Skills for Greener Places: Climate change adaptation hindered by landscape skills shortage

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Logo: Landscape Institute
The public enjoying the sunshine in a park in London
Hanover Square Gardens, London © WSP

How we use our land is at the centre of many current global issues: food security, energy security, climate adaptation, nature recovery, housing, economic development. At whatever scale, all require land. Addressing these issues impacts the character and quality of land and the way people experience and perceive it. The landscape sector and the skills, knowledge and experience of its workforce are therefore in greater demand than ever before.

The recent Skills for Greener Places report has identified the value of the landscape sector to the national economy for the first time, showing that the sector is a significant one, worth £24.6bn in Gross Value Added terms. Conservation and management of landscape alone are worth over £5bn, and these subsectors employ nearly 90,000 people, out of a total landscape workforce of around 330,000.

Sue Morgan, Chief Executive of the Landscape Institute, said: “Previous green skills research has focused mainly on heavy industry and new technology. This report looks closer to home: at how we make the places where people live greener. This is vital, not only for halting climate change, but also adapting to its impacts, which we’re already feeling. The UK has set the right goals, now we need to look at how we can achieve them.”

The report reviewed the UK’s landscape workforce for the first time, identifying five main subsectors of landscape - planning, design, build, management and conservation – and showing the diverse nature of the landscape sector across the UK.

The research was led by the Landscape Institute (LI) with a cross-UK partnership from Government agencies and industry, defining landscape for the first time as a distinct economic activity. Partners were the British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI), Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland, Locri, Natural England, Natural Resource Wales, NatureScot, and the Northern Ireland Department for Communities. The research was undertaken by Metro Dynamics, and included a survey of over 1,500 landscape professionals.

Landscape has a pivotal role to play in delivering against critical policy agendas, including climate change and nature recovery. Indeed, the research shows that climate mitigation and adaptation dominate discussions of both present and future expectations of work, as well as increasingly being at the heart of delivery practice.

Meanwhile, biodiversity and nature recovery is a key driver of change in the landscape sector, in part due to the implementation of mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain later this year. Around 80% of respondents, across all subsectors, identified biodiversity and nature recovery as a driver for change.

However, whilst demand for sector skills is expected to increase in response to the UK’s plans for climate adaptation and nature recovery, the sector already has a skills gap, with hard to fill vacancies and an ageing and male dominated workforce.

This latter point is particularly notable in the landscape management subsector, where the research identified that 99.6% of the workforce are male. However, the subsector does have a higher proportion of young workers than other subsectors, with 18% aged between 16 and 24. This possibly reflects the greater variety of entry routes into landscape management, and more roles which do not require prolonged higher education studies.

Row of houses over-looking a field of wild grasses and flowers
Lovedon Fields, Hampshire © BD Landscape Architects

Against this backdrop, the workforce in the conservation and landscape management subsectors is growing at a slower rate than other parts of the sector, with less than 10% growth in the decade from 2010 to 2020, compared to an average increase across all landscape sectors of 18%. The research also identifies a large variation between average salaries across the subsector with an £18,250 difference between the highest and lowest earning. The most physically intensive subsectors - build and management – having earnings below the national average.

However, the research also identifies that, across the broader sector, businesses are being forced to turn down contracts for creating greener places, with over 50% of businesses reporting a hard-to-fill vacancy.

Skills and training are also identified as pressing issues, with increased use of digital technology in landscape design and delivery is acting as an important driver of change in practice, prompted not just by the availability of technology but also by strong cost pressures from clients. It is also a driver of training, with Building Information Modelling (BIM) and Revise Instantly Software (RVIT) being among the key training needs highlighted.

Apprenticeships are an important pipeline for bringing talented workers into the sector. However, around half of businesses don’t have apprentices and do not plan to take on any in the future. Many of the sector’s businesses are small, and with apprenticeships being more common in larger businesses, this is a potential limiting factor for future expansion of the apprenticeship route into landscape.

Whilst there is general agreement that this is a moment of opportunity for landscape, the report identifies the scale of the challenges needed to respond. The report gives a new understanding of the landscape sector, allowing quantification of landscape’s value to the economy and shining a light on the shape of the workforce. It shows that organisations will need to work together to meet the challenges, if the landscape sector and its workforce are to take a leading role in delivering a greener future for the UK. And with management, maintenance and monitoring of landscapes being crucial for the delivery of long-term nature recovery, the skills, resourcing and talent pipeline challenges in this subsector will need to be addressed.

As well as the report itself, the LI has published the data in an online dashboard, for local areas to explore the issues that matter most to them –and so that others can collaborate on building the evidence base needed to overcome these challenges.

All data from the survey and report is now available online here.


First published in CJS Focus on Land and Habitat Management in association with the Landscape Institute on 5 June 2023. Read the full issue here


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Posted On: 26/05/2023

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