January 9, 2013

Resilience and the Cultural Landscape

Understanding and Managing Change in Human-Shaped Environments

Agricultural landscapes are shaped by closely intertwined natural and human processes: a migrant shepherd crossing croplands in Rada de Haro, Central Spain.

This year’s first Exploring the Evidence blog post helps bring us back to the emerging literature on landscape approaches, and grounds the concept in cases in practice. Dr. Tobias Plieninger (Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities) and Dr. Claudia Bieling (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg) discuss a new book on the social and cultural elements of agricultural landscapes, and their role in building long-term sustainability and resilience in these production systems. 

The Landscape for People, Food and Nature Initiative fosters the integrated management of agricultural landscapes throughout the world. This is in line with parallel efforts (such as the European Landscape Convention) that emphasize that landscapes are a crucial component for the quality of life of local people and therefore require comprehensive protection, management and planning. However, many agricultural landscapes that have historically supported food production, nature conservation, and human livelihoods in ingenious and synergetic ways are rapidly disappearing. In the course of widespread agricultural industrialization, urbanization, and land abandonment, simplified and standardized land use practices are increasingly displacing traditional integrated systems such as extensively used mountain grasslands in the Black Forest of Germany, the traditional hay meadows of the Saxon region in Central Romania, and the dehesa agroforestry landscapes on the Iberian Peninsula. By this, we are not only losing quality of life for local people, but also traditional and localized ecological knowledge that may be needed for the upscaling of integrated landscape management.

An international group of scholars coordinated through the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (Germany) and the University of Freiburg (Germany) undertook a three-year effort to understand change of traditional agricultural landscapes through the lens of social-ecological resilience, an analytical approach that promises to systematically guide natural resources management under conditions of global environmental change. Drawing on numerous landscape-scale case studies from Europe, but also Africa, Australia and Latin America, they composed a recently published volume titled “Resilience and the Cultural Landscape: Understanding and Managing Change in Human-Shaped Environments”. It raises questions such as: How are traditional land use practices interrelated with resilience? How can low-input land use support adaptation to conditions of continuous and rapid change? How do collective efforts of social networks contribute to an integrated management of landscapes? By conceptualizing landscapes as social-ecological systems, the team shed light on critical landscape properties and components such as drivers of change, adaptive cycles, regime shifts, ecosystem stewardship and collaboration, coupling of social and ecological systems, and social capital.

The group argues that previous landscape conservation efforts, particularly in Europe, have focused too much on static, isolated, and single sector strategies (mainly motivated by preservation of biodiversity and scenery). Emphasis on resilience and adaptation is essential for guiding integrated agricultural landscapes through current conditions of rapid environmental and societal change. Such resilience-based approach may help re-direct the decline of traditional agricultural landscapes into creative pathways and reveal ways in which functions fulfilled by “traditional” landscape elements may be integrated into “modern” land-use systems, for example into emerging energy cropping systems.

For further information on the book, click here.

Photo credit: Berta Martín López

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