Those trees and bushes look natural - but they are not

View down one part of the M25 flanked by trees and bushes

Driving the motorways of Britain can be stressful because of high levels of traffic. But there’s one aspect that helps to make the journey a pleasure – beautiful scenery on either side of the road. Whether it is the fresh greens of spring or a paintbox of autumn colours, the mix of trees and grassland is lovely to look at and is an important place for wildlife.

But it is not like this by accident. Like all the best design, it looks so natural that most people don’t realise that it was carefully planned.

If you look closely, you will see there is a gradual increase in height: short grass, long grass, shrubs, small trees and then larger trees. The grassland is home to many rare species because it is never sprayed with chemicals, unlike much of the rest of the countryside.

There are several reasons for this design: to reduce traffic noise, to hide or soften ugly things (like bridges, pipes and wiring), to blend the road into the landscape – and sometimes to provide something interesting to look at. Native species of plant were chosen and wildlife was also considered; tunnels were built so deer and badgers could get from one side of the road to the other.

The first motorway to be ‘landscaped’ was the M25, which circles London and was finished in 1986. The motorway passes through many areas of environmental importance and so was judged to need the “highest quality of landscape treatment”. An average of 20,000 trees were planted per mile, over 2 million trees and shrubs in total. This work was so successful that similar schemes were created for most of the motorway network (one area without landscaping is the southern part of the M1 – there’s just an ugly mix of cement and steel).

A document from the M25 archive says: “Much of the thought given to landscaping will not be obvious to the traveller and perhaps that is as it should be; the harmony in blending the route with the background may be best appreciated sub-consciously.” Here’s to giving it the recognition it deserves.

Image: Giorgios/Dreamstime

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