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Landscape in a changing world

Summary by Graham Fairclough, English Heritage

Is ‘landscape’ coming of age? Is it becoming a serious interdisciplinary field of study, and joining a wider scientific community? A new European Science Strategy document suggests that it is.

Landscape in a changing world front cover“Landscape in a Changing World – Bridging Divides, Integrating Disciplines, Serving Society” is the latest (no 41) in a series of ‘Science Policy Briefings’ prepared and published by the European Science Foundation to determine the development of key areas of scientific and academic activity across Europe. It is important that this landscape policy briefing is published in a series which usually concerns itself with the ‘hard’ sciences such as physics, medical science and bio-chemistry; disciplines which often seem to take the lion’s share of funding and political support. Simply being an ‘SPB’ offers to give landscape a much greater scientific profile, in both Arts and Humanities and in the Sciences. Indeed, the landscape Network of Networks chaired by Prof Tom Bloemers was invited by ESF/COST to prepare the SPB precisely because landscape already crosses many traditional disciplinary boundaries. It therefore offered a test bed for exploring how greater interdisciplinary work can be achieved in all fields.

The new SPB is essentially about how the process and results of landscape research can help politicians, policy-makers and society at large to address major current challenges from climate change to demographic changes, migration and food security. As the SPB points out, however, landscape studies (whilst in recent decades vigorously expanding, with much innovative work to its credit and naturally providing a common intellectual and emotional meeting place) are hampered by disciplinary fragmentation. In addition, broadly interdisciplinary fora (such as the LCN) unfortunately remain rare. ‘Landscape in a Changing World’ makes recommendations for taking the first steps towards lowering the obstacles that prevent Landscape from fulfilling its potential in terms of research and knowledge. Some of these recommendations need an injection of new funding which may not be immediately forthcoming in the present climate. Others ‘simply’ need a change in the way people think and act so that existing resources and expertise are used in different ways.

The SPB might be a turning point. But whether it will be as influential as it should be remains to be seen and will depend on how people use it. It will not achieve much (eg release funding) on its own because it is just a tool (albeit a very useful one) and tools need to be taken up and used in the right way (and in this case in the short term, in the next two or three years, while it is new and visible).