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R W Emerson
Nature and culture
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Isle of Wight
Sense of place toolkit
Thinking about landscapes
Data for meditation
...Meditation on landscapes
visual social science
A Cross Curricular Syllabus For Learning About Conservation Management
from 'Landscape' through 'Habitats' to 'Species'
Images, i.e. paintings drawings and photographs can be used as historical archives of actual places and events but also as materials for research into 'visual social science'. Visual studies apply visual methods to investigate the intrinsic power and effects of images on society through the creation of
The British declared two such visual sub-cultures in 1949; the 'National Park' and the 'Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty'.
Over the years, the distinctions between these two categories of scenic beauty have become blurred and the chief difference between them now is that the National Parks function as the planning authority within their boundary whereas planning within an AONB is the responsibility of local government. The following link explains the differences in more detail.
Table of Contents
1 Turning 'space' into 'place'
2 Turning 'place' into 'managed beauty': 1947-2007
3 Aesthetics and ecology
4 Visual landscape quality
(Frank Newbould, World War 2 civilian-effort poster)
1 Turning 'space' into 'place'
"At the time of writing the Lake District is an aspirant World Heritage Site. Heritage implies a cultural legacy, and a landscape once misperceived as an unspoilt wilderness (rather than an ecologically degraded product of deforestation) is now undergoing a second aesthetic re-evaluation. Today it is less frequently seen as a site of' natural natural, and is instead increasingly valued as a complex cultural product that came to exemplify new ideals in the Western history of ideas. Ironically the original aesthetic appreciation of what was perceived to be 'beauty" in turn led to further laying down of cultural strata. Probably the best-known contributors to these deposits are the early 19th-ccntury Romantic poets of the Lakeland School, who included the Wordsworth siblings William and Dorothy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey. However, in the second half of the century the Victorian polymath John Ruskin added further rich layers from the perspectives of art critic, social reformer and proto-environmenralist. It is significant that each of these figures (albeit in very different ways) was also a famous exponent of 'walking'. However, the process by which walking transformed space or wilderness into the place we today call the Lake District had begun in the previous century, and its primary driver had been the new scopic regime. Put more simply, the 'Lake District' was created by people who came to 'look*.
With respect to how the act of looking contributed to the construction of place, three enduring tropes have to be considered. The earliest is the Picturesque comparison of nature to art through repeated idealisation of scenery; it was subsequently joined (though not replaced) by the Romantic quest for 'authenticity' and 'exclusivity' of experience. These two seemingly opposed forms of seeing were both largely informed through a third phenomenon, the performative act of walking as an aesthetic or recreational pastime, a seemingly informal pursuit that has generated innumerable local representations and guidebooks over the past two and a half centuries. Much has been written on all of the above subjects, but less consideration has been given to them collectively from the primary perspective of a local history of looking, or an accumulation of individual explorations of the literary; realm. Furthermore, despite the long history of books on Lake District walks, only recently has walking begun to be recognised as an academic research methodology that has transformed space into place."
2 Turning 'place' into 'managed beauty': 1947-2007
Hobhouse committee report
There are many areas of fine country in England and Wales which are not included in the selection of national parks but yet possess outstanding landscape beauty. They are often of great scientific interest and in many cases include important holiday areas. While in the main they do not call for the degree of positive management required in National Parks, their contribution to the wider enjoyment of the countryside is so important that special measures should be taken to preserve their natural beauty and interest.
"We recommend, therefore, that the Minister of Town and Country Planning should designate areas of high landscape quality, scientific interest and recreational value as Conservation Areas."
The failure to make provision for positive management of AONBs was not an error, but was a result of the narrow thinking of that time.
National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949
Action on the reports by John Dower and Sir Arthur Hobhouse led to the establishment of National Parks and AONBs. The National Parks Commission was given the power to designate areas as National Parks and AONBs. National Parks were designated for their natural beauty and opportunities for open-air recreation whereas AONBs only for the former. The practical effects of the AONB designation are detailed below:
The 1949 Act gave the then National Parks Commission
... the power to designate AONBs, subject to confirmation by the Secretary of State. The only criteria were that the areas designated should be outside National Parks, and should appear to the designating agency to be of such outstanding natural beauty that the provisions of the 1949 NPAC Act should apply to them.
These provisions were that local planning authorities whose area includes all or part of an AONB should have the power (subject to certain restrictions) to take such actions as appear to them expedient to accomplish the purpose of protecting and enhancing the natural beauty of the AONB ... The Environment Act 1995 changed the purpose of 'protecting and enhancing' AONBs to 'conserving and enhancing' but still in regard only to the powers of local authorities. No statutory duties were placed on local authorities actively to manage AONBs in any particular way.
Countryside Commission AONBs: A Policy Statement
The National Parks Commission was the original statutory body with responsibility for designating and providing guidance on the protection of AONBs. These responsibilities were later transferred to the Countryside Commission (1968), the Countryside Agency (1999) and finally Natural England (2006). Responsibility in Wales from 1990 rested with the Countryside Council for Wales.
The Countryside Commission set out the purposes of designation as follows:
The primary purpose of AONB designation is to conserve and enhance natural beauty.
In pursuing the primary purpose account should be taken of the needs of agriculture, forestry, other rural industries and of the economic and social needs of local communities. Particular regard should be paid to promoting sustainable forms of social and economic development that in themselves conserve and enhance the environment.
Recreation is not an objective of designation, but the demand for recreation should be met so far as this is consistent with the conservation of natural beauty and the needs of agriculture, forestry and other uses.
In a debate marking the 50th anniversary of the 1949 Act, some of the limitations of the original legislation were outlined by Martin Caton, the MP whose constituency contains the Gower Peninsula, which in 1956 became the first AONB to be designated:
We can still, 50 years later, rejoice in the title of areas of outstanding natural beauty, as it tells us what we are talking about: some of the finest landscape and most environmentally important countryside in the whole of England and Wales. Although we might quibble about whether the countryside that we are talking about is truly natural, for most people the title communicates very well what we are trying to say...
Countryside Commission, Protecting Our Finest Countryside: Advice to Government, CCP 532, 1998, pp. 24-26.
In the late 1990's a series of policy developments served to raise the profile of AONBs and highlight the perceived weaknesses in their financial and legislative arrangements. In December 1998 the Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty was launched, primarily representing English and Welsh local authorities with AONBs within their boundaries. In the 1990's a series of reviews were carried out and in 1998 the Countryside Commission submitted advice to the Government setting out their recommendations on the funding and management of AONBs. They recommended "legislation to remedy the defect in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 which gave powers to designate AONBs but which did not make anyone responsible for their management". They further recommended that "local authorities should be statutorily required to pursue the objective for which AONBs were designated and to produce statutory AONB Management Plans" and that , "they should be enabled, where they wish, to discharge that duty through the formal constitution of Conservation Boards". On the issue of funding, they concluded that the "effective management of AONBs requires increased and secure funding"
In relation to planning controls, the Countryside Commission called on the Government to;
"confirm that the landscape qualities of National Parks and AONBs are equivalent and that equivalent policies for their protection against inappropriate development are in place" and in particular, that they should legislate to "create an explicit statutory obligation on all public bodies ... to have regard to the need to enhance the natural beauty of AONBs"
Countryside Council for Wales gave similar advice to the Welsh Office on Protected Landscapes in Wales
Building on these recommendations, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, the Chairman of the Sussex Downs Conservation Board, introduced the Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty Bill in April 1999 which sought to enact these recommendations.
Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000
These recommendations were subsequently implemented by Part IV of the CRoW Act. The main changes introduced were set out in Countryside Agency Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: A Guide for AONB partnership members (November 2001):
The new legislation in the CRoW Act marks a significant raising of the AONB status and confirms their importance in government policy...
The CRoW Act reaffirms the purposes of AONB designation and confirms the powers of local authorities to take appropriate action to conserve or enhance the natural beauty of AONBs. It also places a new statutory duty on local authorities to prepare and publish a Management Plan for the AONB which sets out their policies for managing the AONB and for carrying out their functions in relation to it. New Plans must be prepared by April 2004 and then reviewed every five years.
There is another important provision that places a duty on all 'relevant authorities' to have regard for the purposes of conserving and enhancing the AONB: 'relevant authorities' includes any public body (e.g. a government department or agency) and any statutory undertaker (e.g. water companies). This part of the Act opens the door to many people and organisations getting involved in AONB management that the AONBs have not always engaged with before.
The Act also allows for the Secretary of State to establish, after consultation with local authorities, new management arrangements for AONBs in the form of a 'conservation board'. Conservation boards will not be appropriate for all AONBs but may be needed for the larger, more administratively complex AONBs where there is a range of issues which can best be addressed by an independent body with its own executive powers to act directly. Where these independent bodies have been established, they will carry out the duty to prepare Management Plans and will act to manage the AONB.
On the issue of planning controls, the document states that:
Planning authorities ... must include policies in development plans that favour the conservation of the natural beauty and character of AONBs. Their development control decisions should follow these policies and provide AONBs with a framework that integrates social, environmental and economic factors to allow for the conservation and enhancement of the AONB in the longer term.
AONB designation is not about stopping development, but it encourages development to be approached with special care. Poorly designed, or located development can spoil the character of an area, but some development can have great social and economic benefits for the community which can further AONB aims in the long term.
In all AONBs major development should be regarded as inconsistent with the aims of development. Schemes for major roads, motorways, large building developments and mineral workings should be avoided. Authorities should also consider the issue of the impact of a number of developments in the long term, or cumulative impacts, and make policies accordingly. Small-scale developments, particularly if they are essential to the needs of the local community, are normally acceptable and should be within, or close to, existing towns and villages and be in sympathy with the character of the area. Good planning in AONBs should look to add value through development and ensure, for example, good design on all new houses.
(ibid, pp. 10-11)
Countryside Agency Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty Management Plans: A Guide
AONBs include "some of our finest countryside ... [they are living and working landscapes protected by law. They are inhabited by thousands of people and are loved and visited by many thousands more". Their primary statutory purpose is to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the landscape:
The statutory definition of 'Natural Beauty' includes flora, fauna and geological and physiographic features. The natural beauty of AONBs is partly due to nature, and is partly the product of many centuries of human modification of 'natural' features. Landscape encompasses everything - 'natural' and human - that makes an area distinctive: geology, climate, soil, plants, animals, communities, archaeology, buildings, the people who live in it, past and present, and the perceptions of those who visit it.
AONBs are human-made, cultural landscapes. They are also living landscapes, both by virtue of the species and habitats within them, and because their special qualities can only be maintained by continuing human activity. Very little in the English landscape can be described as 'natural', being the result of the combined effects of many centuries of human influence to create the landscape of today. They cannot be frozen in time, they may and will change. What is important is to understand what makes them special, then to develop a vision of how they can be sustained into the future.
Management Guidelines for IUCN Category V Protected Areas: Protected Landscapes/Seascapes (Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series No. 9, No. 009)
It is noted that the core idea of Category V is the "maintenance of environmental and cultural values where there is a direct interaction between people and nature. The focus of management of Category V areas is not on nature conservation per se, but about guiding human processes so that the area and its resources are protected, managed and capable of evolving in a sustainable way - and natural and cultural values are thereby maintained and enhanced" (p. 10). The report outlines why there has been an increased interest in protected landscapes in a global context and summarises the wide range of benefits that they provide:
...in recent years greater attention has been focused on outstanding, lived-in, working landscapes. This is in large part due to recent, important conceptual and operational advances in conservation in general, and protected areas in particular. Thus, conservation biology has shown the need to work at the ecosystem scale and across the wider landscape, through bio-regional strategies. World-wide, it is now accepted that protected areas can no longer be treated as islands, but must be seen in a larger context ... Also, there is a new understanding of the link between nature and culture: healthy landscapes are shaped by human culture as well as the forces of nature; rich biological diversity often coincides with cultural diversity; and conservation cannot be undertaken without the involvement of those people closest to the resources...
In addition, Category V protected areas ... are also receiving more attention because they:
are seen as a means of identifying, supporting and promoting sustainable resource use, which is especially valuable where there are storehouses of traditions and tried and well-tested practices that can be drawn upon in using natural resources sustainably...
are key elements in large-scale conservation programmes known as bio-regional planning, ecosystem management, ecosystem-based management or landscape scale planning...
can buttress, buffer or support more strictly protected areas...
can perform a similar role as "building blocks" in biological or ecological Corridors...
offer scope for the restoration of natural and cultural values as well as for their protection...
are regarded as a meeting ground between the cultural and natural heritage...
are a very flexible way of managing an area, capable of taking many different forms according to the local situation...
often include agricultural systems and other land use practices that depend on, and conserve, a rich genetic heritage of domesticated livestock and crops, whose potential value is increasingly appreciated
In March 2005 the Government issued new guidance for organisations and public bodies whose activities impact upon protected landscapes (Defra, Duties on relevant authorities to have regard to the purposes of National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads: Guidance Note). The Guidance did not introduce any new requirements but aimed to raise awareness and understanding of the existing duties.
In late spring 2005, Defra introduced a three year Sustainable Development Fund (SDF) programme for AONBs, with £3.5m being made available in the first year. The Fund is intended to "support the purposes of AONBs and the delivery of their management plans; support Defra's objectives of sustainable development, partnership and social inclusion; and support ... Natural England ... in working towards a sustainably managed countryside, improved environment and integrated delivery of rural services" (Defra web site 'Landscape Protection').
Guidance on the establishment and operation of Conservation Boards was published by Defra in October 2005 (AONB Conservation Boards: Departmental Guidance). In addition to the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty of the AONB, Conservation Boards must also have regard to increasing the understanding and enjoyment by the public of the AONBs special qualities. However, if there is a conflict between these two purposes, it is to attach greater weight to conserving and enhancing the AONB. The first two Conservation Boards were created in 2004 for the Chilterns and Cotswolds AONBs.
SPICe Briefing 05/08 Protected Areas, February 2005, p. 5
a range of other environmental benefits that protected areas provide and some of those identified by Scottish Natural Heritage:
...protected areas can play a role as a provider of environmental goods and services. In addition to the protection and management of wildlife, habitats, historic environment and landscapes, many can provide clean water, flood management and carbon sequestration. They can also contribute to the production of traditional food, drink and timber products, as well as providing places for enjoyment and recreation.
Finally, they can be practical examples of sustainable development. Some protected areas are able to pioneer initiatives and develop new, integrated, approaches to sustainable development. For example, the larger areas ... have wide aims, and an integrated focus. However, smaller protected areas can also play a role by developing new thinking and techniques on conservation management, responsible access, public participation, sustainable rural development and community well-being.
('Natural England's Draft Policy on Landscape', Paper No. NEB PU08 05
The UK ratified the European Landscape Convention, which aims to ensure the proper protection, management and planning of landscapes across Europe and is the "first international agreement specifically addressing landscape issues". The Government concluded that "the UK already meets the Articles of the Convention so will not need to change existing policy or legislation" (Defra web site 'Landscape Protection').
Discussion of the merging of National Parks and AONBs
...have stated that "protected landscapes play a key role in the conservation, enhancement and delivery of the sustainable use and management of England's natural environment; exemplifying and demonstrating best practice" :
and that they "demonstrate the inextricable links between biodiversity and landscape quality" (Natural England, personal communication).
"there is currently no national-level programme specifically for monitoring the landscape condition of National Parks and AONBs" however, "common condition indicators are currently being considered" for both National Parks and AONBs. They have assessed the "effectiveness of landscape designation" by using the "condition of designated habitats that contribute to those landscapes" but found that the percentage of SSSIs with an overall condition which was favourable or recovering was 80% in AONBs compared to 82% outside of the Protected Landscapes.
The Countryside Quality Counts (CQC) project
This report raised the issue of the need for assessment of the performance of AONBs in terms of landscape quality, was initiated to provide a systematic assessment and understanding of change in the countryside, taking account of such attributes as biodiversity, tranquillity, heritage and landscape character. One of the policy areas in which such evidence was to be applied was in helping monitor and report on the success of landscape policies for Protected Landscape Areas (PLAs) i.e. National Parks and AONBs; the assessment reported in 2007 (Tracking Change in the Character of the English Landscape, 1999 to 2003). The assessment method is applied to Joint Character Areas (JCAs), areas with similar landscape character. These do not coincide with the boundaries of Protected Landscape Areas (PLAs).
The report concluded that "at present the CQC results can only be used in an indicative way for those PLAs that either make up a large part of an individual JCA, or which are composed of several JCAs ... the CQC study shows how a national framework for monitoring change within the PLA's could be developed. This might be of relevance if, for example, a Public Service Agreement were to be developed around the idea of ensuring that the landscape quality of these areas was being sustained" (p. 31). The report recommended that action should be taken to initiate such an assessment for PLAs. The headline results for the study showed that of England's 159 Joint Character Areas:
10% have been enhanced
51% have been maintained
20% are neglected
19% are diverging, where new landscape characteristics are emerging
A press release accompanying the publication of the report also stated that "the picture is brighter in some of the best loved and protected areas of England from the Lake District to the Cotswolds. Our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are included within the top ten per cent of Joint Character Areas where landscape quality has improved since 1998 and 2003, when judged on seven key criteria, from woodland cover to river quality" (Natural England Press Release 'Traditional landscapes are changing', 15th June 2007).
3 Aesthetics and ecology
Ecosystems function at widely varying scales, but the average person engages with habitats and species scenically, at a landscape scale. Landscape is therefore humankind's "perceptible environmental realm (PER).". At this scale, landscape perception thus becomes the key process for connecting us with ecological phenomena as we quickly categorise the physical patterns in our line of sight
It is at this level that the simple act of looking gives rise lo aesthetic experiences, and here that people interact with ecosystems in a very general way. Some landscape interactions elicit aesthetic experiences that have traditionally been called "scenic beauty." while others elicit different aesthetic experiences, such as, 'attachment', 'identity' and the 'need for protection'. The PER, is important because it is the scale at which humans intentionally change landscapes by inventing management systems to produce goods and services from natural resources. Aesthetic experiences may thus lead people to change the landscape in ways that may or may not be consistent with its ecological function.
Nevertheless, aesthetic experiences also evoke through the PER a powerful urge to regularly engage with a landscape's component ecosystems on smaller scales. Environmental phenomena extend from the sub-microscopic to the global and change over time-spans ranging from milliseconds to millennia. In landscape ecology ecosystems can be as small as the home range of a mollusc burrowing in a sandy shore to an avian habitat that is larger than a continent. It is difficult for us to understand, care about, and act purposefully upon phenomena that occur at scales beyond our own direct experience, but the establishment of a relationship between aesthetics and ecology can provide an easier route. This implies that landscapes that are perceived as aesthetically pleasing, at any level, are more likely to be appreciated and protected than are landscapes perceived as undistinguished or ugly, regardless of their less directly perceivable ecological importance
The task of an educator is therefore to start with art and move towards the science within a cross curricular framework.
The arts and sciences are essential ways that we come to know the world, but much of our response to the environment is determined through individual experience of landscapes. Because humans so powerfully affect environmental phenomena, it is highly meaningful and relevant to understand human interaction with ecosystems at the scale of landscapes which are essentially humanity's ecological footprints.
4 Visual landscape quality
Daniel and Vining have distinguished five approaches or 'models' to study visual landscape quality, which can be placed on a dimension ranging from objectivistic to subjectivistic:
• The ecological model, an objectivist approach, defines landscape quality as independent of the observer and entirely determined by ecological or biological features in the landscape. Within this model the observer is seen as a user of the landscape and a potential disturbance.
• The formal aesthetic model, also an objectivist approach, characterises landscapes in terms of formal properties, such as form, line, unity and variety. These properties are seen as inherent characteristics of the landscape that can be assessed by appropriately trained individuals (e.g. landscape architects).
• The psychophysical model takes a position between the objectivist and subjectivist approach. It aims to establish general relationships between measured physical characteristics of a scene (taken from photographs or geographical databases) and landscape preferences.
• The psychological model, a subjectivist approach, characterises the landscape in subjective terms by relying on human judgements of complexity, mystery, legibility, etc.These judgements are then related to an array of cognitive, affective and evaluative dimensions of landscape experiences.
* The phenomenological model is the most subjectivist model. It focuses on how each individual assigns personal relevance to landscape attributes in personal interpretations of landscape encounters.
After reviewing the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, Daniel and Vining concluded that a careful merger of the psychophysical and psychological approach 'might well provide the basis for a reliable, valid and useful system of landscape-quality assessment'
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