Enlightened as many others have been in recent years to the plethora of academic research and text re ‘Landscapes’, has more than any other element in land management, altered my procedure and understanding of my profession.
There is an unfortunate axiom with all UK academic and scientific work in that both academics and scientists are by default poor at PR. The results are that such research and text is rarely seized upon by the general media, unless ‘sex’ is in the title. And remains securely locked within the walls of the conference room or covers of the journals for fellow academics of the same field. The end scene of Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant being stored away springs to mind.
Much of this research contains not only the origins but also solutions to almost all the present woes of those involved in land management and social sciences linked to the land, (including the forest landscape). And most striking for many of the practitioners and professionals working within these industries is that much of this research will not only strike a familiar chord but often parallel ‘on the ground’ discovery.
There have been many attempts to bridge the abyss between academics and the practitioner base & public knowledge; nearly always ending in failure or obscurity as the information disappears into, mingled, mangled and subsequently spat out into the nearest rubbish bin by the hazy cloud of middle tier inhabitants: NGOs’, Quangos’, and the middle management of corporations and the media to whom they socialise with. In the worst of cases the information is not only twisted but rehashed to an extent that further disenfranchises all those with true knowledge. Or worse still the subject is picked up by a journalist or psuedo academic who feels they have the authority to comment on the subject – for example the recent article by the celebrity academic Germaine Greer; whose outdated opinion and lack of real knowledge was still regretably absorbed by the majority of the telegraph readership, who due to a lack of corresponding information from academics who actually have the knowledge of the subject, will now base their future ascertains on Greer’s article. Further examples can be found frequently, recently Sue Holden of the WT, gave an interview in the Ramblers journal ‘Walk & Talk’ and whilst much of what she says is simply her opine, when she states ‘France and Germany have stronger cultural associations with woods’ she is simply wrong. We are all capable of forming opine, but when such opinion comes from the mouth of policy makers or those at the upper echelons of the industry, even if just in terms of salary paid, it is unforgiveable to ignore existing research in favour of a sound bite.
The fact is that the Independent Forestry Panel is largely made up of those who profit from the landscape and in doing so often ignore modern research into landscapes and even the definintion of a landscape in modern terms.
With the European Landscape Convention now at play in the UK, any, such as Germaine Greer, who write in contradiction to the published research will find themselves in the same position that many climate change sceptics now do – looking very weak and foolish, whilst facing a tidal wave of peer reviewed solid science.
And as ‘romanticism’ is now largely confined to the amateur sector of the arts, (with the notable exception of photography), there is little chance of connecting all actors in land management, let alone attempt to speak directly to the masses. This is regretful given that the arts were clearly a springboard for what is now a substantial field of academic study globally and which will not disappear despite many of the ideals being at odds with so many of the big players currently involved with landscape issues in the UK.
The Landscape Research Group, contains amongst its members many based in the UK who have helped to create the European Landscape Convention, which has subsequently and greedily absorbed by many countries. Although ratified in the UK, the present policy makers appear to be unaware of the ideals contained within it and indeed actually seem to ignore it completely. The Landscape Institute amongst others had to write an open letter to the government earlier this year to ensure continued progression of ELC ideals was not lost to policy makers – http://landscapeinstitute.org/PDF/Contribute/UKorganisationscallonGovernmentstoreaffirmcommitmenttotheEuropeanLandscapeConvention.pdf
The ‘general measures’ of the ELC should surely be enough for most people to realise their importance within their landscape:
”a to recognise landscapes in law as an essential component of people’s surroundings, an expression of the diversity of their shared cultural and natural heritage, and a foundation of their identity;
b to establish and implement landscape policies aimed at landscape protection, management and planning through the adoption of the specific measures set out in Article 6;
c to establish procedures for the participation of the general public, local and regional authorities, and other parties with an interest in the definition and implementation of the landscape policies mentioned in paragraph b above;
d to integrate landscape into its regional and town planning policies and in its cultural, environmental, agricultural, social and economic policies, as well as in any other policies with possible direct or indirect impact on landscape.”
The following is only a tiny taste of the research available and many of the academics and authors have books and published work unavailable for free online, but even the taste given within the texts here displays the unavoidable progression towards sustainable land management; the importance of the local practitioner and communities; and the simple but beautiful fact that we are not only part of a landscape, but that it belongs to us and anyone or any organisation which ignores this in policy making does so at their peril:
Professor Adrian Phillips; http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/Images/Adrian%20Phillips_speech_tcm6-15764.pdf
Professor Peter Howard; Spatial Planning for Landscape