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R W Emerson
Nature and culture
Areas and issues
Isle of Wight
Sense of place toolkit
Thinking about landscapes
Data for meditation
...Meditation on landscapes
Nature and culture
We might ask first why people want to view anything at all. At the lowest level there are purience, compulsive scopophilia and even (since nature abhors a vacuum) sheer intellectual vacancy. (The emergency services could not reach the scene of the 1972 Staines air disaster because of traffic jams caused by sightseeing motorists). Then there are curiosity and wonder. A glimpse of other worlds produces a sensation and sometimes the reality, of mental enlargement. For various reasons people enjoy contemplating lives different from their own, including animals. The most important are the desire to indentify oneself, or at least empathise, with other lives; and its near-antithesis, the desire to define oneself by contast with them.
Robert Gaunt '(1998)
'Heritage, Tradition and Modernity'
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is more than a collection of Brownian landscapes. Fundamentally an AONB boundary circumscribes a collection of rural spaces which are special settings where conjunctions between 'seers and seen' take place; pre-packaged meanings in guide books are assimilated by being attached to real objects and new meanings are generated by the qualities of the ways of seeing they induce.
Many of the features eventually prized by the AONB planners were injected into the minds of country lovers time and time again from the 1930s when the guide book industry expanded, aided and abetted by mass communicators, such as the radio presenter A.P.B Mais, to meet the needs of newly mobile masses for information about what was worth seeing in the British countryside. All that we now desire from a visit to the countryside was presented by H. Fisher for the Council for the Preservation of Rural England in 1933.
"The unique and incommunicable beauty of the English landscape constitutes for most Englishmen the strongest of all the ties which bind them to their country. However far they travel, they carry the English landscape in their hearts. As the scroll of memory unwinds' itself, scene after scene returns with its complex association of sight and hearing, the emerald green of an English May, the carpet of primroses in the clearing, the pellucid trout-stream, the fat kine browsing in the park, the cricket matches on the village green, the church spire pointing upwards to the pale-blue sky, the fragrant smell of wood fires, the butterflies on chalk hills, the lark rising from the plough into the March wind, or the morning salutation of blackbird or thrush from garden laurels".
By the 1950s it was becoming evident that protection of Fisher’s features of lanscape beauty had to be given a higher priority. Here is what W. G. Hoskins had to say in 1955 about the growing threat.
‘What else has happened to the immemorial landscape of the English countryside? Airfields have flayed it bare wherever there are level, well-drained stretches of land . . . Poor devastated Lincolnshire and Suffolk! And those long gentle lines of the dip-slope of the Cotswolds, those misty uplands of the sheep-grey oolite, how they have lent themselves to the villainous requirements of the new age! Over them drones, day after day, the obscene shape of the atom-bomber, laying a trail like a filthy slug upon Constable's and Gainsborough's sky. England of the Nissen hut, the ‘pre-fab’, and the electric fence, of the high barbed wire around some unmentionable devilment; England of the arterial by-pass, treeless and stinking of diesel oil, murderous with lorries…. Barbaric England of the scientists, the military men, the politicians; lets turn away and contemplate the past before all is lost to the vandals.’
These two quotations remind us that landscapes express the culture that made them; the forces of protection
destruction. Visually, historical balances of power can be read from what is missing and the replacements, These are the topographic and scenic interests by which land is transfigured into landscape. Transfiguration also takes place through literary descriptions and storytelling where land is used as a stage for real and imaginary people in order to express emotions such as grief, empathy and human suffering. Finally, there is the community interest which begins visually with the mounds and ridges, evidence of the first colonisers, and runs to the bungalows and power lines of the present generation of inhabitants who may gain a living from their visitors or may wish they would go away to preserve their rural idyll. It is at the level of community interest that management of an AONB begins and it is at this level that outcomes have to be evaluated in the local context. This combination of words and pictures defines the application of literary and visual studies to understand the attraction of natural beauty.
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