Measuring Landscape

There’s something about the way that fields and churches and orchards and houses and dry-stone walls have been artfully arranged over the centuries that nourishes our inner life and calms the human psyche; wilderness, on the other hand, is just saying ‘Woooaaahhh'”

Pete McCarthy

Between landscape research and subsequent policy and the work of land management practitioners there exist large, deep chasms.

Landscape means much to many and it is impossible, indeed dangerous to try, to reduce anyone’s perception of landscape – particularly their own landscape. But governments and others do so regularly, as they have to under the banner of economic progress, and resulting cost due to protest is high.

In many ways it can be argued that the widespread ‘dumbing down’ of our landscapes – both the mention of them and the reduction of elements in them that increase the multiple values of that landscape – is a deliberate attempt to avoid the supposed complications arising from having to consult. And consultation processes these days are all too often based on the assumption, quite rightly in the majority of cases, that there will be protest, with the media happily helping to ensure that any protest will be as vicious as possible by way of highlighting the polarised extreme views and never the middle line. We all end up paying too much money.

So the easiest solution is for policy makers and others to aim to ‘simplify’ processes in land management planning and land use instead and by doing so remove the most significant of voices; those who belong to that landscape, because it is assumed too difficult to quantify their sense of ownership of that landscape.


In working with others exploring ways to quantify landscape values in order to highlight good landscape management practice it has been a huge shock, and frankly a bit scary, to realise there has been little attempt to do so before in tune with traditional practitioner methodology, a methodology all too aware of the complexity and diversity of the landscape concerned. Media can’t possibly highlight the huge range of factors it really needs to – and the resulting ‘coverage’ of landscape and land use is invariably lacking. Unfortunately policy makers are now forced into accepting such coverage in their decision making and thus a further barrier is created, in turn imposing fashions on landscape management thus moving steadily further away from sustainability.

Practitioners and others invariably work with a site specific approach, where the background information, usually spatial and thus mapped, can be over layered on top of the plan of the site involved (the vertical) and then ‘on site’ the lateral information is determined (the horizontal). It is the point of the angle between the vertical and the horizontal which has become a problem. Those needed to help determine an accurate and effective lateral input into the planning are all too often excluded. These vital stakeholders, which must, if the planning is to work properly, include those from that landscape are now all too often usurped by a gang of green fleeced self appointed ‘experts’ whose special isms are wonderful insights into a minute factor with regards that landscape but not much more. No surprise we have dangerous policy which only hones in on the needs of 1 or 2 species – such as biodiversity offsetting English style.


What we really need are those belonging to a landscape to point out things for consideration. And these things or features are what we need to quantify. Given the substantial evidence that a significant proportion of our biodiversity is now to be found in man made landscape features, we cannot allow for our human influenced landscapes, our rich cultural landscapes to be forsaken completely in favour of chasing an ideal habitat for one or two rarities – although this is still something that should and can be done according to the site specifics of some of our more unique landscapes and areas of importance for particular indicator species.

So measuring a landscape towards defining good landscape management practice involves identifying and measuring landscape features, and that is what I am involved with now. The results are surprising and the realisation of the extraordinary quantity of values that can be attributed to some of our traditional landscape features highlights just how low we value the natural and man made in the world around us – as well as how low we value ourselves and the privilege of being part of a landscape, any landscape.

At present I’m playing about with external surface area measurements for dry stone walls, ultimately to try and find a standardised system of measuring these features. Initial results are surprising, one square metre of wall face = (on average) an external surface area of 8.3 square metres, including 1.8 metres of horizontal surface. Thus 100 metres of dry stone wall = 432 square metres of flat surface area, ideal for many small mammals, birds, reptiles and a vast range of invertebrates. Making a mockery of grubbing out such a feature for crop maximisation only to then plant wide strips of wildflowers as a measure to combat biodiversity concerns. Imagine further that the dry stone wall is a Cornish hedge and include the surface area of the plants and trees growing on it! Immense – and that’s still not including the wider benefits of these features, for example for water management purposes, of such concern in the UK at present where the debate is largely focussed on sheep and tree planting.


Our land management forebears created an extraordinary landscape of beauty and immense sustainable value, how can we have been so stupid to ignore this for so long?

Being a very small part of a very large new project towards landscape (HERCULES – HERitage in CULtural landscapES) and seeing the initial research I’m delighted to feel optimistic that soon we all will be able to engage with the planning of all our landscapes.



Filed under Trees and Woodlands

2 responses to “Measuring Landscape

  1. Reblogged this on HortusLudi and commented:
    I think you should all read this post about landscape

  2. I’ve reblogged this in Hortus Ludi – fascinating & so true – hope you’re ok with that – let be know if you’d prefer me to remove

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