Creative landscape futures: making decisions with the arts and humanities

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: School of Social Science


This research network will bring together academics and a range of stakeholders to explore the ways that arts and humanities research can contribute to decision-making about landscapes. Our focus is Scotland, which has its own legal setting and distinctive forms of land ownership - and distinctive landscapes - and we will also make connections with the rest of the UK and beyond. We will hold a series of seminars to share insights, with some hosted by our non-academic stakeholder participants, and carry out further field visits to meet with stakeholders. Our academic participants come from anthropology, art, archaeology, law and others. We also have freelance artists and archaeologists, three arts organisations, Historic Environment Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, Forest Research, and Landscape Institute Scotland.

While Scotland is known for the concentration of large, privately-owned estates in the Highlands, there are in fact a wide diversity of organisations and communities involved in land ownership and management. Many have been supported through the land reform process carried out by successive Scottish governments since devolution. This has led to new directions for landscape management, such as rewilding and ecological restoration, renewable energy initiatives, and sites managed for heritage, which often sit alongside the 'traditional' land uses of farming, forestry and field sports. Using arts and humanities research, our network has the opportunity to explore the history of these diverse landscapes, document current ways of making decisions, and promote new possibilities for their futures.

We use 'creativity' as a key word for our network. By creative landscape, we want to emphasise an alternative to a neutral backdrop or the scenery of mainstream traditions of Western art. Landscape, we argue, is the site and creative activity of dwelling for humans and other beings. Our network will explore how arts and humanities research can recognise the creativity of ordinary relationships with landscape and make this a factor in decision-making too. This is how our 'creative landscape futures' will emerge.

We will articulate the idea of creativity through the first three concrete objectives of our network. First, we will explore the emergence of cultural values in relations with landscape through the various disciplinary perspectives in our network, and directly through field visits and stakeholder engagement. Notions of cultural value that are useful for landscape decision-making, and go beyond economic and environmental rationales (although without denying their significance), will be a key theme for impact.

Second, we will promote models for wider participation and find ways to involve stakeholders, communities and the public in landscape decision-making, drawn from socially-engaged art and community heritage amongst others.

Third, we will develop a broad notion of temporality - by which we mean an understanding of the qualities of time - to connect between past, present and future in landscape decision-making. Our archaeology and heritage participants will show the importance of smaller scale stories of places, as well as the 'grand narratives' of the Scottish landscape.

Our fourth objective is to investigate case studies in Scotland and comparisons to the UK and beyond. We will draw on our network participants' research, but also interrogate and challenge each other to consider the significance of our work specifically for decision-making. To do this we will conduct field visits to meet stakeholders in a range of landscape settings.

Fifth, we will work together to synthesise the findings of the network for audiences including landowners and managers, policy-makers, communities and the wider public. As well as written outputs for academic and stakeholder audiences, we will host an exhibition with arts-led and other contributions from our network. A website will also document and archive our work.

Planned Impact

The impact of this network will be in finding ways to include arts and humanities research in landscape decision-making. We will engage with landowners, managers and communities through specific landscape case studies. As outcomes, we will propose ways of understanding cultural values, widening participation, and recognising different forms of temporality in the landscape. We will produce non-technical and policy-relevant publications for government, NGO and third-sector organisations and also communicate with the wider public.

All our events will be attended by non-academic participants (see participant list, Case for Support), and we will advertise to further relevant stakeholders locally. Small-scale collaborative field visits with local stakeholders including land owners and communities - to include the Black Wood of Rannoch, Bennachie, Mar Lodge and others - will also create case study material for our written outcomes. These will be fed back to local stakeholders to allow for comparison of their situation to others.

On a wider level, we will engage with the policies of landowner / manager organisations and public policy. We are particularly interested in non-traditional landowning organisations, such as National Trust for Scotland and community-owned land related to the land reform process in Scotland since devolution. We have good connections with the Scottish Land Commission and dissemination of our written outputs will include 'traditional' landowners too (via National Farmers Union of Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates). A key impact will be to demonstrate how the range of cultural values that emerge from relationships with landscape could be incorporated into decision making. This will include outdoor access activity as well as farming, forestry and field sports, and we will connect with organisations such as the Ramblers Association, Scotways and the Scottish Mountaineering Club.

We will also work with the forestry sector through Forest Research, the research arm of the Forestry Commission. Forestry organisations in Scotland and the UK have a remit that includes public and community participation in land management, and here we will introduce arts and humanities perspectives. Understanding cultural value could enable forestry practices to work more closely with communities living close to forests and the wider public.

A further sector for impact is the renewable energy industry, including landowners, and communities involved with renewables and affected by climate change - especially island communities facing coastal erosion. Our seminar and associated work in Orkney will engage with professionals involved in marine renewables, which includes land-sea infrastructure, in questions of cultural value and decision-making amongst diverse stakeholders and at different scales.

At a national level the Scottish Government's National Performance Outcomes on environment and community will be relevant to our work and we will disseminate outcomes to the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Rural Policy, with whom we have direct links. A further initiative is the Scottish Landscape Alliance, led by the Landscape Institute Scotland and Historic Environment Scotland (HES) (both in our network), to consider landscape management in Scotland. HES also have specific interests in the links between archaeology and creative practice and we will explore how these can be brought into decision-making. Our arts organisations and freelance artists will also gain through insights into their landscapes and connections with other stakeholders.

We will also develop impact through our public-facing activities, including our exhibition and website. The exhibition will be hosted by two arts organisations who are project partners in this application, Pier Arts Centre in Orkney and Peacock Visual Arts in Aberdeen. Contact with the public will enable us to raise the profile of arts and humanities research on landscape.


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Description Fences, dust and wind: Kite Aerial Photography at the edgelands of Aberdeen Harbour Expansion 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This in-person event experimented with kite aerial photography as a way of exploring the boundaries and edgelands of a major development project in the city of Aberdeen - the harbour expansion around the Bay of Nigg. It was attended by a mix of academics and arts practitioners. During the event we walked around the area practicing flying a kite with a digital camera attached. Follow up events have included an online session to view and discuss the resulting images and videos, and a session with postgraduate theatre practitioners from Central St Martin's University of the Arts London who have also been experimenting with collaborative walking and kite flying performance. We plan further activity including a repeat event at the harbour and are also considering a new project application.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Indeterminacies: arts and landscapes 
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 online event brought together the Creative Landscape Futures research network with the NewLEAF Future of UK Treescapes project. There is a shared interest in indeterminacy and the ways that it is engaged with across natural & social science, arts and humanities research in and for landscape decision-making. The event was a shared multi-disciplinary thinking space to enable ideas and research to develop with a particular focus in bringing the arts into discourse with the natural and social sciences on this important topic. As well as academics, attendees included artists and researchers from Forest Research working towards policy outcomes. Artists were able to share ways of thinking and working with indeterminacy that went beyond attempts to control and circumscribe complex systems. The group have commited to continue meeting and work towards further publication and impact outcomes.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021,2022
Description Network launch event and workshop 
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 30 members of the Creative Landscape Futures network met in Aberdeen to launch the network on February 5-6 2020. The aims of the network were discussed and participants presented their current work on the theme of the network. Events involving participants from the creative arts, heritage and policy alongside academics were planned.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020