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Cultural Landscapes BlogVisioning for recoupling social and ecological landscape components: A report of the PECSRL workshop

Visioning for recoupling social and ecological landscape components: A report of the PECSRL workshop

29 September 2014/by Thanasis Kizos/Tags: PECSRL, workshop, diversity, landscape

The Permanent Conference for the Study of the Rural landscape (PECSRL, is according to its statement “an international network of landscape researchers whose interest focus on the past, present and future of European landscapes, and its members (and many others) meet every two years in a different European country for a Conference that is alive and vibrant for 26 meetings (from 1957!). The people that attend these Conferences reflect the wide diversity of the landscape concept itself, from historical geography to landscape ecology and beyond. Its most recent meeting was this September in Gothenburg and Mariestad (
Visioning for recoupling social and ecological landscape components: A report of the PECSRL workshop

This Conference felt like the ideal venue to host a workshop on a number of issues that HERCULES deals with, especially in the “conceptual” so to speak part of the project, the one that seeks to embrace the diversity of landscape meanings and that of practitioners and come up with strategies and policy options for understanding, protecting and planning for landscapes. So, under the lead of Claudia Bieling (that handled most of the correspondence with the organizers and participants), Tobias Plieninger and me, a workshop on “Visioning for recoupling social and ecological landscape components” was held in Gothenburg on the 9th of September. Why “(re)coupling”? Because the “modernization” of agriculture, urbanization and the shift of global economy towards services has resulted in the break-down of interlinkages between nature and society and this is depicted on its landscapes. So, (re)coupling would mean to re-embed knowledge and people in landscape management, as current trajectories of landscape change lead to “de-coupling” of its social and ecological components, resulting in unsustainability. So, the idea of the workshop was to “Explore and discuss the idea of (re)coupling social and ecological dimensions in landscapes, from a conceptual and applied point of view” and “specify how visioning practices can contribute to improving such linkages” as Claudia discussed in the initial presentation of the 1st session of the workshop.

Bas Pedroli followed and discussed how to cope with external influences on the landscape and the fundamental need for visioning. His insights came from another FP7 project, VOLANTE (, which explores visions of land use transitions in Europe. According to Bas, a major issue today of European landscapes is that in most cases their policy relevance not self-evident, as neither “Landscape” nor “land use” are an EU area of policies, yet many EU policies directly influence land use and the landscape, along with a high degree of uncertainty from global, regional and local forces. Coping strategies for this uncertainty is to identify clear visions of European land use policy and land management and reduce the large variation in possible land use scenarios for the future to a manageable set, resulting in a “roadmap” for Future Land Resources Management in Europe. This roadmap is currently being prepared with the assistance of stakeholders at local and EU levels and a key message so far is that “For policies to be effective they should be context sensitive (including regional differentiation) instead of “one size fits all””.

Marie Stenseke followed, discussing integrated landscape management, both visions and practice from a number of empirical examples from around Europe, with a goal to improve scientific guidance for integrated landscape management. She commented that when we manage landscapes we manage change and the real issue in integration are the constant “negotiations” between natural and cultural heritage features and between conservation objectives and other societal ambitions. Time is of great importance here, in integrating old culture or “new” culture and the “traditional” and the “new”. Overall, Marie concluded with a challenge on how to link “Top-down” and “Participation” to have the expert knowledge required for integrated landscape management but also to ensure that local knowledge is also included and represented to avoid landscape “banalisation”, a danger more and more real.

The next presenter, Lone Kristensen (along with Jørgen Primdahl) seemed to follow on the issues raised, as she discussed Landscape Strategy Making, as a very practical and already implemented tool that can reconnect landscape, agriculture and rural development. Why strategy making? And at what spatial / landscape level? The answers, derived from long experience with Danish examples strategies work at the regional and local levels (with varying degrees of detail) and are there to inform and shape policies and management actions at the local level, that of landscape managers. She discussed the new needs in this exercise that include policy measures action oriented, based on collaboration and dialogue that involve common learning. The issue of who should participate came up as important: those whose interests are at stake? Those who own and use the land? Those who have knowledge, resources and control? And then how the strategy should be formulated, with identifying what we have, what is important, what can be developed, and where the conflicts are. She concluded by presenting how the strategy processes can work at different geographical scales, integrate objectives and coordinate existing policies, initiate discussions of local values, create ideas about the future, but, at the same time not everything was easy and feasible, especially for the Danish context what proved difficult was re-connecting agricultural production interests with the rest of society.

Then I took the stand to present a case of competing and conflicting landscape values from a Greek example (which we did along with Claire Kelly, Vasilis Detsis and Minas Metaxakis). What came up as important was the importance of social variables and social capital in discussing on the future and the landscape. Many participants were aware of the “public” role in the workshops and acted – talked a bit different from private interviews (more reserved, less outspoken). For many, landscapes seemed to be frozen images in time and they felt reluctant towards ANY kind of change. Finally, the issue of an overall agreement on how we want the landscape was raised and discussed, along with how to balance the opinions of local societies with that of experts.

Isabel Loupa Ramos (along with Ricardo Silva) presented next methods and techniques on integrating alternative landscape visualization. The presentation was building around the questions raised in previous presentations, on how we can obtain opinions from people and present alternative scenarios to them in a meaningful and comprehensive way. The example she presented was based on narrative and imagery to present alternative scenarios of landscape change for a Portuguese case and enhance participatory approaches in landscape planning and the findings encourage the use of these approaches, as they can easily illustrate changes that are otherwise hidden.

The final presentation of the first session was from Claire Planchat (with Armelle Caron, Arnaud Larade and Valérie Angeon) again on Participatory Landscape Visualisation, based on the Green and Blue Networks in France. A multiple set of tools and approaches were used and the discussion was based on how such methods can enhance the coupling of scientific and lay knowledge, and facilitate the coupling of Ecology with landscape and regional development / planning.

After a much needed brake to let all of these interesting presentations and stimulating findings sip in, in the second session, a round table was held, with the presenters from the previous session and more participants. In this session, we discussed on how the landscape can serve as a “tool” or a medium to foster socio-ecological integration or linkages to reach sustainability. The input from the presentations proved very valuable to drive the discussion towards a context for multiple scales and multiple approaches, for which the landscape is by definition suitable. The discussion was so vivid and fertile that in the end we decided to develop it into a conceptual paper that can provide this context in a more systematic and coherent way.

Overall, this was a very useful and stimulating event that proves the power of such workshops, especially with the right mix of people.

Thanasis Kizos
University of the Aegean


Photo Swabian Alb by Rainer Sturm

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