The Places that Speak to Us and the Publics We Talk With: Shaping Environmental Histories

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: School of Humanities

Abstract

Context
‘The Places that Speak to Us and the Publics We Talk With’ develops the work of two Networks funded under the Researching Environmental Change Network call: ‘Local Places, Global Processes: Histories of Environmental Change’ and ‘Cultural Spaces of Climate’. ‘Local Places’ revolved around three site-specific workshops on location at Wicken Fen (Cambridgeshire), Quantock Hills (Somerset), and Kielder Water and Forest Park (Northumberland). At each venue, we worked with a formal project partner - the National Trust, the AONB service and Northumbrian Water, respectively - and forged relationships with other environment management organizations, including the Forestry Commission and the Wildlife Trusts. We combined indoor pursuits such as academic papers, presentations by project partners and round table discussions involving partner representatives, with direct engagement with the locales themselves. The Cultural Spaces of Climate’ Network was more orientated towards traditional academic discourse in the seminar room, and entailed innovative engagement with arts and humanities representatives, the broader research community, learned and professional societies and the public sector, to identify ways to redress the global and scientific bias in climate discourse, to explore the meaning of climate for different groups in different spatial and temporal contexts and to interrogate climate’s ontological status. This joint proposal from the ‘Local Places’ Investigators and the Principal Investigator for ‘Cultural Spaces of Climate’ combines their experience and expertise in pursuit of a new round of activities that develops the original research agendas but uses them in combination to shed light on how processes of communication and the transformation of meaning in different contexts shape understanding of the environment, through the structured interaction of different research strands engaging with a variety of publics.

Aims and Objere:

1. To generate innovative and productive knowledge exchanges between academics studying past environmental change from arts and humanities perspectives and professionals – our project partners – who manage environments and address environmental change.
2. To endeavour to contribute to management decisions by applying perspectives that take account of human perceptions, community involvement and other cultural considerations. Our longer term aim is to help inform public policy.
3. To examine, through the inter-relations of our different sub-projects embracing the broad category ‘the environment’, how different methods, contexts and publics, and processes of communication across these elements, shape environmental understanding and the translation of understanding across audiences.
4. To pursue a range of projects, workshops and events in collaboration with partners to secure these ends. Some of these undertakings are directly related to previous workshops and Network outputs: an interview project, with professionals involved in managing the site and local community members, and a workshop to advance the book arising from ‘Local Places’. Others are spin-offs: the Quantock Orchard Project to research the role of orchards in the local landscape; Walking Militarized Landscapes to devise walks around military training estates; a public lecture series on ‘Environmental Visions’ at Wicken Fen. These projects develop existing partner relationships (National Trust, AONB service and Northumbrian Water) and formalize links with the Forestry Commission and the Royal Geographical Society (With Institute of British Geographers). We bring the two Networks’ research directly together by investigating local co-production and reception of climate change adaptation strategies adopted by environmental managers.
Potential applications and benefits
The potential research applications include informing decisions by professionals who manage sites and addresange; heightening public awareness of such issues; providing insight on practices of communication and the emergence of meaning for academic and non-academic partners; and contributing to public policy decisions. With these in mind, we also plan a Journalism Workshop convened by Erin Gill, an environmental journalist, to explore how to extract newsworthy stories from our research, convey them in appropriate language and place them to maximize the public as well as scholarly value and impact.
We will also hold a follow-up Forests and Woodlands Workshop with Forestry Commission and National Trust support, to bring historical, cultural and social perspectives to key concepts, such as ownership and management, community, access, and value, highlighted at our previous DEFRA meeting (September 2011).

Planned Impact

Impact Summary
‘The Places that Speak to Us’ will build especially on the objective of the ‘Local Places’ Network to forge durable working relationships between academics and professionals involved in managing environmental change. The greatest demonstrable contribution that environmental historians can bring to understanding processes of environmental change is to situate them in their wider social, economic, political, cultural, and scientific contexts, identifying differing meanings that have been given to environmental change at different times and in different places. This can influence the development of policy by helping today’s managers and policymakers understand the perceptions and cultural interpretations that act as levers or barriers to managing the ‘environment’. The historical perspective and arts and humanities approach can also provide environmental professionals with a fresh understanding of how human agency has long been central to environmental change, just as human action has been intensively shaped by the context of environmental challenges and opportunities. Moreover, understanding of how places and publics shapes environmental discourse can help deliver more effective communication and understanding of the narratives that inform policy.

The ‘Local Places’ Network’s impact has already been felt through our four meetings (the fourth not part of our original schedule) and conference session in Finland; and dissemination via podcasts, the website, and workshop reports. We have established enduring contacts with our project partners and others involved in environmental management and campaigning, which we intend to develop through further deliberation and written materials, lectures, the website and social media, and media training. Network members have and will continue to develop contacts and engage with policy makers. A model was the meeting at DEFRA with the Secretariat to the Independent Panel on Forestry, with the sup& Policy website, which involved Network members, project partners from Kielder, and the head of policy development for the Italian ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry.

Three existing partners (Quantock Hills AONB team, Northumbrian Water and the National Trust) and two new ones (the Forestry Commission and Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers [RGS-IBG]) will be involved in the next stage. They share our belief that university-based environmental historians can have an impact on policy planning and stimulate thinking about their activities. One project partner characterized the Network as ‘a vital link, between humanities research and the delivery of environmental policy’. Another wrote: ‘[We] very much enjoyed the discussions on protected landscapes and what is meant by natural beauty.... I found it refreshing to have some challenging questions thrown at us about why and how we manage our site. ...I am keen to explore further opportunities for joint working’.

The Network’s activities have also highlighted opportunities to develop links with new communities and audiences, especially the AHRC Cultural Spaces of Climate Network (PI, Endfield), which will afford engagement with additional users and audiences, including learned societies, voluntary and enthusiast organizations and other elements of the public. The proposed Co-Production of Climate Change Strategies project will also allow engagement with local publics and policy makers.

At every stage we propose to match research advances with wider engagement and dissemination, for example, at the ‘What’s the Story?’ Workshop on media skills (led by Erin Gill) and the meeting on forests and woodlands. The public lectures at Wicken Fen are a means to engage in dialogue with a wider public. The development of the Militarized Landscape walks for ‘Discovering Britain’ will provide a service to an extensive walking public and raise the profile of environrough association with RGS-IBG.

The continuing series of events and collaborations is a key output in its own right. We will also be leavening this work with publications, designed to be of use both to the academic and non-academic worlds. Firstly, a volume of essays, edited by Coates, Endfield, Moon and Warde, on 'Understanding Environmental Change: Local Places and Global Processes'. This will draw on the workshops, the Finnish conference roundtable, and our work with partners. It will include academic essays, and discussions developed through blogs, panel discussions, artworks and podcasts. These provide avenues to reflect on the process of developing understanding more accurately as a model to practitioners. Not least, this volume delivers a record of the Network’s activity to a high academic standard. Secondly, we have prepared ‘packs’ of materials on our workshop locations for our project partners and wider circulation. We will build on all these activities in 2012 to embed public values more deeply in our research to maximize impact. Thirdly, a collaborative article that addresses the interaction and insight to be gained by thinking and communicating across a range of activities will help bring new insight to the processes at the heart of the project, whilst providing a broader, comparative view of environmental understanding for partners and wider publics.
 
Description The key findings for this award are that external partners in the environmental/land management sector are more than willing to work with university-based environmental historians to not only gain fresh perspectives on the places they manage, and also keen to plan projects together that allow them to accomplish goals that are highly desirable from their standpoint but for which they do not have the resources (human and financial) in-house. For this reason, this project led directly to a follow-on project, 'The Places That Speak to Us and the Publics We Talk With', which was based on a set of well-defined activities, such as: a series of web-based walks for the Royal Geographical Society; an oral history project in conjunction with the Forestry Commission (North East England) and Northumbrian Water; a report on climate change strategies of local land managers; and an orchard mapping project (with the Quantock Hills AONB Service that included the organization of a (first ever) Quantock Apple Heritage Day.
Exploitation Route Our findings were included in the book edited by the Project Investigators, 'Local Places: Global Processes: Histories of Environmental Change in Britain and Beyond' (Oxford: Windgather Press/Oxbow Books, 2016).
Sectors Creative Economy,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description 'Desire for the wild - wild desires: re-wilding in a world of social, environmental and climate change' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This 2-day workshop was organized by the project team and involved land managers as well as academics. It served to extend our collaborative partnership with the National Trust team at Wicken Fen (Cambridgeshire).

N/A
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description 'Trees to cherish: connecting history, policy and the future' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This one-day workshop was organized by the project team in conjunction with the National Trust and the Woodland Trust, as well as History & Policy (a group that connects historians, policy makers and the media).

Further workshops of this nature may well be held in the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description 'Valuing Nature: History and Policy Environment Forum' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The success of this one-day event organized by one of the project team's Co-Investigators led to the organization of another workshop in conjunction with History & Policy (a group that connects historians, policy makers and the media): 'Trees to cherish' (January 2014).

The success of this event led to the organization of another workshop in conjunction with History and Policy (a group that connects historians, policy makers and the media): 'Trees to cherish' (January 2014).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description 'What's the story?: Using journalism to publicize your research' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This workshop, organized and led by the project team's Engagement and Impact Officer (Dr Erin Gill, a journalist with a doctorate in history), has encouraged project team members to disseminate their research more widely.

The range of engagement activities in which project team members became involved increased markedly following the workshop.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Kielder Oral History Project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This project had led to the planning of an additional project involving the same group of people living in the Kielder area - to improve Northumbrian Water's understanding of local attitudes to water quality improvement measures.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012
 
Description Presentation of orchard research at Quantock Hills AONB Joint Advisory Committee meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact Helped to raise awareness of the importance of orchards to the historic landscape of the area and to advance the cause of orchard restoration in future management plans.

Not yet known.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012