Landscapes and Landscape Research – the ‘bottom up’ approach to land management policy making ignored in UK

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authority to comment on the subject – for example the recent article by the celebrity academic Germaine Greer; whose outdated opinion and lack of real knowledge was still regretably absorbed by the majority of the telegraph readership, who due to a lack of corresponding information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 –

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;

Marc Antrop; Why landscapes of the past are important for the future

Professor Peter Howard; Spatial Planning for Landscape

Paul Selman;  Barriers and bridges to sustaining cultural landscapes


1 Comment

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One response to “Landscapes and Landscape Research – the ‘bottom up’ approach to land management policy making ignored in UK

  1. David

    As an ex-Woodland Trust employee I’d like to make a few comments here if I may. The Woodland Trust has become a very Corporate animal who ruthlessly pursue members, money and corporate partners. Most of the top directors at the Woodland Trust have little if any conservation or woodland experience and it’s really starting to show in how the organisation is run and the direction in which it is heading, for example Sue Holden herself includes on her resume a spell working for an oil company I believe BP, you have a director whose previous role was working for Kit Kat and another the financial company Credit One. The Woodland Trust has gone from being a decent, well respected, well meaning woodland conservation charity to a ruthless corporate business. The organisation itself is run in such a way so as not to be disimilar to a Stalanist style regime with regular restructuring and redundancies (purges)of staff in what has to be said somewhat dubious legal circumstances that has led to out of court settlements, a Personal Development Review system where staff are purposely marked down and achievement ignored or played down in a twisted attempt to motivate, new staff constantly being brought in from outside the organisation whilst staff with many years of experience are made redundant and a predeliction for encouraging teams internally to vie with each other for the attention of key managers so as to constantly justify the existence of their job roles. The whole organisation thrives on fear and propaganda which in turn results in staff being forced into a position where being completely target driven dubious achievements are promoted and claimed by teams. A good example would be Woodland Creation where I know for a fact that staff members have been put into a position where they will only have to literally speak to someone on the phone for 5 minutes about Woodland Creation and the number of trees and hectarage of land being planted and discussed is then added to the Woodland Trusts own Woodland Creation figures. Activity like this cultivated by fear is wide spread across the Woodland Trust. Woodland Creation on others property to which members may not have access and to which there is no guarantee as to the longevity of the planting is pretty appalling when you think about it. I’d like to know how members would feel if they knew that they were essentially donating money to beautify the property of the wealthy in society. You’ve already mentioned the fact that the Woodland Trusts “disposals process” isn’t widely known about. The Woodland Trust even undertakes the very dubious action of door step selling putting it on a par with the likes of the power companies. Sue Holden had a poor reputation with staff at the National Trust previously where she played a key role in messing with the lives of the work force there through reduncancy as a result of a major office move not at all dissimilar to that seen at the Woodland Trust. Not to mention that the Woodland Trust now carries out next to no management of its own woodlands, I really struggle with the claim “Leading woodland conservation chairty” as the Woodland Trust does very very little conservation work. The whole organisation is set up to serve big business through facilitating woodland creation and allowing said partners to claim green credentials whilst in the mean time hanckering to the egoic often ruthless ambitions of those corporate managers at the top of the organisation. My whole experience of working for the Woodland Trust has completely coloured my view of charities, what I’ve realsied is how easily people are susceptable to propaganda and be willing to follow a message and support an organisation that calls itself a charity without looking in any depth as to what it is exactly they are supporting. Sue Holden has and will do a lot more damage at the Woodland Trust reputationally, the sooner she moves on the better it will be for the organisation and those that work there.

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