and chemical spill modelling and metocean data delivery.

New Milestone for M4 Project Team

07 April 2016

New Milestone for M4 Project Team

The Costain Vinci Joint Venture, which has been contracted by the Welsh Government to progress the much awaited M4 Corridor around Newport, supported by RPS who are the lead environmental consultant, has successfully completed Key Stage 3 of the project with the publication of the draft Statutory Orders.

The project is the largest highway scheme to be commissioned by the Welsh Government since devolution in 1998 and involves the proposed construction of a new 23km section of three-lane motorway to the south of Newport, between Magor and Castleton.

The proposed new section of motorway will cross the northern part of the Gwent levels, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), pass over the Newport Docks and the southern boundaries of the Docks Way landfill site and the former Llanwern Steelworks site. In addition, an elevated section would cross the River Usk with a new 440m span cable-stayed bridge.

This month (March) staged publication of the draft Statutory Orders by the Welsh Government will commence and precede three weeks of public exhibitions at five locations from Magor (J23) to Castleton (J29) on the outskirts of Cardiff.

The publication of draft Statutory Orders includes the Environmental Statement, Statement to inform an Appropriate Assessment and other associated reporting with documents made available to the public exhibitions and on-line on the Welsh Government website The documents will also be available at five deposit points across the area.

The project has been on the drawing board since the early 1990’s and a Public Local Inquiry is anticipated in the autumn under an independent Inspector, prior to any decision by the Welsh Government whether the project moves to the construction phase.

Barry Woodman, Project Director for Costain Vinci said: “There has been a concerted effort by the integrated team to deliver the draft statutory orders and environmental statement within really tight time constraints. We now look forward to the exhibitions and providing the public and key stakeholders with as much information, support and general understanding of the project as we can.”

Martin Bates, Project Director for the Welsh Government said: “The process for procuring, designing and delivering a project of this size and complexity is extremely demanding and I am really pleased that we have achieved this significant milestone. There are a number of hurdles still to negotiate but the proposals are progressing in line with our challenging programme and I am extremely grateful to the team for the outstanding effort.”

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