Community Empowerment & Landscape – A Discussion

Rachel Tennant, Chair Landscape Institute Scotland, calls for a united approach to landscape, place and change to ensure Scotland’s landscapes are embedded in communities.

I attended with interest this discussion chaired by BEFS in Partnership with Community Land Scotland and Inherit following on from the publication of the research report ‘Community Empowerment and Landscape in September this year. The report examines the relationship between communities of place and landscape designations.

The debate was wide ranging in attempting to distil the positive steps that can be taken towards empowering community participation, as a human right, in decisions that affect the landscape and places that they live in.

I was heartened by the summing up of the report’s recommendations: –

  • Sustainable, rights based and accountable;
  • Empowered people with legitimate voices; and
  • A modern multi-objective approach to conservation practice.

Whilst the report focuses on the rural environment, as landscape designations mainly cover these areas, community participation is also vital in urban areas. The European Landscape Convention (ELC) to which Scotland is a signatory through the UK, upholds that all landscapes matter as they impact on and shape people’s lives.

In the last year we have seen a number of reports and strategies published all seeking change and betterment in Scotland’s relationship with our landscapes. ‘A New Blueprint for Scotland’s Rural Economyby National Council of Rural Advisers; ‘Landscape for Scotland’ from the Landscape Institute Scotland and ‘Scotland’s Geo-Diversity Charterby the Scottish Geodiversity Forum. In addition, the Scottish Government has released draft strategies on Forestry, the Environment, the new Place Principle has been launched and Historic Environment Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage have prepared Corporate Strategies – all of which effect communities and landscapes. This is with a backdrop of the Planning Bill, land reform and a proposed new Human Rights Act in Scotland.

Forgive the pun but it’s a busy landscape out there.

Scotland’s international commitments clearly set out the relationship between landscape, people and place.  The ELC recognises landscapes in law as an essential component of people’s surroundings, an expression of diversity of their shared cultural and natural heritage and a foundation of their identity. In addition it seeks to ensure greater participation of the public, authorities and other parties in decisions that affect landscape and to further integrate landscape into all its policies.

Landscape and natural capital are clearly embedded in the United Nations seventeen Sustainable Development Goals, to which Scotland is also a signatory. The Scottish Government use these Goals as a principal in its own National Performance Framework.

These commitments exist in law and are profound.  The ‘Scotland is Now’ campaign, by the Government, shamelessly uses the landscape as a backdrop to set our country on the world scene. So, what do we need to do to influence those in power to recognise and help them implement these commitments?

The findings of recent UN research identifies a lethal range of challenges that face our society in the coming years. Aging, low fertility, migration, climate change, automation and Artificial Intelligence are six trends that will fundamentally affect all countries in the developed north. In addition to this are scarcity of resources, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, and pollution of air, soil and water.

Ian McHarg, author of ‘Design with Nature’ believed that:-

 “we can intelligently and creatively meet human needs within the limits of the environment and thereby contribute to overall diversity and dynamic stability, which is synonymous with human and planetary health”

There were no outcomes from this interesting debate and that is a mistake. It is a noisy world and voices need to be heard at the right level to meaningfully make the balanced decisions and changes needed. There is no time to worry about the particular emphasis of individual organisations in this arena – we need to work together to ensure a collective voice. Scotland’s landscapes and people depend on this.

Landscape Institute Scotland in association with other organisations with an interest in landscape, community and place, wish to form the Scottish Landscape Alliance. We believe in a united approach to landscape, place and change through good design, stewardship and promotion to balance community, economic, cultural and biodiversity needs.  We welcome further discussion to ensure that all Scotland’s landscapes are embedded in our communities to safeguard their continuing value and benefit to the health, wellbeing and prosperity of our nation for future generations.

Rachel Tennant FLI Hon FRIAS
Chair Landscape Institute Scotland