Wetland Futures in Contested Environments: an inter- and transdisciplinary approach to wetland heritage in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Ireland

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bradford
Department Name: Sch of Life Sciences

Abstract

Wetland environments are amongst the most dynamic landscape types in Europe, experiencing change from climatic, demographic, economic and political influences. They have also been an area of human utilisation and exploitation for millennia, resulting in an incredible richness and diversity of tangible and intangible heritage. Wetlands across Europe, and around the world, are actively undergoing rapid change and development, but there are no tailor-made or
proactive studies to identify the impacts of change on the heritage contained within wetlands. The proposed project focusses on key wetland environments in Ireland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to act as test cases for the identification of active and passive changes in those regions, and to identify ways in which the heritage of wetlands can contribute to contemporary social challenges. Through a combination of ethnographic survey, literature review, map regression analysis, remote survey and public and stakeholder interaction, the research will identify changing perceptions of wetland heritage, changing attitudes towards wetland utilization, and changing physical conditions within the environments which may influence the longer term survival of wetland heritage. Recent years have seen the potential role of wetlands as valuable ecoservices systems in terms of water management, flood alleviation, and carbon sequestration. This drive can often occur in direct conflict with local populace perceptions of heritage and access to wetland resources. Negotiating and reconciling the rights and perceptions of the local, national and international populace is one of the key aspects that will be addressed within the proposed research programme.

Planned Impact

The proposed project has the potential for significant impact across the three countries of study across the full range of stakeholder groups and on associated diverse agendas and issues. The relevance of the research can be defined in terms of the outputs from the specific case studies, through to associated implications for heritage policy, practice, interfaces and disciplinary approaches and perspectives at national and international levels. In addition, we anticipate relevance for academic practice and research in terms of defining new agendas and methodologies for interdisciplinary research into wetland heritage issues.

At the level of the case studies, the project will act to raise the profile of heritage with local communities as well as the general public through the designated engagement events and mechanisms. These are designed to impact on all sectors of society through the bespoke outputs
including 'traditional' through to digital engagement via various forms of social media. The nuanced definition of heritage adopted for this project and the innovative framework for analysing how 'heritage' is constructed in different ways allows for an inclusive focus involving different demographics and nationalities in the overall process. The direct relevance will be enhanced by the problem oriented approach adopted that recognises and characterises the contested nature of certain landscapes and associated definitions of heritage. The engagement activities are also designed to communicate the role that heritage can play in terms of understanding trajectories of environmental and social change, in terms of issues concerning sustainability and 'wise use' of wetlands. This is intended to be a major societal legacy for the communities in Ireland, the Netherlands, and the UK, and will act as case studies for future development and promotion of the active role of heritage within the context of the different direct and indirect threats to the resource. In particular, communication of the intimate connection between the future conservation and management of ecosystems and the protection and survival of heritage in its diverse forms. For some of the case studies, such as the Irish midlands, physical heritage in the form of archaeological sites will inevitably be lost but the value of preserving those elements of culture and society that will form heritage futures can be addressed. The project will aim to empower local communities to take their own direction in these matters.

The involvement of the associate partners is intended to have impact and relevance beyond the immediate constraints of the planned project. The lasting legacy will be in the form of new partnerships that will outlast the duration of the project; these are envisaged to include a range
of stakeholders, consisting of the local community through to curatorial and heritage managers. The 'high level' direct outputs, in the form of guidance and information for policy makers and stakeholders will be designed to feed into frameworks and approaches to cultural heritage management for wetland environments, taking account of specific national contexts. Assigning an economic value to such information (for example, 'cultural services' in the context of the ecosystem services framework) is, at present, highly problematic. However, the project will enable formal comparisons of the varying national and regional perceptions of wetland cultural heritage, comparing and contrasting the current threats and future prognosis for the protection and long-term survival of various heritage assets. This foundation will lead to an improved ability to valorise cultural heritage assets within wetland environments, and to comprehend how such assets may best be managed with regard to variations in local, regional, national and international perceptions.

Publications

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