Article by Roger Harrabin – worth a read

UK going in ‘wrong direction’ on flooding, experts say

Roger HarrabinBy Roger HarrabinEnvironment analyst

A police van parked behind temporary flood defences at a river bankThe UK needs to spend an extra £500m on flood prevention, experts said

The government has been criticised by its own advisers for failing to prevent developments that contribute to flooding.

The Committee on Climate Change told BBC News that just as scientists are predicting more extreme weather, buildings are still being allowed on flood plains, gardens are still being paved over and urban green space is being lost.

The committee said an extra £500m was needed to stop flooding getting even worse.

The government said a record amount was already being spent on flood defences.

Members of the committee, the government’s official advisory body, have been exasperated by the row over dredging in the Somerset Levels.

‘Wrong direction’

They say the floods debate is far too narrow, and insist the whole water system in the UK needs to be re-engineered to catch water on the uplands and prevent flooding downstream.

The committee’s specialist on adapting to climate change, Daniel Johns, said: “Flood damages are expected to increase across the UK. Scientists are becoming bolder in attributing recent weather events and flooding to the level of global warming already observed.

“But measures of our exposure to flooding are going in the wrong direction.

Prince Charles gets out of a boat on a flooded roadPrince Charles visited flood-affected areas of Somerset on Tuesday

“Development appears to be continuing in areas of significant flood risk despite planning controls. Urban green space is being lost and gardens are being paved over. Permeable paving options are available but their take-up appears very low.

“Every millimetre of rain deposits a litre of water on a square metre of land. A day of even modest rainfall can deposit several million litres of water on a town or city.”

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

We are trying an approach that will be cheaper and more effective”

Steve WilsonWelsh Water

He called for the widespread adoption of so-called Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS), which capture water and slow the rate that it enters the drains.

If the £500m needed for flood risk management was not spent, increasing numbers of homes would be at “significant flood risk”, Mr Johns said.

“As a result, we can expect avoidable flooding to take place in future years, causing as much as perhaps £3bn in damages,” he said.

He said the £500m was needed over a four-year period.

Think differently

His comments were backed by Andrew Miller, chair of the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

Mr Miller said the government should reforest hillsides where soil had been compacted by sheep, and use “soft engineering” to capture rainfall in upstream areas.

“We have got to think differently about the way we do things,” he told BBC News.

“Clearly it makes sense for us to do engineering work upstream if we can slow down the flow of water much more cheaply and effectively than by taking measures downstream. These issues are even more important given the prospect of climate change.”

Pumps spray water into a riverMillions of tonnes of water have been pumped off flooded land in Somerset

Mr Miller said it was time to re-focus the debate on flooding towards prevention rather than cure.

What is believed to be the UK’s biggest preventive scheme is underway in Llanelli.

Welsh Water, a not-for-profit company, introduced it because the town’s sewerage system repeatedly flooded homes and polluted the River Lliedi.

It involves digging up stretches of tarmac and paving to create catchment pits for storm water, diverting water into the pits from gutters and finally putting grass and plants on top of the pits.

Other ways

The water is held in the soil and slowly seeps away or evaporates. The ideas have been praised by the water regulator Ofwat.

Steve Wilson, a director of Welsh Water, told BBC News: “Llanelli suffers quite a lot of flooding. Traditionally we would build bigger pipes or tanks to catch the water but we’re reaching the capacity of them too soon.

“So we are trying an approach that will be cheaper and more effective. We are taking water off the roofs and the streets, then instead of putting it down the highway drains we’re finding other ways of putting it back into the environment and being slowed down.”

He said some of the early parts of the scheme were catching more water than envisaged. He said the total project would take 22,500 cubic metres of water every year out of sewers, removing the risk of flooding from 57 properties.

Two men stand in a large ditch next to a school playgroundA “swale” is designed to collect water and reduce flooding elsewhere

Another local innovation is an ingeniously designed playground at the nearby Stebonheath Junior School, which includes a grassy hollow for trapping flood water – known as a swale.

Dylan Davies and Caitlin Thomas, both 11, said pupils had also helped design a rain-catching garden with a pond.

“The playground used to be all flooded. It’s much better now,” they said.

“When it rains, it runs off the roof and the playground into the swale which absorbs the water and pushes it gently into the drains. It doesn’t flood any more.”

Two children sitting on rocks next to a pond next to a school playgroundOne school has created a “rain-catching pond” to ease flooding problems

Recent changes in planning law oblige all new developments to catch water from their own site and prevent it adding to floods, although the full implementation of the law has been delayed by what critics claim is disarray in government.

Other experimental schemes are attempting to hold water on upland sites by cramming gorse into streams from peat bogs, blocking young rivers with fallen trees and creating low-level earth dams to contain water so it soaks into the soil.

It will be a challenge to devise policies that incentivise farmers to re-forest upland areas to catch water and stop soil running off into streams.Some think farmers should be obliged to change the way they farmin order to obtain their grants from taxpayers.

Tackling the legacy of decades of flood-inducing buildings in towns and cities will be even more costly and challenging. Water engineers hope major supermarkets will demonstrate their claims over social responsibility by breaking up their car parks and installing porous surfaces to catch run-off.

Scheme like this were recommended in the Pitt report into the 2007 floods. They will come under renewed scrutiny as the government studies the lessons to be learned from this year’s deluge.

Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedInShare on Twitter


Helping others is enlightening

As a child I gained a great deal of enjoyment from scouting.  The opportunity to learn and explore the outdoors with emphasis on developing yourself as an individual and as a team player.  These memories were important when towards the end of 2008 I choose to volunteer one evening to make a difference.  Since then I have become a scout leader, undertaken training and provided scouts with opportunities to go scuba diving, hill walking, climbing mountains, camping and becoming individuals who have tested themselves and seen that they can do it.

Scouting provides a great opportunity for me to experience the outdoors and being outside whether just walking or camping  helps you look at nature and learn from it.  Understanding the environment and observing where plants grow, how certain plants look together and equally how landscapes have been changed by mans intervention.  I tell scouts under my instruction to talk less and listen more.  Why? Because they will learn more, but secondly it makes them use their eyes and question internally problems before jumping to an ill conceived conclusion.  Designing garden requires problem solving, looking for ways to interpret the site and full fill the clients brief to that site.  Having designed gardens for many years I have learnt their are always many responses that would work. That the first idea is not always the best and that in order to provide a scheme that works well listening to the client is the number one rule.

Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedInShare on Twitter


Lack of contractors – what to look for when finding a contractor

With the recession came with it the decline in the landscape domestic market.  This downturn resulted in many landscape construction companies ceasing to trade.  There are many reasons why such companies pulled out of the market but most found their profit margins they made were being eroded by clients who understandably drove the price down to get the best deal they could.  Landscapers generally make small profits as a percentage of the contract and unlike builders are at greater risk of poor weather.

The market is improving and with clients feeling more confident the sector will again start to pick up.  The concern is where will all the work go.  As mentioned many contractors are no longer trading and those that have survived are generally feed contracts by designers who have kept them supplied with work throughout the recession.

So as a client looking for a contractor what can you do:

  1. Ideally use a designer who can suggest three contractors to price your scheme providing accurate plans and a specification to ensure you get like for like costs. It would be positive if you could give me a call but other sources for a good designer are looking at members of the Society of Garden Designers, SGD.
  2. Use contractors who are members of the Association of Professional Landscapers, APL or British Association of Landscape Industries, BALI.  You will pay more for these contractors but they have been vetted and provide financial securities to ensure your project is safe.
  3. Look out for contractors in the working in the area, have a look at the work.  This is alright providing you can see through the mud and general site upheaval during this phase of work and that you know what is and is not good building/working practice.
  4. Speak to your local builders merchant/ garden centre.

Clients need to see past work if they are uncertain but remember you will always see their best work and most satisfied client.  Ask to see the current project to and if possible speak to the client as well.

A good contractor is worth their weight in gold and when discussing costs remember that the contractor needs sufficient capital to build your garden and make a profit in order to both survive and invest in new equipment and staff training.  A good guide is 50% of your contract will be the labour element.  Ask how long the contractor intends to be on site and with how many men and do the maths.  Allow wet weather delays etc and you will find most charge a fair price.  Remember  when you are considering the work, it is better to spend a bit more and get the job built correctly than spend it twice having to repair poor workmanship.








Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedInShare on Twitter


Once again flooding hits the News

Having mentioned this in various posts I am amazed at the number of drives that seem to be built that seem to have scant regard to the current planning requirements.  Indeed it would be interesting to say the least to see if ay applications have been submitted for drives.  The current guidelines shown below come directly from the Bromsgrove District web site   Most drives I see being built fail to address surface water and the token Aco drain fails to appreciate the volume of water that comes of a drive.  The average drive will be easily 40-80 sq m and with just 10mm of rain will produce 200-400 litres of surface water.  An Aco drain not connected to a suitable soak away or attenuation storage system will quickly fill and start to discharge the water directly into the nearby gully system and overload the capacity of the drains resulting in flooding.  Swales and wet land beds are other systems that help ensure the water is directed to non hard surfaces and encourages a gradual release of the water into the surrounding land.

The link below provides further information from Marshall paving proving solutions including the use or permeable concrete blocks to allow water to drain into a grit and open sub base medium.


Before embarking upon a drive it is worth considering if you need to incorporate such systems before undertaking the work.


‘Paving Your Front Garden

Planning permission

From 1 October 2008 new rules apply for householders wanting to pave over their front gardens.

You will NOT need planning permission if a new driveway uses permeable (or porous) surfacing which allows water to drain through, such as gravel, permeable concrete block paving or porous asphalt, or if the rainwater is directed to a lawn or border to drain naturally.

If the surface to be covered is more than five square metres planning permission will be needed for laying traditional, impermeable driveways that do not control rainwater running off onto roads.

How Permeable Surfaces Work

Loose Gravel

This is the simplest type of construction. The driveway sub-base is covered by a surface layer of gravel or shingle.

Gravel with different shapes and colours is available to make the surface more decorative.

A strip of block paving or asphalt at the entrance can limit the loss and spread of gravel from the drive.

Hard Permeable and Porous Surfaces

Hard surfacing which allows water to soak into it can be built with porous asphalt, porous concrete blocks, concrete or clay block permeable paving.

The material has open voids across the surface of the material or around the edges of blocks that allow water to soak through

To work effectively permeable surfaces should be laid over a sub-base which differs from traditional hardcore which has a lot of fine material in it (sand and silt) that stops water passing through it easily.

For permeable and porous driveways different sub-base materials are required that allow water to pass through and also store the water for a while if it cannot soak into the ground as fast as the rain falls.

Various materials are available and two examples are known as 4/20 and Type 3 sub-base.

Materials for permeable sub-base are described as open graded and consist only of larger pieces of stone that have spaces between to store water.’



Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedInShare on Twitter


Phytophthora ramorum

This is a plant disease that has resulted in mass tree clearance to the mature trees within my locality.  There are some signage up but the likelihood of complete compliance to safety measures means this will spread an infect more trees as a result.

The Origin of Phytophora ramorum is impossible to ascertain.  Initially it was linked to the USA However, contrary to some views, research has shown that it did not arrive here from the USA. The evidence suggests that P. ramorum is native to another part of the world, possibly Asia. Other European countries (Germany and The Netherlands) are now known to have had findings of the pathogen (as a then unknown Phytophthora) on shrubs dating back to 1993, but these are also likely to have been introduced.

Few trees in the UK were affected until 2009, when P. ramorum was found infecting and killing large numbers of Japanese larch trees in South West England. Then in 2010 it was found on Japanese larches in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and 2011 it was confirmed at locations in western Scotland.

On trees, symptoms include lesions – sometimes known as bleeding cankers – that exude fluid from infected bark, visible as a black exudate that can dry to a crust on the trunk. The inner bark under this bleeding area is usually discoloured and dying. Trees die when the lesions become extensive on the main trunk. Infection by P. ramorum on Japanese larch can take two forms. Phytophthora RamorumShoots and foliage can be affected, visible as wilted, withered shoot tips with blackened needles. The infected shoots shed their needles prematurely. Trees with branch dieback can have numerous resinous cankers on the branches and upper trunk. On other plants, it infects the leaves and shoots of ornamental shrubs such as rhododendron, viburnum, pieris and camellia. Although it does not usually kill these plants, infected leaves of some of these ‘foliar hosts’ can generate many spores, and in sufficient numbers these spores can then infect the bark of certain tree species. Typical symptoms on rhododendron include leaf-blackening, wilted shoots and die-back. On individual leaves, blackening of the leaf stalk usually extends into the leaf along the mid-vein, although blackening at the leaf tip can also occur. The progress of the disease can be so rapid that shoots wilt and the leaves hang down.

If you see trees that are displaying such symptoms it would be worth contacting the Forestry Commission providing them details of where you have seen the outbreak.  The West Midlands falls within the Zone 2 area which indicates medium risk but I anticipate this will increase as more people become aware of the disease.  If you need to contact the Forestry commission you should email them on email:

Attached video shows how to identify Phytophera ramorum on Larch trees



Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedInShare on Twitter


Modern garden designed to provide entertaining areas for client. Design responds to sites levels with steps and tiered lawns to make a modern functional space.

Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedInShare on Twitter


Stonemarket Paving Haus

Have recently been looking at using some paving for a modern garden project and thought I would look through the Stonemarket range.  This is a range of slabs I have used in the past with their Millstone concrete slabs that re create a riven flag well and their Avant -garde range which is a sawn natural stone ideal for modern projects.  In this case I was seeking a darker slab and have elected to use the Stonemarket haus range.  This is a re consituted slab which comes in a smooth or riven finish.  As I have designed a more modern look the smooth is more appropriate and as their are steps required the design incorporates the bull nosed steps.  Stonemarket slabs are not cheap but they are a slab that offers a great finish and good client/ contractor service.

Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedInShare on Twitter


Site supervision

One of the services I offer is to monitor the progress of the site during the construction works.  This service is shown as a stand alone cost for the client to decide if they wish to use this service.  Why do I show it as a stand alone cost?  The answer is simple.  It means I am there to represent the clients best interest not the contractor.  Some designers employ contractors who load their quotation with a hidden fee (back hander for the designer), I don’t.  This is a practice that should not be followed, but it is always worth asking your designer if there is such an agreement with any of the contractors nominated by the designer.  As a member of the Society of Garden Designers I follow a strict code of conduit which prohibits such activities.  I would rather show the client the cost and be honest, upfront and transparent.

By showing my figures up front I do risk clients not utilising this service.  By employing the designer as a monitor they obtain my services enabling the contractor to call me throughout the contract, discuss and respond to their questions and those of the client quickly and if needed visit the site to clarify and advise on site any issues.  This saves down time for the contractor and ensures that the right response to the situation is taken rather than the easiest for the contractor, who may not realise the implications of moving a path or changing the level of paving.  Knowledge of best practice is vital and I often visit sites where old and incorrect methods of laying slabs are still be used.  This is often not seen as a problem by th client until a few years later when the terrace fails and slabs start to rock and move.  By that time the contractor is long gone and the client faced with a project that needs repeating.

Using my service provides the client with over 25 years worth of construction knowledge gained within a design and build landscape practice in suffolk, Norfolk and the West Midlands.  This knowledge of construction is often missing from some designers who have the impression that if it is drawn as a plan view it can be built.  Not so. I have many times whilst working on others plans found major constructional flaws.

Generally I charge £100 per visit which includes my travelling allowing an hour on site.  With a project I will generally aim to visit once a week to review progress and inspect work and materials ensuring that the work is being undertaken in accordance with the specification.  The relevance is important for if you have obtained detail costs from three contractors and the contractor you commission does not adhere to the specification you are not getting value for money and the other two contractors will not have been costing on a like for like basis.

As a professional I can only advise my clients but in submitting this blog I hope they can see the value in paying for this as a way of ensuring they get the garden they deserve.


Seen sites hat have been carried out without such supervision I am often presented with a project that has been completed but some element have been skipped upon.

Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedInShare on Twitter


Review from Taqi, Moseley

Another review  posted on site for my design work and project management.  This was for a scheme that needed to be turned around very quickly and required liaising with sub contractors to complete elements in order to comply with the tight deadline.  This was achieved though we still have some plants to source that are just not available due to seasonality.  Very positive to have 4th review with a full compliment of stars.

Rated 5 stars out of 5

A detail design and sketch with plants positions and smooth process throughout the design. very satisfied with the design & Recommendation. which Mark provided, worth the investment. I would recommend Mark design services to anyone. but a word of advise; you should ensure plants are on site before contractors implementation & any other designs such as lights etc. are sourced & planned a head of time. I faced the problem above due to time constrain . but very satisfied with what being promised by Mark. thumbs up. five out of five.

Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedInShare on Twitter


Review from RVC, Solihull

Another fantastic review just posted on site for my design work and project management

Rated 5 stars out of 5

“A boring, uninspiring garden was transformed into an unusual and creative space with lots of interesting features and imaginative planting. Excellent workmanship from the subcontracted landscapers, with responsive and professional oversight throughout. Highly recommended.”

Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedInShare on Twitter