Twisting Landscape

As real landscapes and definitions of landscape progress to the front line of policy making it is not surprising to see terms and the landscapes themselves being abused.

The talk of radical broad spectrum changes – a new idealism, in order to protect the environment is nothing new, but recent commentary from deep inside the conservation lobby points towards the fact that virtually everyone now is pointing to the same road, to landscape – albeit often inventing their own ‘buzzwords’ which deliberately ignore the existence of the wealth of research and study which has led to landscape being defined in legal status by Council of Europe member states, (including the UK), who have ratified the European Landscape Convention.

The UK, and in particular England provide an invaluable case study to the forthcoming problems this abuse of landscape will cause.

Bear in mind it is well proven that landscape is something the public are all too aware of, it is to many a very emotional ‘thing’ – their thing and relates to their surroundings in which they are comfortable. Thus any further confusion is unwelcome and damaging. To use landscape a policy maker must be aware of the full connotations involved or what they say makes no sense to the public.

”Landscapes are not only beautiful and historic parts of our countryside. They are integral to tourism, to the economy, to well being and to health. That’s why, as Defra Secretary, it’s a privilege to be responsible for England’s Protected Landscapes.”
Owen Paterson speech to National Parks conference

The above speech went on to push biodiversity offsetting, and understandably led to serious concern that ‘protected landscapes’ would be at threat from this nonsensical, weak and frankly corrupt method to bypass all sustainable development (and of course landscape) goals. But also showed a clear misunderstanding of landscape and therefore was abuse of landscape itself, despite the coalition’s reaffirmation of their commitment to the ELC from Paterson’s DEFRA colleague; Richard Benyon MP.

Also unveiled at the conference was the Landscape Declaration

It is a well written and difficult to criticise measure to further landscape as defined by the ELC into the public consciousness in terms of ensuring protected landscapes remain protected. However, probably the most significant part of the ELC is ignored, thatall landscapes are matter. This ‘protected landscapes declaration’ is potentially much more digestible to policy makers than the ELC itself, from which the declaration quotes from, simply because it rides on the back of existing legislation and thus tackling the issues of urban, peri urban and indeed any and all land with the misfortune not to be contained within a ‘designated land’ boundary can be ignored. This seriously risks further fragmentation of the wider English rural and urban landscape. Is it very clever PR? A method to ensure that any and all new funding towards landscapes has to be paid into those that in reality least need it?

Given that indirect and direct funding towards European land management based on the text of the ELC for both the private and public sectors is increasing dramatically then it is all to easy to believe that those stuck in the boundaries for the sake of boundaries system will in desperation try and fit landscape into their mapped areas. And as with the all too hasty post imperial and wartime demarcations such as the Radcliffe line the results could be catastrophic and accelerate the people’s disenfranchisement with their own landscape – ultimately destroying landscape itself.

Policymaking can and should only give the verticals, it is the From Garden To Globe-1(1) who provide the essential horizontal which will provide the final answers needed.


Image: Public consultation on the future of the Var alluvial landscape in Nice, using a satellite image and the simple question ‘What is important to you here?’



Filed under Trees and Woodlands

2 responses to “Twisting Landscape

  1. Roderick Leslie

    What strikes me about Owen Paterson’s speech is the failure to recognise the realities of the economie3s of National Parks: people – especially visitors – are now far more significant than food production, with the B&B bit of many upland farms generating real money from the real economy, whilst net farm incomes are often less than the CAP payments ! Even if you forget the moral/aesthetic arguments for landscape beauty, biodiversity offsetting risks destroying the very things on which the real economy is based – think of the impact a badly placed tin shed can have on an entire landscape.

  2. The economic damage from biodiversity offsetting is truly scary, asides from the obvious further disenfranchisement of existing land practitioners there are many other factors – not least a significant portion of funding to bolster the deputy director of Natural England’s private company the Environment Bank. Another conversation I had last week highlights that Paterson’s ‘badger free’, ‘Wimpeyified’ rural landscape will be unattractive to its largest investors the conservative wealthy ‘new’ landowners spreading funding between many rural industries. I listened to a very wealthy man this week telling me of his ‘escape’ from a large property in an AONB in South East England – not under threat yet, but the ‘gloves are off’ as far as he was concerned and thus risked any ‘investment’ or funding into the little patch of England he had. This conversation together with the one in the blog were small talk and thus the tip of the iceberg in terms of a general dismay abroad about what is happening in England’s rural landscape.

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