All about dynamics

New course and this time with plants in the foreground: Dynamic Vegetation Design. Sounds really catchy, doesn’t it? But initially, the meaning behind remained a bit mysterious.

So to introduce us to the topic, we started off the second day with a workshop about landscape prototypes through concept sketching. And what can be a better place for this, than the landscape lab in Alnarp itself? The experimental forest, the cradle of all dynamics.

Not just the course name, the workshop was also really fluent and energetic, yet very much enjoyable. First, we were divided into groups, each group with a different focus (glades, edges, clumps, semi-open, water, roads, and entrances). Our team was the glade-observer and we were given the task to seek for prototypes of openings through the method of concept sketching. Here, you shouldn’t imagine artsy-fartsy creations, but strictly measured site plans and sections of our chosen places with more or less precise distance numbers. During strolling around, we found so many glades, that we actually saw everything as a glade after a while. So we needed to define what makes it a clearing. Size, natural or formal appearance, regularly or freely shaped edges, open sky above or a place with a covered canopy above can also be described as a glade. It was such a warm and sunny day so it was just pleasure to be outside for hours.

When the sky turned cloudy – good timing – we sat down inside together to refine and put together the material from the morning so that we can show a clear and simplified image to the others of our findings. It’s truly not the easiest thing to produce several hand drawn posters in a short amount of time if you are five in the group. However, my feeling was that it was a good proportion of preciseness and easy-goingness among us so I think we nailed it with a pretty nice result.

What was quite new to me but wasn’t easy to acquire for many of us was the way of thinking when working with vegetation. To get rid of thinking about solitary or individual species. Here, it is more about masses, volumes and areas instead of individuals or solitary trees.

But this was only the beginning! In the recent two days we have been introduced to another experimental site, the Brunnshög in Lund. The gist is just yet to come!

Hills and heath

Sunday morning I really had bumble bees to go somewhere. So I just opened my Skåne hiking book and searched for a round trip suggestion. It didn’t take us 5 minutes to decide and we were on our way not long after it. Drakamöllan, here we come!

From my hiking guide in Swedish I can’t figure out that much information (yet!) besides studying the pictures. So only when we got there, could realize how incredible place we chose to visit.

The Drakamöllan nature reserve contains one of the most valuable and rarest habitat types of Sweden! It has a sandy-soil terrain which is a perfect place to thrive for grassy pastures interspersed with unique sand steppe habitat.

It is not overreaction to say, I am a big fan of this steppe landscape dominated by heath and juniper. But did you know that they need maintenance to look like that? These vegetation types are remains of a cultural landscape which could have developed with cultivation and grazing activities on land. So to prevent it from being overgrown by other species it needs regular caring. If you see sooty spots on the fields, there is nothing went wrong! Apart from using it as a pasture land, they even burn it (!) and also harrow and plough the sandy parts to preserve the area’s values.

It was such a not everyday experience to walk around in the hilly heath landscape, the sight of the Baltic sea in the background was just an additional spice. I bet it’s gorgeous in late summer when all the fields are covered in lilac by the blossoming heather.

While coming home, and staring out of the window, I realized how much I admire the West Scanian landscape around. Sometimes I complain about the surrounding flat terrain and wish it was that hilly as on the eastern side. But then I got it, how special it is to look around and watch the scenery in 360 degrees. See the towers of the cathedral in Lund, Turning torso, the Öresund bridge and Copenhagen at the same time. And the hilly counterpart is just within an hour’s reach, I can always jump there for a visit. And now I already have a fixed appointment, in late summer! 😉

photo by David Zimmerling

Rain beds in Munka Ljungby

Next stop: Munka Ljungby. The bus parked down at a regular family housing area. We set off for a small round tour with the leadership of two employees from Ängelholm municipality (Ängelholm, the city with the ice-cream factory, remember?) to check their proudly announced “babies”, the rain beds in Munka Ljungby.

There, they’ve just carried out a new way for the town to tackle the negative effects of climate change and manage their stormwater: capturing the runoff water by using vegetated islands on the street. Or let say basins instead: they work in a way that with the help of their “open curbs” and lowered level, they collect the rain water that flows on the road. Therefore, they reduce the volume of an enormous amount of downpour, which usually has to be handled by the conventional sewage system. The plants absorb the water and try to store or degrade pollutants that the runoff brings with itself.

It has a much more pleasing appearance than a curb-side concrete channel, doesn’t it?

The question arises, what happens to these poor islands when there is no extreme cloudburst?

We don’t need to worry about the plants in case of no heavy rainfall. Even though, they can handle extreme wet conditions, they are able to exist in extreme dry periods as well. Due to a good drainage the combination of Miscanthus, Cornus and Acer collect the rainwater, but also lead it away relatively quickly (when less precipitation- no water stays there at all). So the clue is that the plants has to be rather for dry habitats then for wet – even though they are in a rain bed.

On the top, the professional leaders added that it’s also beneficial investment because they function as a traffic control in the residential area. The green islands stand as an obstacle to slow down the vehicles in the neighborhood.

Despite of being a bit skeptical at the beginning, they convinced me quite well that this rain bed infrastructure can work there – at least theoretically, on that dry day… However, one thing was a bit unexpected for me. After showing us only one rain bed (but with a great pride), we abruptly headed back to the bus to rush to the next destination. But wait, I would have like to see at least one more rain bed for comparison! What if they just chose their prettiest example to boast with?! 😉 It remains a mystery…

Anyways, a great initiation to adapt to climate change. But the big trial is still waiting to come – I wonder if they fulfil their purposes at the first extreme cloudburst! Maybe I need to make an update after it happened… but now, quickly, back to the bus!

Erosion spotting

Now, I am almost at the end of my current course, Landscape in Transition which started in the middle of January. As getting to the finish soon, besides acknowledging the gist of climate change and working on our final task we have finally reached the big bang of the course: the long-awaited excursion!

After all the dry classroom sessions we went outside to observe and discuss impacts and adaptations to climate change in South Swedish coastal rural and urban areas. We visited places and municipalities, which faced the impacts of climate change. Most of them were cities at the coast, such as Höganäs, famous for its pottery with special icing and Ängelholm (it has an ice cream factory!) that are both about an hour drive from Alnarp.

In total we did the incredible number of 10 stops. That meant mainly getting off the bus – 5 min walk – back to the bus – drive – out of the bus – 5 min walk & talk – back on the bus. Even though it was exhausting I enjoyed it a lot to actually see those things we had been learning about in class.

Unfortunately I can’t give an explanation of all the places we took a halt at but I want to show you one example, which shocked me: the eroding coast in Jonstorp.

Here the sea annually eats up at about 1 meter of land. Can you imagine that? They have an extreme erosion due to the devastating and frequent storm surges that climate change causes. This wouldn’t be a huge matter in itself if there weren’t anyone living near the coast. But in fact, in Jonstorp the houses were built quite close to the water so that the owners can take pleasure in the view. Now, with the increasing number of extreme storms each year, the sea is taking the properties away from bite to bite. Another result of the coastal erosion is that at some places the famous walking route, Skåneleden is cut in its continuity due to the shrinking land, as you can see in this picture as well. It obviously creates a difficulty for hikers. Okay, even though the hiking path is not necessarily the biggest problem, it also shows that erosion isn’t picky at all and is only taking the soil away but also the things which are built on it are disappearing.

Actually, it’s not surprising that many of the plots are for sale and the value of the apartments has immensely dropped. To me, a strange thing in the case is that the municipality does not take any responsibility for repairing or reinforcing the eroding coastline but the property owners are left alone to deal with it. However, usually this is not proved to be a right and correct solution… It’s hard to say what I would do if my home was threatened by such a situation and I need to be afraid when the next “attack” was coming to destroy my garden and my house… Frightening!

Luckily, after that five minutes we went back to the bus to check a positive example. In Munka Ljungby they made an attempt adapt to climate change by building rain beds. But that comes in the next blogpost…

By the way, do you know how close is the next coastline to you?

Fössta tossdan i mass

Pardon? Do you mean the first Thursday of March? Can I take the liberty to ask: are you accidentally from Småland?

It’s a returning statement but: Swedes are amazing. Especially their attitude to food and celebration. They have a feast to eat Cinnamon bun on the 4th of October as a greeting of the autumn. Obligatory “Semla” consumption on Shrove Tuesday before the fast begins. Or the Waffle day on the 25th of March, basically just because they like to eat it. These sounds a bit humorous for the first time, but are more or less understandable. Who wouldn’t like to have an official reason to eat a bit more pudding as usual?! But listen, I’ve just run across something crazy.

On the 2nd of March, at lunch break I saw a bunch of students gathering in a circle over a cake. I assumed obviously a birthday or something, nothing particular. But then a Swedish friend of mine pointed out, it’s far not a regular anniversary: people from the Swedish county, Småland celebrate the first Thursday of March by eating a marzipan cake.

You might ask yourself “why” and you don’t need to feel ashamed. I had exactly the same question. The answer could not be more obvious: the people from Småland miss saying the ”r” sound in their dialect which made the rest of Sweden pick on them. Instead of saying “första torsdagen i mars” these poor people perform a : ”fössta tossdan i mass” (too bad you can’ hear it right now).

This is actually funny but not worth a comment. But how they retorted is worth an applause: the folks of Småland didn’t let themselves be exposed to ridicule. Instead, they started eating marzipan cake on the first Thursday of March! How amazing is that?! Even in bakeries you can see colorful and rich-in-sugar-looking marzipan cakes, some even with a “fössta tossdan I mass” caption on it!

So, people. Stay to your fatherland and to your dialect and eat a cake!