Villandry is arguably the greatest garden in Europe. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, with around 350,000 visitors per year. It is a landscape envied across the world. The village which surrounds the garden has a population of about 1100. The rooftops of this village are an integral element of the Villandry ‘landscape’, similar in perception to the pseudo hamlet built for Marie – Antoinette in the grounds of Versailles but with real people living in them and most importantly with separate lifes to the garden.
The gardens & Château of Villandry are not even as beneficial to the community as a factory would be. The Villandry community faces all the problems that every other provincial village does; lack of decent transport, lack of schoolchildren to sustain a school, the closure of local businesses but with an ongoing pressure to sustain ‘an image’ for the garden visitors also.
And what is worse is that the management regime to sustain an unevolving non sustainable landscape such as Villandry, requires so much herbicide, pesticide and other ‘environmental controls’ that the gardens themselves are a biodiversity black hole.
Villandry is what many would desire the English rural landscape to be – a preserved officially registered beautiful landscape. However as the largely hidden truths of Villandry prove and as England risks when rolling out a notion of Sustainable Development which solely concentrates on an uncomfortable relationship between just ‘Environment and Economic’ and ignoring the ‘Social’ results in a collapse and utter dependency on neighbouring communities (or Countries as it will be in Englands’ case).
‘Stakeholder workshops’, ‘local participatory events’ etc., believe in an image of ‘engagement’ by way of an ‘expert’ standing in front of an audience. This is NOT community engagement – if it were a representative of the local community facing an audience of Quango, NGOs or Academics then you are getting somewhere. But as discussed openly in the English media, and often whispered in the audiences of conference after conference of peers talking amongst themselves, is the false notion that “People are stupid” (which is ultimately as dangerous to assume as believing the government are stupid). You will have to prove this statement before you lay out what you or your organisation want the public to do.
Any progression with Sustainable Development can only be found by following the ‘social’ route, starting at the very bottom by the people at the very bottom. Yes help is needed to get this process started and ongoing help is essential – particularly when teaching people to use the plethora of tools and resources available but locked in the top drawers of those unwilling to relinquish their misconceived power over all landscapes and a hold on the funding for it. Enjoy a new relationship between Conservationists and Developers (including Farmers and Landowners), but remember it is only the beginning and if allowed to rest there, the potential of really bad ideas, even worse than ‘Biodiversity Offsetting’, may well see the light of day.
Living next door to Villandry may seem appealing to many but the long term reality is severe economic regression and environmental catastrophe. And as history proves time and time again, ignoring the social element only leads to some form of revolution – a high price to pay for simply failing to listen.