Blog trees are my thing

Find out more about the development of Elephant Park and the Elephant and Castle regeneration. See what's changing in the local area.

Arts and culture
  • 29 November 2019
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  • Elephant Park
Ewan Oliver is Public Realm Development Manager for Elephant Park and a chartered landscape architect. He’s the person in charge of ensuring that trees remain a crucial part of the area’s green vision.

Ewan Oliver is Public Realm Development Manager for Elephant Park and a chartered landscape architect. He’s the person in charge of ensuring that trees remain a crucial part of the area’s green vision.

I’ve been in the landscape industry for more than 25 years – from having my own design and build landscape business for a decade, to working as a landscape officer at Newham Council in the run-up to the Olympics.

As one of the host boroughs for London 2012, it was important we enhanced our green spaces and, in some cases, ‘rescued’ parks that had great potential to improve people’s wellbeing, but had been a bit neglected. Much of this work included the large-scale, strategic planting (particularly large species) of trees to improve air quality, biodiversity and wellbeing for communities.

I was then lucky enough to work on the Olympic Park for a year, ahead of the main event. It was here that I really started to understand the value of teams from all areas working together on large-scale landscape projects – including the way that engineering and landscape professionals worked side by side. The success of the Queen Elizabeth Park as it’s now known is mainly because of it being a landscape-led project but it’s also down to the way in which landscape and engineering professionals worked closely to integrate hard infrastructure such as bridges, pipes and wires with the public realm.

A question I get asked a lot is, what is the ‘public realm’? Essentially, it is the space between buildings that stitches together the whole development – spaces such as the Park, the interconnecting streets, squares and other smaller public places.

A large number of the people who use these spaces won’t even live in Elephant Park; they will be passing through on their daily commute, visiting friends and family, working or delivering something.

When I joined the Elephant Park project, it became clear that a good quality public realm adds value socially, environmentally and commercially.

During my three and a half years at Elephant Park, when I’ve made the argument for ‘more trees’ or ‘another rain garden’, the answer from the business has never been ‘no’.

As Public Realm Development Manager, my role is to turn the Elephant Park Masterplan into reality on the ground, and trees play a huge part in this.

As well as overseeing the retention of mature trees on site, and planting and maintaining new trees, I also oversee our ambitious off-site tree programme to plant hundreds of semi-mature trees in the surrounding streets of Southwark.

With the help of development partner Southwark Council we are working with our landscape contractors and nurseries to plant more than 900 trees in parks, streets and housing estates to offset the trees removed during building work (more about this in a future blog).

We’ve learned a lot along the way, but we’re still gleaning a great deal from everyone we work with, including the people who live and work in the area, industry experts and the council.

Our biggest challenge recently has been dealing with the effects of exceptionally hot weather and the issues of trying to keep newly planted trees and plants alive. This is no doubt a taste of the increased climate challenges that our cities will face in the future. However, rest assured, the widespread greening of urban areas including planting a greater number of trees is a big part of the solution.

I consider the newly planted trees of Elephant Park as my ‘children’, and I’m very much looking forward to coming back to the Elephant in future years to see how they are contributing to the urban environment and, in turn, the lives of everyone who lives or works nearby.