Cultural Landscapes Blog

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3 June 2014/by David King/Tags: human element, cultural landscapes, research project, local benefits

I would imagine that the concept of ‘cultural landscapes’ is not immediately obvious to the average person. So why would the European Commission want to support a collaborative research project to protect and manage cultural landscapes, called the HERCULES project? Some clarity was provided at the first Stakeholder Workshop on the project, organised by the European Landowners Organization in Brussels late last month.

In her excellent summary of the day’s discussion, Dr Laurence LE DU-BLAYO, who is International Coordinator for the Landscape Research Group, stressed four points:

1. Relationships between people and places. Landscapes give people a sense of belonging to a place. They must therefore be approached from the bottom-up.

2. Education and communications. Landscapes are impacted by moving populations. Sharing values is therefore important.

3. Trans-disciplinary approaches. Integrated landscape management requires sharing of budgets and a systemic approach to planning.

4. Local benefits. Cultural landscapes are not only about conservation.  They must integrate economic processes so that they are not ‘protected bubbles’. Voluntary goals should be developed that are shared by the community.

Cultural landscapes therefore have distinct human components. They are places with a socially-constructed identity.


European landscapes are constantly changing as each new generation of people takes its turn in managing the land. Today, rural societies in Europe are no longer only agricultural.  Urbanization is crafting a new rural-urban space; new relations are emerging and new jobs are being created. It is interesting to see this in the list of study landscapes identified by the project for in-depth analysis. Six out of the ten study landscapes have rural and peri-urban characteristics. The HERCULES project seeks to capture these dynamics of change in Europe’s cultural landscapes. It examines the actors responsible for driving change and those who are affected by it. It tries to identify the strengths and weaknesses of landscape management practices, and to capture what influences the decisions of land owners and land managers.

Why is this collaborative research important? Societies evolve, jobs are created, and competing uses for land are managed by the market and by public authorities. People find their own way. Do they need help from this project?

There are at least two reasons why this research is important. The first is that it makes sense in terms of efficiency to have an integrated approach to the economic, social, environmental and ethical planning of territorial (landscape) development throughout Europe. This does not just happen by itself.

The Washington D.C.- based think-thank, EcoAgriculture Partners, points out that while landscapes have to deliver on multiple objectives, the financing systems and policy frameworks to support these objectives are too often managed in isolation. Solutions to climate change, biodiversity loss, energy supply, food security, job creation, urban development, clean air, clean water, tourism as well as sustainable land management in general need to be linked up into integrated landscape initiatives. The HERCULES project could therefore provide insights into the process and drivers involved in the development of different cultural landscapes.

The second contribution that the HERCULES project could make concerns cultural heritage. Europe has a long and rich cultural heritage, much of which is anchored in rural communities. The European Commission has spent over 150 million Euros since 1986 for safeguarding cultural heritage.

In 1992, UNESCO included cultural landscapes in the World Heritage Convention. There are currently 85 cultural landscapes on the World Heritage List, 41 of which are in Europe. They “testify to the creative genius, social development and the imaginative and spiritual vitality of humanity. They are part of our collective identity”.

The Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion in France is on the List. This is an historic vineyard landscape that is in activity to the present day. The fact that it is listed shows that UNESCO considers that it is not only ‘high art’ that is culture, but also that continuing agricultural activity can be culture.

The HERCULES project could provide insights as to what enables rural communities to continue to develop economically while conserving cultural heritage.


By trying to understand how cultural landscapes develop, the Commission is looking for a scientific basis to engage with stakeholders to better manage landscapes in diverse environmental and societal contexts. At the Stakeholder Workshop, the Commission representative insisted that Brussels “is not in the business of prescribing land use choices”. Rather, it would support local planning processes.

For landowners and land managers, the real value of the HERCULES project is the contribution it makes to a living countryside.

David King

Former Head of International Relations at SAF, France
Advisor to ELO
Board Member of EcoAgriculture Partners

Source: IFAP archives. Arable farming landscape in the UK. Photo by Mrs Margaret Green, NFU of England and Wales

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The information and views set out in this Cultural Landscapes Blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the HERCULES project nor the European Commission.

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