Landscape Futures and the Challenge of Change: Towards Integrated Cultural/Natural Heritage Decision Making

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


In coming decades, the need to adapt to and mitigate accelerated environmental change will require heritage and landscape managers to make difficult decisions about how to manage assets and allocate resources. The assertion that heritage assets are irreplaceable and that heritage is a 'non-renewable resource' has underpinned a commitment by the heritage sector to protect assets from cultural and biophysical processes that may cause damage or loss of historic fabric. UK and international heritage stakeholders now appreciate that, in some contexts, promises of continued protection may be unsustainable. The sector is beginning to consider how to respond when change is inevitable, or when conservation at current levels is not feasible. New strategies are required for sensitive, proactive management of heritage transformations, particularly in vulnerable coastal landscapes and for assets already in an advanced state of decline.

The Landscape Futures and the Challenge of Change project (LFCC) responds directly to the challenge that accelerated climate change poses for the natural and cultural heritage sector. It draws on the AHRC-funded Heritage Futures research programme's innovative approaches to cross-sectoral knowledge exchange, and on programme findings which identified barriers to the effective management of change. Heritage Futures research also found, however, that shifting attention from the 'loss' of discrete heritage assets to focus on their broader landscape context may be a way to encourage more creative and confident decision making. Emphasis on the risk posed to an individual asset or feature can block the ability to see patterns of change in a wider context, and in wider temporal scales. A landscape approach, which understands cultural heritage assets as part of continually changing ecological and geophysical systems, has a key part to play in supporting a transition to more integrated and adaptive management of heritage and land assets.

The project aims to apply these findings and approaches to the development of a new decision support framework for cultural and natural heritage conservation management planning in the UK. Working collaboratively with the National Trust, Historic England and Natural England (and in consultation with a wider network of practitioners) the framework will deliver three key outcomes for landscape and heritage managers: (1) consistency in interpretation of relevant regulations and guidance, (2) confidence in making the decision to manage for change, and (3) capability in devolving decision making to local managers and inspectors. The project will develop and disseminate a new model for heritage decision making and resource the UK heritage sector to engage with long term thinking and respond to challenges more effectively and creatively. In doing so, it will show how the research undertaken as part of the Heritage Futures research programme is directly applicable to a specific set of practical problems for the sector. The project will have wide reaching significance for natural and cultural heritage research, policy-making and practice in the UK and internationally, by developing an approach that supports decision making for thriving cultural-ecological landscapes, where human and natural histories are understood as conjoined and complementary.

Planned Impact

This project brings together experienced academic researchers, national policy makers and one of the largest landowners and managers of natural and cultural assets in England to co-create an approach that works for them. The primary benefit will be targeted support for those responsible for managing landscapes and heritage assets, providing them with consistency, confidence and enhanced capability in making decisions about heritage transformations. The engagement of senior representatives of Historic England and the National Trust as IRO co-investigators in the project, and the co-design and co-delivery of activities, ensures the thorough engagement of these national organisations, and makes certain that the outputs will embedded in the future delivery of HE and NT work. Natural England's involvement as a project partner will insure integration with policy and practice across historic and natural environment contexts. In addition to benefiting the stakeholders discussed below, the project will serve as a model for collaborative and co-created research impact activity that delivers benefits directly to policy makers, regulators and decision makers.

Three stakeholder groups will benefit from this project: (1) the regulators, decision makers and asset managers directly involved in delivering the project; (2) a wider group of regulators, decision makers and asset managers who will be engaged in the project and have access to outputs, and; (3) the public, who will benefit from improved, sustainable cultural and natural heritage decision making. In the first instance, this project will benefit practitioners and asset managers currently grappling with the challenge of long term planning for changing landscapes, and the natural and cultural heritage assets within them. The first phase of the project will involve the creation of a LFCC practitioner network, which will expand as the project engages interested practitioners via web-consultation and dissemination activities. Engaged stakeholders will include: Historic Environment Scotland; English Heritage; CADW; Northern Ireland Historic Environment Division/Department for Communities; National Trust Scotland; and the Forestry Commission (as well as Local Authorities and major land managers). Outputs will be shared with stakeholders and individual practitioners via network communication channels (website, social media) and at the final event and webinar. Targeted dissemination will focus on major UK user groups (national and local government, major land owners) and UK and international networks. The Landscape Decision Programme will provide an enhanced pathway to impact, particularly through the planned workshop events focused on WP3, "Towards New Thinking & Community", which aims to create a transdisciplinary community of researchers linked to those who need to make decisions about land use and land assets. LFCC involvement in programme activities will make a contribution to building new relationships and generating new ways of thinking.

The project also makes a contribution to emerging international conversations about managing landscape change for natural and cultural value. The ICOMOS 'Future of Our Pasts' climate change report flags the importance of including cultural heritage in decision making about the future of our environment, and also highlights the need for approaches that engage proactively and creatively with loss. The IUCN has convened a discussion on the role of heritage and biodiversity in World Heritage Site management. Tools that combine consideration of natural and cultural heritage and support decision making at a landscape scale are of interest to these organisations and their networks. The research team is already engaged with both organisations on these issues and the final dissemination event/webinar and printed and online outputs provide pathways to impact on these beneficiaries (both ICOMOS and IUCN were partners on the Heritage Futures project).


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