Undervalued Landscape

I am getting increasingly concerned that during the push towards ‘natural capital’ existing, very real, financial values are being ignored. Whilst I am all in favour of valuing the biodiversity in a landscape or habitat and the ecosystems contained, this is not where the buck stops – far from it. And any attempts so far towards such valuations placed on nature are falling well short of the true economic benefits of nature within that landscape let alone attributing the mass of other values concerned.

This is heading towards a crash. A crash that will severely undermine those earning from any landscape and any potential earnings, which we are still far from realising.

And the increasing use of ‘landscape approach’ as laid out in so much policy spiel at present is not only completely at odds with much landscape research – but more dangerously is taking any values used from somewhat tenuous calculations.

Surely nature capital values are only of any worth if added to all other values attributable in a particular landscape – thus helping in closing the circle of what a sustainable multi functional landscape actually is.

Biodiversity offsetting has already undermined such values and the resulting value of the land used is considerably less than it’s real worth. The huge shortfall in the values used can only have a negative effect on those working with or indeed benefitting in anyway from that land – including the landowner themselves both public and private. It was good that UK MP’s recognised the ‘simplicity’ of the biodiversity offsetting system on offer as being a major flaw – but the economic consequences of ignoring the complexity and diversity of landscapes were not considered enough. A shame insofar that the economics are the most likely to be listened to by policy makers.

There is an axiom that has been dangerously overlooked, that many practitioners and others involved in the maintenance and care of our landscapes have done so fully understanding but unable to communicate the values of the complex issues in any particular landscape. This very diminished, ignored group have been aided slightly by a new and again often overlooked demographic of ‘hobby farmers’ – a term which is arguably wrong as so many of these new landowners and farmers are actually making good money from their small holdings through terroir products – high quality, landscape based produce. I would argue that ‘terroir’ is a recognition, a valuation of all things in a landscape that contribute to a taste and thus an income. This closed circle is far too whimsical though for policy makers – sometimes even in France, unfortunately. And so long as central government holds a purse of subsidy those who choose to follow this well proven system of making money from a landscape into perpetuity do so alone.

A flood of ‘buzzwords’ is proferred almost daily. Quangos and NGOs busily booking conference halls to discuss and then endless streams of reports reinventing the wheel time and time again. Every so often there are glimpses of sunlight but on the whole it is all far too costly and worthless. There is no ‘value’ that can be taken back to the landscapes in question – because everything is now designed to be centralised.

And the only positive is in fact a negative. The investigation by people of their landscape is protest driven. Paying attention only when their landscape is threatened. This costs money, this is manipulated by NGOs and other organisations and government both local and central love it – ‘divide and conquer’. But the landscapes in reality maybe divided but they are far from conquered because of the complexities involved.

What would be absolutely fantastic and of real worth is to have values attributable to both natural and man made elements within the landscape. We already have tree valuation systems from the UK and US – what if we can have values per metre of hedgerow or dry stone retaining walls.

All values can be of use to any land based practitioner and of course easily digested by the public. Values should be an easy sell, a good conversation starter in the pub or the meeting halls in every community, leading to progressive local planning and site specifics, but not if they are simplified, boxed up and publicised without explanation. And definitely not if they are far too cheap.

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2 Comments

Filed under Trees and Woodlands

2 responses to “Undervalued Landscape

  1. Roderick Leslie

    there, indeed, is the rub: ecosystem services have been hijacked into the nature conservation sector and as a result are going nowhere – or almost nowhere. And so it should be, because the whole secret of ‘landscape’ and I don’t mean the aesthetics sector landscape which has done just as bad a job of recognising biodiversity in the past, but rather the real landscape which incorporates everything from soil to birds to food and timber, and the natural and the human-made, and perhaps most important of all, the habitats formed by the interaction of the two, like ancient woodlands.

    Key to the problem is understanding: landuse is so silo based, and silo trained that it is very difficult for people to see beyond their own, narrow horizon – and both dangerous and hard work – the minute you step out of your cosy silo where everyone agrees with you life becomes dangerous – and you can even find noone agreeing with you because you’ve offended against the religion of the day !

    Its made even worse by the fact that many of the people making the judgements know nothing at all about any of the elements and know too ,little to do anything other than follow the lines they are fed by the ‘experts’ – the generalist civil servants, and the prime example the Foresight landuse report which closed down new and inspirational ideas put forward by David Milliband in 2007.

    What can break the mould ? Well, I am hopeful about rumours coming out of Forestry Commission negotiations over the future of the public forest estate. FC is perhaps the organisation more than any other that can illustrate and translate real multi-purpose, ecosystem services based land use for the people who make the big policies.

    • I’m not surprised that the FC could be at the forefront at the progression of a ‘real’ landscape push. Forestry, and indeed the Arb community also, has proven its training credentials as being the most broad spectrum approach within the various disciplines of land management. After a week of meetings in Brussels it was interesting but no surprise to discover that all those able with ease to think big into small places, without dismissing anything (except policy making nonsense) were from a forestry background or in one case an economist. The problem is that in taking such an approach means walking down the middle road at risk from ambush from both sides. It can be done and a new desire to listen to the academics and others like yourself is growing amongst the people.

      Pushing through the PR barrier will be hard though and the need for moderate campaigning based on the knowledge of those in field – such as Hen achieved with SOW and other examples ( http://www.nbforest.info/blog/archive ) is ascertained.

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