Kent People: Landscape and Sustainability teams

By Alice Allwright

Ahead of National Gardening Week 2021 (26 April-2 May 2021) we talk to Chris Wright, the University’s Landscape and Grounds Supervisor, and Emily Mason, Sustainability Coordinator.

 

Tell us about your roles and a typical day?  

Chris: I coordinate maintenance of the University’s natural spaces – everything from grass-cutting, bed and shrub maintenance, to woodland and pond management and looking after memorial trees and benches. I also oversee management of our sports facilities, working with staff and students on projects that use our green spaces.

A typical day starts with briefing my ten-person team on what needs doing across our 300-acre Canterbury campus. My responsibilities include overseeing planning for future works and developing our new Landscape and Biodiversity Strategy. We work alongside the sustainability team to ensure our management plans align with biodiversity enhancement and support natural space for wildlife as well as people.

Emily: I support sustainability projects across our campuses and provide expertise on specific sustainability topics like biodiversity management and behaviour change solutions. One of my projects is the Kent Community Oasis Garden, which I oversee in partnership with East Kent Mind.

Because my role is so varied, I don’t have a typical day, but I often work with our Sustainability Champions, who embed sustainability into their work. Both Chris and I recognise how lucky Kent is to have beautiful campuses for staff and students to enjoy.

Who else is involved in looking after our green campus?

There are many volunteers and sub-contractors who help look after our campus.

Subcontractors support our woodland management by carrying out coppicing rotations on our behalf. Students and staff help with litter picking, biodiversity monitoring, supporting our Hedgehog Friendly Campus project and using the green spaces for educational purposes. Student societies provide feedback and ideas of how we can improve the site alongside the Staff Sustainability Champions network.

We also work with Grounds teams from other universities sharing best practice on sustainable management techniques.

What can you tell us about the Kent Community Oasis Garden (KentCOG)?

KentCOG is a partnership community garden run by East Kent Mind and the University. It recognises the important role outdoor spaces play in supporting good mental health. KentCOG provides a space for students, staff and the community to learn about growing sustainable food in a calming outdoors environment. It runs practical and digital workshops on ecotherapy, dealing with low mood and anxiety.

The partnership ensures continuity throughout the year with community members keeping the garden going when students aren’t on site.

How has the pandemic affected your work?

All Landscape and Grounds staff were stood down during the first lockdown to reduce numbers on campus. This coincided with the start of the growing season, so when we returned we prioritised restoration of central areas.

During lockdown 2, we were partially furloughed again, meaning our usual winter management didn’t happen, but we’ve planned our Winter 2021 programme to catch up by the end of year. Our contractors were able to continue coppicing, so our woodland and tree management plans are still on track.

It’s been hard, but the team have coped very well. We hope people have come to value outdoor spaces even more during the pandemic and will enjoy the campuses’ beautiful landscape when they return.

KentCOG has been closed for most of the pandemic. However, volunteers are now working to restore the site, so we can reopen for events this summer and, hopefully, permanently in September. We have run digital sessions in lieu of practical gardening and will be shortly launching a series of wellbeing workshops for students during the exam term.

As more of us start returning to campus, what can we expect to see?

We’re keen to emphasise the use of outdoor spaces as safe places for staff and students.

We’re collaborating with Kent Sport in restoring the nature trail at Canterbury, which they’ve publicised alongside their marked-out running routes. We’ve also recently installed a new walking trail from the Canterbury campus to the KentCOG following the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and are developing walking tours led by staff from Landscape and Grounds and the Sustainability Team.

Areas on campus have been marked to be developed as wildflower meadows over the next year. We’ve also commissioned the building of new hibernaculas, providing shelter for important pollinators and other insects. We’ve planted bulbs across 1,000 sq m so people can enjoy seeing new plants popping up over the seasons. Alliums are due next!

We are also hoping to work with the University of Greenwich to enhance green spaces at Medway and create a walking route linking both ends of the campus

How can staff help look after our campus green spaces and the KentCOG?

Staff are invited to complete our consultation on the Landscape and Biodiversity of our campuses – we’re keen to have lots of ideas for our new Landscape and Biodiversity strategy.

Volunteers are welcome at our open sessions at KentCOG. We’ll let you know as soon as we re-open – in the meantime, you can join our mailing list by emailing kentcog@kent.ac.uk.

You can also find out more about what we do and get in touch via our social media accounts:

Sustainability Instagram/Twitter

Landscape and Grounds Instagram/Twitter

This is a repurposed version of a blog post and may differ from the original. View the original blog post.

Meet John, the Energy Manager at the University of Kent

My name is John Kingsland and I work within the Estates Department in the Energy Manager role. This means that I have responsibility for managing energy and water use at the Canterbury and Medway sites with an overall aim of reducing the associated carbon dioxide emissions arising from their use.

To achieve this I look at everything from how and where from we purchase our utilities to making sure that our buildings and fittings use energy as efficiently as possible. I also work closely with my colleagues on the Sustainability team on promoting energy efficiency and educating people about the impacts of climate change. In the 5 years I have been in this role, I have noticed a huge shift in people’s attitudes towards climate change. More and more people are realising that reducing our emissions is everybody’s responsibility and not just one we can leave for others to sort out.

With two large and complex campuses and a mix of buildings from residential to commercial and laboratories, calculating our overall energy consumption and carbon footprint is an extremely laborious task. Luckily as an engineer, I’m a dab hand with a spreadsheet and enjoy the numbers side of my role!

Last year we achieved our long-term 10-year Carbon emission reduction target a year early. In 2010, we published a target to reduce our emission by 23% over the next decade. By August 2019 we had achieved a reduction in excess of 29% which is a fantastic achievement given the expansion of the campus over that period.

We are now looking towards the future, setting a new emissions reduction target and developing a new Carbon Management Plan for the University. This has been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic but we hope to be able to announce our new commitments very soon.

Work on carbon reduction in the future is likely to involve looking much more at renewable energy sources. Currently the University has six roof top mounted solar photovoltaic arrays, which have a combined peak output of 175kW. The amount of electricity produced exceeded 1% of the University’s electricity consumption for the first time this year. This might not sound like much, but the energy produced each year would be enough to power 50 UK households.

Looking at the medium to long-term, we are investigating the feasibility of wind turbines and a large photovoltaic array on the Canterbury site.

Although when they think about energy saving most people picture solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles, most of the work I do to reducing energy is not visible. Currently, works are being undertaken to improve the energy efficiency of the Central Boiler House. The works in the boiler house are linked to future works on the District Heating System (which provides heating to many of the buildings on campus from a central boiler house) with the overall aim of being able to reduce the flow temperature in the system reducing heat losses. This may also create the option to use alternative and more sustainable sources of heat for the district heating system longer term.

One of the main challenges we face as a University in reducing our carbon footprint is the age of our estate. A large proportion of our building date back to the 1960’s and 70’s and were not exactly designed with energy efficiency in mind. We also have buildings that are listed or sit within conservation areas that have their own restrictions on what we can do. Many of these buildings present very unique challenges, which must be considered individually and bespoke energy saving measures applied.

When we are considering energy saving projects we always look at the payback period. This is how long it will take to recoup the initial costs of the project through subsequent energy savings. Some measures such as installing low energy lightbulbs have a very short payback period (typically less than 1 year) whereas bigger projects with a larger initial outlay such as renewable energy installation, have much longer payback periods often measured in decades rather than years. In order to finance these large-scale projects I am looking at the potential for external funding and possible partnership working to develop projects.