Is Exeter the greenest University in the UK?

Is Exeter the greenest University in the UK?

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William Sandbach argues that Exeter should rightly be proud of its achievements but must make sure that its green spaces are protected for future generations of students to enjoy.

It’s something we are all told when we first survey Exeter’s campus: ‘Exeter has the most trees per head of any university in the UK’ or, something along those lines and for many the greenery of Exeter is an attractive incentive to come and spend three years of one’s life here. Indeed, the Sunday Times generously claim that we have the ‘best-gardened campus in Britain’.

exeter_signThis goes to show how well regarded Exeter is in terms of its horticultural diversity. Undoubtedly, Exeter’s 300+ acres do still contain a plethora of plant life but the last 30 years have seen a reduction in the number of trees and green areas around the centre of the university due to the construction of new buildings and facilities.

Looking through a copy of ‘The Grounds and Gardens of the University of Exeter’, a book published in 1969, one could definitely make the claim that the University was once a green oasis. Between the University’s founding in 1955 and the early 1970s, Exeter was a verdant Eden, filled with rare and exotic plant species introduced by horticultural enthusiasts from the 19th century onwards.

According to the University’s page devoted to its grounds: the University boasts ‘wonderful micro-climates which the buildings and natural undulations create, to grow rare, tender and exotic plants’. While the uuniversity has added ‘Thousands of additional trees, rhododendrons, azaleas and other shrubs, with hundreds of camellias, magnolias and herbaceous plants’ in the last 30 years, much plant life has been removed in order to expand the University’s facilities.

The ‘Pinetum’ which was at one stage a large green space, full of tree species such as oak and pine has been greatly diminished by new buildings such as the Forum and Peter Chalk centre. Along with the decline in tree numbers around the central campus (near Stocker Road), the University has seen a marked decline in ponds and other water features- particularly near Reed Hall.

Exeter should rightly be proud of its horticultural achievements but must make sure that its green spaces are protected for future generations of students to enjoy. While construction of new facilities such as the Forum is extremely important one must bear in mind that building on former woodland will undoubtedly result in a decline in plant life.

William Sandbach

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