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Cultural Landscapes BlogHuman and social dimensions of landscape stewardship

Human and social dimensions of landscape stewardship

29 March 2015/by Elisabeth Conrad/Tags: landscape stewardship,

Our landscapes; our privilege; our responsibility. This is, simply put, the concept of landscape stewardship. As the word itself suggests, a stewardship approach implies that we manage our landscapes and the resources contained therein not only assuming that we have rights (typical of owners) but also on a realization that we have corresponding duties (typical of caretakers). It is an approach fundamentally based on several core tenets of sustainability, intra and intergenerational equity, inclusiveness, and the safeguarding of critical ecosystem services among them.
Human and social dimensions of landscape stewardship

It is a philosophy that makes intuitive sense and that is ingrained within the cultures of many indigenous peoples and traditional societies. However, developing such a stewardship approach in mainstream modern society will require a fair degree of innovation in the years to come. Creating a sense of stewardship is particularly challenging within contexts where landscapes are changing quickly and becoming more homogenous, where urban development is expanding at an unprecedented rate, and where sense of place is a commodity under increasing threat. How do we ask people to act as stewards of landscapes that they may struggle to identify with? At the same time, should we not accept that change is a core characteristic of all landscapes, a force that cannot (and should not) be arrested? Furthermore, how do we encourage citizens, with their busy lifestyles, to give up their valuable time and resources to become involved in the governance and management of their landscapes?

These are questions that will need to be addressed if the vision of the European Landscape Convention is to become a reality. Although there is no single clear solution, there are many avenues that can help us make progress in this regard.  Perhaps a first and fundamental step is getting people to care about the landscapes they live and work in. I remember reading the eminent biologist E.O. Wilson’s discussion of biophilia, love for nature, and thinking that perhaps here was a part of the solution that decision-makers tend to overlook (or dismiss as too ‘fuzzy’). His deduction that environmental education will only succeed if it builds on an emotional bond between people and nature that is developed from childhood lends itself wholeheartedly to the concept of landscape stewardship. A key task for decision-makers in the coming years may thus be finding ways for people to experience landscapes more consciously and deliberately, connecting (or re-connecting) people with place as a first step to inspiring their ‘love’ for these landscapes.

We also need to find ways of better exploiting the benefits of landscape for human health and wellbeing, integrating the findings of environmental psychology into mainstream landscape management practices. Then, we need to find ways of developing effective governance mechanisms that allow people to be active participants in the process of decision-making – allowing them, in real fact, to be stewards of their landscapes, rather than passive observers on the sidelines. Although the theory of public participation is well established in the landscape literature, there is much to suggest that the practice still leaves a lot to be desired. A further overarching question is how we juggle the seemingly opposing forces of rights and duties. How do we exploit landscapes to fulfill our needs while ensuring that we are still remaining within the bounds of stewardship; where are these boundaries, how do we establish them, and how can our spatial and landscape planning systems help us reach this delicate balance? Finding answers to these questions will need to be a high priority on the agenda of landscape professionals in years to come.



This blog contribution is part of a series on the science and practice of landscape stewardship and will be further elaborated in the course of a book chapter. We are looking for real-world cases of good practices that exemplify the principles of landscape stewardship and that serve as a model to inspire implementation in other landscapes. Please share examples or thoughts by adding a comment!


Photo credit: katharina_geist (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,

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