Your Landscape

A landscape is your personal horizon, your own space.

We may go on holiday and experience a landscape, but on returning to the same location at a different time of year and with different company it will be a different landscape, for good or bad.

But they are not our landscapes.

A landscape can be defined, (as in the European Landscape Convention), but it is much more than a considerable amount of academic research and thus the real definition of a landscape is as complex as the human being within it.

It is a combination of all sciences, including earth and social, the emotions and elements. It is the cars, houses, rivers and trees outside our homes. It is you and what you are looking at. It is far from simple to explain or to define for each and every person.

You may be lucky to have a big garden that extends to the horizon, even if this horizon is the top of a fence or hedge, which is why gardening is so popular. You can create your landscape or get a landscaper to do it for you. The words landscape, landscaper and landscaping as verb, noun and adverb, exist in many other languages.

But whether your garden is large or non existent, your landscape is shared. For the majority of people it is shared with many other people, but for all it is shared with both natural and cultural heritage, many of the living elements within that landscape remaining hidden, yet are still a vital element of it.

To an increasing amount of people this shared landscape is an interconnection with elements that are fragile beyond our control and thus command an affection and passion to help ensure protection.

Your landscape is second only to your home in terms of belonging and often determines your home. And it can be found within a family sharing a home that the perception of the immediate landscape is very different between each family member thus creating a much more individual belonging.

The importance of planners & the planning system, landscape architects and landscape practitioners are increasingly undervalued in parallel with an increasingly more transient society.

Some have felt the need to escape this and move to less threatened landscapes, yet in doing so are responsible for changing the landscape for those that lived before them in the landscape they have moved to. The huge surge in emigration is often ignored by those analysing statistics for media commentary, but it changes the landscape. How much bigotry against immigration is actually more about the changing of a landscape than about the immigrants themselves? The invading of a country can result in the changing of a landscape, creating a pain and anger that is often ignored again by commentators and subsequently historians, such as was seen in WWII when Hitler invaded Poland.

The vast majority of people are trapped in their landscape and thus this landscape becomes of increasing importance to them. For many of these people the whims of policy makers who do not belong to their landscape creates a chasm. Combined with the transiency of modern times this is a growing problem. If the politicians themselves, let alone the planners and architects, the NGO and Quango reps, do not belong in the landscape they are charged with, how can correct policies be implemented? They can’t be.

It does not take long to become accustomed to a landscape, much less time than to fit in with the community within that landscape. To give a community the chance to make decisions about the landscape is a good thing, but without strict legal guidelines as seen in protected designated landscapes like greenbelt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, all other landscapes, those that the vast majority of English people live in, are subject to potential abuse.

And this is what is so wrong with the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It certainly removes a drunken spider web of red tape, but within that web lay a complex set of guidance which allowed for the most holistic of reasons to be argued against development.

It could be the most sustainable of developments, but it changes someone’s landscape. The NPPF removes the existing tiny layer of understanding of landscapes completely and thus disregards every member of society who lives a life within a specific landscape.

The petition against the NPPF, organised by the National Trust, can be found here: ‘Government reforms Threaten Green Space’

The campaign and further commentary can be followed, (including from those who believe the NPPF to be a good thing), by following the hashtag #NPPF on tweeter.

The grass roots campaign group, ‘Save Our Woods’, are campaigning against the NPPF and include advice to small woodland owners about the potential consequences of the NPPF:

An integrated approach to defining sustainable 
development criteria in spatial planning:


Filed under Trees and Woodlands

9 responses to “Your Landscape

  1. Thanks for this for a number of reasons. It actually gave me cause to dig out an article I wrote for the Geographical Magazine way back in December 1989, in which I was looking at similar themes.

    You begin by writing, “A landscape is your personal horizon, your own space.” That space is culturally specific and as culture changes it too changes. Like time and space through which landscape is defined, it is human perception, the culturally defined, that gives our space meaning. Science can only go so far in protecting what is around us for without a spiritual / creative understanding of the spaces we occupy can we personally define, and thus act mindfully, in our ‘use’ / ‘occupation’ of that space.

    The NPPF is a clear reflection of where we are at culturally, economically and most of all politically, right now. The same was true of the Enclosure Acts and so much legislation in-between. They were a historically inevitability based upon the overthrow of a feudal economy. You could say that the NPPF is a historical inevitability also – part of the same paradigm shift that has been taking place over 20 years of more and which first informed the thinking of the Green Party (in the UK during the late-1980s) with their devolutionist/localist agenda and ideas of what would now be referred to as Big Society localist thinking.

    Perhaps I’ve been reading too much John Bellamy Foster (though ‘Marx’s Ecology’ is a very good read and I thoroughly recommend it) but I cannot help feeling that our current attitudes to landscape (and space generally) are complicated by the polarisation of two very evident shifts in (particularly British) culture. On the one hand there is the popularisation of woodlands by fluffy organisations such as the Woodland Trust that, doing the work of the State, keep the masses in a state of false consciousness (i.e. everything’s OK if the bluebells reappear each Spring and somebody spots a butterfly, and hey, we can even tie in our woods to the British love of the monarchy now too – In times of austerity what else?) while meanwhile legislation such as the NPPF is slipped under the radar.

    I’m old enough to remember the campaign “Plant a Tree in ’73”, and out of it grew the Tree Council and numerous forums were established that spawned many more initiatives, but they were banal trifles compared to the damage that continued to be done. We require a massive shift in cultural thinking to get us out of this mess, but the revolution in thinking that is required is being severely hindered by the counter-revolutionary de-politicisation (read over-popularisation) of our landscape by some of the organisations mentioned above. In short we need some really robust (and far less emotive) contributions than we have seen recently. For millennia, to look at nature was, for human beings, to look into the eyes of an angry God. Today, to look at nature is, for most of us, merely a leisure opportunity/coice.

    Perhaps what I wrote in 1989 is worth repeating (at some point I shall put the article back in the public domain): “Nature has a history which cannot simply be regarded as something that exists outside of the human imaginative response, for without ourselves as observers nature has no meaning. “Every value attributed to nature”, says television producer Mick Gold, ” –harmonious, ruthless, purposeful, random – brings nature inside human society and its values.” That ‘bringing inside’ can be seen most clearly in our attempts to place, name and ultimately represent nature. For centuries, by means of our shared human creative capacity we have played a naming game with the world, defining and redefining the order by which we interpret its resources and its beauty. The resultant images we make of nature are not simply to be regarded as variant versions of what is ‘out there’, for with each click of the shutter, daub of the brush or strike of the chisel, what is created is an image that is culturally specific to its time and its place.”

    Over twenty years later, I see that the desecration of our landscape is actually (paradoxically) facilitated by measures to ‘popularise’ it. Culturally that is where we are in both time and space.

  2. Thanks for your comments Ian, I will have to search out a copy of your 1989 article.

    In truth the above blog is somewhat belated, as the government were made aware of these issues back in late 2010. The fact that they choose to ignore them confirms your commentary. I am keen to discover who they did actually talk to and it is certain that the opinion of the ‘fluffy’ but essentially power hungry Woodland Trust & maybe others was given more weight than it should have been, (it will be interesting to find out more about the ‘community woodland’ element contained within the NPPF, which appears obtuse to the main thrust of the remainder of the document).

    Here is a blog from Nov 2010, by one of the Directors of High Weald AONB –
    The attachment ‘An integrated approach to defining sustainable
    development criteria in spatial planning’ I have attached to the bottom of my above blog

  3. Thanks again. Obviously wasn’t aware of the Higher Weald blog but an interesting read. I think you would be interested in geographer Denis Cosgrove’s book ‘Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape’. I’ve no doubt that it should be a set text for anyone in government at whatever level, from Central down to Parish level. Cosgrove cites Yi-Fu Tuan who stresses the value of ‘topophilia’: a sense of unity we feel when connected to ‘our’ landscape and the transcendental power it may have upon us. Anyone that messes with that connection does so at their peril, for like social exclusion (something much talked of this week) being excluded from the spaces that once would have been seen as the ‘handiwork of God’ (and for some they still are of course) can lead to a profound sense of dislocation and isolation. Failing to perceive the philosophical/spiritual depth that underlies our connection with space and landscape is one of the many failings of so many legislative manoeuvres over recent decades.

    The reason I mention all of this is that I note from the Higher Weald blog that they cite the Commission for Rural Communities info (unfortunately the Defra links is now broken) and state, “Shockingly neither the 45 ‘Quality of Life Indicators’ produced by the Audit Commission in 2005 or the 68 ‘Indicators of sustainable development’ reported on by the UK government in 2010 include reference to landscape, cultural or historic environment qualities or local people’s aspirations.” This fits snugly with Cosgrove’s overall observations which, when first published it in 1984, ruffled many feathers due to its reinterpretation of the social and cultural politics of landscape generally.

    Of course, while the book had a wide impact academically, one sees little evidence of its influence in terms of policy today, and I suspect it will eventually be forgotten. He ends with a quote from Berger that might seem apt however:

    “Sometimes a landscape seems to be less a setting for the life of its inhabitants than a curtain behind which their struggles, achievements and accidents take place. For those who, with the inhabitants, are behind the curtains, landmarks are no longer geographic but also biographical and personal.” John Berger (1976) ‘A Fortunate Man’.

    p.s. I’ll email you a copy of the article from 1989, though I warn you it deals with landscape representation which is quite a different thing to your discussion overall. It was also written long enough ago for me now to disagree with almost half of what I wrote back then.

  4. George

    A fascinating and enlightening read including the comments. As I try and get my head around the NPPF the more and more it becomes apparent it is a bad idea. The core text of the draft NPPF came from the practitioners advisory group, which whilst far from perfect at least referred to landscape and placed a little more emphasis on the natural world. My main conclusion is that governmental departments and in particular ministers do not seem to be communicating amongst one another and endanger their own fragile reputations by promoting themselves and their knee jerk or un researched opinion on ‘social media’. Oh where are you Sir Humphery?
    I hope this works, the link through to the draft from the practitioners advisory group, for anyone wishing to do a comparison.
    PS I read with interest your comments about the Woodland Trust, I fear they have been placed in a position to offer policy options but are quite frankly not suitable to do so and this is already doing them severe damage amongst their peers.

  5. Thanks George, I have read elsewhere similar conclusions about chasms between government departments but in relation to PFE disposal. Given some of the rhetoric used by David Cameron we may well see social media closed down as a result of having to tackle future risk of ‘rioting’. Call me cynical but I think if this really happens it could be employed also as an easy solution to cool down the rapid and frontal campaigning that social media allows for against ministers who have chosen to ‘join in’ online and have often made fools of themselves – a classic case in point is Greg Clarks blog

    The wording does not reflect the draft NPPF and leaves more questions than answers – particularly highlighting the lack of links to at the very least a glossary explaining the definitions he uses liberally, particularly his foreword in the draft NPPF, where the misuse of the definition of sustainable is really quite damaging. Furthermore in his blog, he translates the classic french adage – Pourquoi faire compliqué quand on peut faire simple?.
    This is used by the French as a philosophical shrug, when dealing with the mountains of bureacracy now in place in France and to use in his blog as an admirable method of progression in planning is a little misleading at best. Furthermore and given the fact that France enjoys a ‘bottom up’ system that has enabled me to realise the importance of the landscape and those within it as the strongest element in land management decision, this misuse of a french quote illustrates just how far removed from current thinking re landscapes and the current definition (so useful as a tool in land management, as per the European Landscape Convention, ratified by the UK), Greg Clark really is.

  6. Stella Morrison

    The John Berger quote is excellent, I will have to look into his work further.
    To introduce the artist within us into the debates surrounding the landscape that inspires us is very important at this moment in time. The thought of bridging the professions and public under landscape as a generic term makes sense as well as strengthens all with a voice. Landscape as the official union, non political, non religious, yet spiritual and scientific. With the incessant need to lobby to protect our countryside as well as the parks and gardens in our towns and cities it makes perfect sense to use Landscape as the platform.

  7. Bob

    Dear Mr Pip Howard, I am assuming you are the same person who wrote the following on the save our woods website; ”Are the WT about to lobby for a ‘planning credit’ system, using the ideals of nature and ecosystem values and the values ascertained, with the WT acting as agents to provide planting sites thus allowing an easy exchange of ecosystem and biodiversity values which may be destroyed by development?”.
    For which you welcome a response, there was nothing in the comments left. Have you received a response?
    You further hint on the subject again here. Which leaves me to assume that at present you believe that the WT may have already been able to ‘assist’ with the drafting of the NPPF, which states;”147. Community Forests offer valuable opportunities for improving the environment around towns, by upgrading the landscape and providing for recreation and wildlife. An approved Community Forest plan may be a material consideration in preparing development plans and in deciding planning applications. Any development proposals within Community Forests in the Green Belt should be subject to the normal policies controlling development in Green Belts.”
    My main question to you is if the Woodland Trust are complicit in drawing up policy proposals which may use ecosystem valuations as a method to determine an offset cost for greenfield sites and they benefit through using the funds to plant ‘community woodlands’, does this not mean that the higher a natural / ecosystem value of a proposed development site, the more money the Woodland Trust are set to make?

  8. Dear Bob, In answer to your first question, I have had no response and expect none. I cannot directly answer your second question, there are many variables and different mindsets involved. Firstly it is important to bear in mind that I as with many of my peers in UK forestry as well as many other individuals working in the field of land management (including small, local NGOs) when going up against the Woodland Trust, it is similar to a petrol station cashier going up against the Shell corporation, (given the background of the WT CEO, this metaphor is more than apt). They use wider campaigns and the tweet hashtag to manipulate campaigns unashamedly to suit their own ends and thus distract from what I and many others would assume to be more relevant matters. For example, the NPPF as a threat to ancient woods is minimal in comparison to the threat to basically any land that remains in England, yet the WT use their PR power to ensure that this single issue remains top of the agenda for those looking to enter the campaign and most importantly seek to pay into it. Okay this is to be expected, but when as with the PFE disposal they use ‘google adwords’ to outrank even the Forestry Commission, it becomes a little distasteful. But in reality what else would they, could they do given their current identity?

    However if the WT have been complicit in seeking to use the planning gains system to create community woodland, then they confirm that they are clearly following a mindset at odds with most land based professionals, & practitioners (and virtually all others involved in conservation of either natural or cultural heritage), instead choosing to follow the mindset where ‘Landscape’ (which is so 2007) has been replaced by the word ‘Place’ and join a community where there is plenty of commentary to reverse the demonisation of planning gains to further a warped and convenient defintion of sustainable development, (with case studies taken from the US, where the local community often simply get a cheque through the post to enable development to progress). The fact that I as many others when educated in the UK were taught a definition of sustainable that is alien to most developers, surveyors and now government is sad but an axiom we need to live with now as the new twisted definition is simply too entrenched. Regretably Sir Simon Jenkins’ also dismissed the word sustainable and as head of the largest organisation to oppose the NPPF this simply gives the word over to those who believe it means something to do with fitting low energy light bulbs. Therefore can any campaign be won by highlighting the abuse of the word sustainable or even by opposing the use of ecosystem services valuations in offsetting development no matter how abhorrent and regressive it is?

    I believe that ecosystem services are a good thing, they can be used as insurance using ‘polluter pays’ ideals and as such act as a deterent to harming landscapes and the biodiversity conatined within them. There are many who believe putting a price tag on such things is disgraceful, and the WT and any others who start to use ecosystems valuations in policy proposals will face extreme opposition from such people.

    The point is whether complete alienation from those of us who adhere to the ELC have or are in the process of adapting to using ‘Landscape’ as a bridge between all stakeholders and those who value ecosystems as they stand either holistically or with a calculator in the hands, actually bothers the Woodland Trust? Who are quite simply making a fortune, which gets bigger each time there is a threat to the countryside & a campaign going on to fight it, which unfortunately at the moment is constant.

    And unfortunately it is the urban peri urban landscape, which contains large amounts of brownfield land in all our towns and cities which had an industrial past, (not as some pro NPPF people are stating only exists ‘up north’), which will suffer the most, shunned by both developers and the land owning NGOs, because of the clear up costs. This land is the land which is in or next to the vast majority of the population.

  9. Hi All — Of lateral/parallel interest to some of the above comments re: planning and sustainability, I note from today’s ‘Inside Housing’ magazine that the UK-Green Building Council is setting up a task group to develop a training framework for sustainable development; news that coincides with Cherwell District Council’s granting of permission for 393 new homes and an energy centre to be built as part of the first exemplar phase of the North-west Bicester eco-town in Oxfordshire. How much the peri-urban landscape of North-west Bicester will reflect the spirit of the new development, or whether it ends up an island concept, remains to be seen, as there’s little detail to be had right now. Let’s not give up on the nomenclature of sustainability yet though. Jenkins might have abandoned it but the GBC certainly haven’t.

    On the subject of Jenkins and the National Trust’s record with regard land management, I note from our local rag here in the New Forest, the words of Elected Verderer Anthony Pasmore, who recently wrote on speculation that the NT might take over from the Forestry Commission. He wrote;

    “I personally believe that the National Trust does a fine job in protecting great county houses, but that it is much less good at land management. Its existing land management in the New Forest is a clear example of this. It cannot control overgrazing, dumping, and other abuses of various types. Its maintenance of car-free protection (ditches and dragons teeth) is poor and its management of its historic sites is no better. Only when it comes to cutting down trees does it excel. If it cannot get such matters right on a small scale, what hope has it with a property the size of the New Forest?”

    Remember that Jenkins is not the head of the Trust, as you state, however. He is the Chairman, and his views on ‘sustainability’ do not concur with the Trust as a body, nor the work of its Land Use advisory panel, as outlined in its ‘Governance Handbook’. As that document states, the Trust’s Land Use Panel;

    “…will provide an external reference point for the Trust and will advise staff on the sustainable management of land and property including the protection and wise use of natural resources, sustainable business development, rural housing and the provision of public benefit through access, recreational land use and tourism. In particular the panel will advise on the development of land use related policies, key land use issues, major projects and acquisitions and the Trust’s response to relevant external factors affecting the management of land as required.”

    Currently the many panels of the NT act in an advisory capacity to staff, with the exception being the Architectural panel where the Director-General, Fiona Reynolds, can intervene with the approval of the Board of Trustees. However, the Director General is well placed to address issues of land use and sustainability where Jenkins is not (Jenkins’ passions lie with architecture, churches, historic buildings etc. about which he has authored several books). The Trust’s DG meanwhile has a 1st in Geography & Land Economy from Cambridge; an MPhil in Land Economy (Cambridge); was Secretary to the Council for National Parks; Director of CPRE; and is a member of the Policy Commission on the Future of Food & Farming.

    Frankly I’d be interested to know of her thoughts on the European Landscape Convention for there are only two NT documents that I know of that even mention it (one putting an ELC spin on the Trust’s Marine assets which fall within the ELC’s scope, and another about Stonehenge). I’ve interviewed two previous DG’s of the National Trust, the first being Sir Angus Stirling who I found passionate about sustainable land use at a time when ‘sustainability’ was not even on the agenda for most NGOs. He was (and this was in the early 90s) at pains to talk up what was then the catchily titled Operation Neptune, as much as he was the Trust’s intention to engage groups such as Common Ground on local craftsmanship and sustainable maintenance provision with regard the Trust’s land assets.

    As you say Pip, the Trust is the largest organisation to oppose the NPPF, and perhaps the time has come to fill the knowledge vacuum at the NT with regard the ELC. As you know, this isn’t my area of expertise, but I think there is a case for moving such a suggestion forward and engaging the NT on this point. The Chairman is an irrelevance (forget him), it’s their DG that should be directly engaged to take this forward. Call me foolish or naive (it’s possible) but I don’t believe that a twisted definition of sustainability has become too entrenched. I believe it can be reclaimed.

    Sorry for so many tangental points but (to me at least) they seemed to relate.

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