Landscape and landscape ecology as factors in the process of integrated spatial management

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During the last years, the landscape definition related to the European Landscape Convention has been more and more recognized among scientists and planners dealing with different aspects of landscapes. Sometimes the definition has been abbreviated to the sentence: ‘ an area, as perceived by people', see, e.g. (Olwig 2005), thus focusing on the mental construction of the landscape concept. Indeed, this perceptional aspect is also crucial to understand the ongoing mental battles on landscape identity that can be observed within Europe these years at all spatial levels. However, as far as I can see, the real new and innovative in the definition of the landscape convention is precisely the interrelation between the first part, and the second: ‘an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors'(Council of Europe 2000).  I have been told that the definition was created as a political ‘compromise' between a social constructivist and a positivist/materialist point of view. If so, it was a lucky compromise, giving room for a highly needed new quality in European landscape research and planning that for many years has been more and more influenced by a strong division of basic  concepts like nature/culture, body and soul, city and countryside etc., primarily related to a still stronger division of basic thinking in nature science, social science and humanities.



The development of European landscape ecology

Since the beginning of the 1980ties broad landscape themes have been a part of an ongoing discussion among an interdisciplinary group of landscape  scientists and planners, calling themselves landscape ecologists. Some of these consider themselves exclusively nature scientists, but in Europe they represent a minority: In the standard brochure from the International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE) landscape ecology is presented as ‘the study of spatial variation in landscapes at a variety of scales. It includes the biophysical and societal causes and consequences of landscape heterogeneity. Above all, it is broadly inter- and transdisciplinary'. The organization is presented as ‘An organization devoted to sustainable, scientifically based management of landscapes, ranging from wilderness to cities'(IALE 2007). In a mission statement from 1998 these perspectives have been elaborated upon in detail  (IALE 1998).

The concept of landscape ecology can be traced back to the late 1930ties, where the german biogeographer Carl Troll in a paper almost accidentially mentioned it as an aspect of land cover and land use research based on air photo interpretation:'Luftbildforschung ist zu einem sehr hohen Grade Landscahftsökologie', adding a very important characteristic: ‘Die Luftbildforschung wirkt außerdem in hervorragendem Maße wissenschaftsverbindend'(Troll 1939). Later Troll used the term landscape ecology in a broader sense for the ambition to integrate biology and geography in area studies at the landscape level. Similar integrative perspectives developed parallelly in the science communities of many European Countries, both in east and west, often initiated by geographers, and just as often with very limited success.

The idea to set up an international association for landscape ecology developed among Dutch landscape ecologists during the end of the 1970ties based on a Slovakian proposal:  at that time landscape ecology had developed in The Netherlands in close connection to landscape planning, organised in the rather powerful Dutch society for landscape ecology (WLO). They organised the first International Congress on Landscape Ecology in Veldhoven in 1981 (Tjallingii and De Veer 1981).Natural landscapes and landscape aspects of nature conservation was certainly a theme on the conference, but the main focus was on man-made landscapes, including urban ecology and the relations between urban and rural landscapes. Dutch landscape ecology had already a strong tradition for international cooperation, mainly in western Europe and North America, but decisive for the initiative was the participation of Dutch landscape ecologists in some landscape ecological conferences in eastern Europe, opening their eyes for the long and strong tradition within landscape ecology especially in Eastern Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Soviet Union (especially in Siberia, where a huge centre for landscape ecology was established in Irkutsk), but also in other parts of Eastern Europe. Already since 1967 International conferences in landscape ecology had been organised every third year for Eastern Europe by Milan Ružička and his team from the Slovak Academy of Science. It was clear, that there was an enormous potential for the development of both science and planning in a closer international cooperation between landscape ecologist and landscape planners and managers in east and west, so Dutch and Slovakian colleagues decided to overcome the obstacles of the continuous cold war.

As a result, the International Association for Landscape Ecology (IALE) was founded during the IVth International Symposium on Problems in Landscape Ecological Research here in Piestany in Slovakia in 1982, 26 years ago (ten Houte de Lange 1983).

Already from the very beginning cultural aspects of landscape ecology was given special attention due to the overwhelming dominance of man-made landscape transformations in Europe, but also due to the long tradition for the study and protection of cultural landscapes (Svobodová 1990; Svobodová and Uhde 1993; Naveh 1998).

Parallel, there was a strong influence from a new trend within spatial ecology, related to the upcoming island-biogeographical and later metapopulation theory for the study of dispersal of plants and animals through the landscape. This type of theory was basically supported by the strong embedded argument for spatial planning at very different scales, in Europe culminating by the establishment of the Natura 2000-network, additionally facilitating the need for adaptation of the European biodiversity to expected climatic changes. There was however a marked gap between these theories, including their general applicability and the empirical evidence, which was very limited, at best. Dispersal and spatial reproduction conditions for different species of plant and animals are extremely different and relevant information has only been available for very few species. The endeavour to generalize this information for planning purposes, e.g. for the establishment of dispersal corridors to stabilize biodiversity, has in many ways not been based on any empirical evidence. Although many landscape ecologists were very eager to be engaged in practical landscape planning, their scientific responsibility forced them often to be more and more humble concerning the applicability, often confronted with the economic consequences of their advises. As a consequence especially many biologists moved again into pure science, and concentrated on the collection of empirical data for a few species, often studied only at one or two different landscape scales.

Allow me to give you an example on this development, and the social mechanisms it produces: In the mid-80ties a group of West European landscape ecologist was invited to a ‘travelling seminar' in the czech part of Czechoslovakia to study and discuss landscape corridors. After a weeks travel we ended up in South Moravia not that far from here, were a local landscape architects presented us for an example of modern landscape corridors having been constructed as strip forests to connects different isolated forests localised to the summits of the hilly agricultural landscape:' You have been discussing landscape theory for a week, but here we have done it in practise, and you can see the result', he explained.  Asking for the financiering of the corridors we were told, that the local farm cooperative had got a loan from the Ministry of Agriculture to cover the expenditures. Due to the experimental character of the project the loan was very attractive: It was free of rent and payment. But one important condition was added: It had to be proved that the corridor would work. In other words: that the investment would be paid back as an improvement of the dispersal of plant and animals. As landscape ecologists we were suddenly looking at each other: And it was very clear to us that the planning of landscape corridors would put a serious responsibility on our shoulders concerning their functionality. Of course! But honestly, we were not at all in a position, where we could deliver such a proof.

Correspondingly an interesting division of labour in the development of landscape ecology since the 80ties can be observed: Many scholars and institutions has kept the applied approach and tried to combine the planning perspectives of dispersal ecology with other spatial planning principles related to geo-ecological landscape stabilisation or landscape accessibility for recreational purposes. Other scholars and institutions concentrated on the development of detailed dispersal ecological or metapopulation studies of some carefully selected so-called ‘key-species' based on extensive field work. Both groups went often, but not exclusively, into computerbased modelbuilding and development of spatial statistics based on GIS and Remote Sensing data. But these trends were to a certain extent regionally differentiated: American landscape ecology clearly moved in the direction of quantitative model- and science-based academic studies, mostly in ‘natural areas', eventually under human ‘disturbance'. Parallels to this trend could be seen in most parts of the new world (e.g. Australia) as well as in other areas with low population density. European landscape ecologists, however, have in general kept the interdisciplinary and applied planning-oriented approach, putting more emphasis on a holistic view on landscape ecology and its application in cultural landscapes. This is especially the case in the more densely inhabited parts of Europe.  Rather than to see this division as a sign of fragmentation within landscape ecology it should be welcomed, since both trends are necessary for the common goal (still dominated by nature scientific thinking), namely ‘to develop landscape ecology as the scientific basis for the analysis, planning and management of the landscapes of the world.' (IALE 1998).

However, it also reflects some other fundamental differences in the conditions for landscape planning and management: In North American tradition, protection of nature is almost entirely related to public regulation of state- or federal owned nature reserves. Here, the implementation of landscape ecological principles for regulation is in general rather straight-forward. In the densely populated Europe, dominated by old cultural landscapes, nature protection and nature development has by necessity been much more dependent on cooperation between public, private and cooperative types of land ownership, giving rise to a very complicated context-sensitive planning and management of European landscapes. In the end, who have really the competence to change these types of landscape? Who decides, who makes the actions, and what influences their decisions and actions? How are these decisions and actions related to the historical developed identities of these landscapes for different groups of people? And how are these identities influenced by decision makers and active changers of the landscape?

For the elucidation of these questions, it is useful to introduce a distinction between different forms of practical geographical competence existing to put forward changes in a landscape, set up by the late Swedish geographer Torsten Hägerstrand:

In a paper on the political geography of environmental management he emphasizes that all human management of the environment is in general based on a clear partition of competence to given geographical domains (Hägerstrand 1995). The lowest primary domain is the unit of property, within which the owner have the free right to change the landscape, within some general rules set up by society. The owner or user is the only one that can do physical changes within his or her domain, and this right receive strong protection in almost all societies today. Fixed rules must be followed when they are transferred from one owner or user to the next, and boundaries tend to be very stable over time.  Hägerstrand calls this exceptional right to manage and change the primary domain the right to exercise territorial competence - this to be seen in contradiction to the much more limited spatial competence of all power holders of domains at higher levels - that is municipalities, regions, nation, EU, typically represented by politicians and the public service related to these domains.

They certainly have competence within their strict defined domains, but only the competence to set up general conditions on what should or could be done within the domain or to designate sub-domains, and set up special conditions for these areas.

But if they want to change the landscape physically, also designated areas, they have to make an agreement with the owner or to bye up the land, meaning acquiring the territorial competence of the domain at the lowest level. The only exception to this rule seems to be within the infrastructural sector.

The power holders of higher order domains will often be split up in two different strata: Beside the integrating bodies with spatial competence, specialized bodies, such as a ministry of agriculture, forestry or environment, will exercise functional competence, uniting the specialisations within the geographical domain. The functional competence might have a certain extended spatial influence, setting up conditions also at the lower levels of domains, but still the power holders of functional competence cannot in general directly make any changes at the lowest level.

All the power holders of higher order domains can only take care of symbolic transactions: political deliberations, rule setting, control, tax collection, subsidy provision etc.. Symbolic transactions at the social level are vital for the transformation of society and for its ability to unite for common future goals. But we should have no illusions concerning their power in a direct transformation of our European landscapes. Hägerstrand characterises the difficulties facing a transformation towards a sustainable use of our landscapes through symbolic transactions in this way:


"The social realm of symbolic transactions has a surface part which is mobile and where only lack of imagination sets limits to the content of desire-pictures about the future. But deeper down this highly visible canopy is held in place by the rather stiff stems of social institutions. Their task is in most cases to resist rapid change. On the landscape itself, for quite different reasons, there is also inertia. It takes almost a century for a coniferous forest to mature. Big cities persist for millennia. So, when a new thought such as the large-scale management of the biosphere emerges among the desire-pictures, every form of real practical action pointing in a new direction meets a world in which social institutions and physical arrangements are plaited together in an intimate grip and with few exceptions organized for exploitation of nature rather than caretaking and rejuvenation" (Hägerstrand 1995).


It's a basic conclusion that symbolic transactions have first of all to be formulated and developed in accordance with or at least not against the interests of the power holders of the primary domains.

This of course makes landscape planning and management very vulnerable especially to changing market prices for any type of farm or land use products, economically critical for the land use decisions of the majority of European land owners.  It obviously also represents a fundamental challenge for the development of property rights in our society to serve social governance (Hodge 2007).  Thus, trends in market conditions and market development, not the least in the form of politically promoted globalization, cannot be separated from any type of policy, planning and management related to the European landscapes.



Sustainable development and globalisation

The development of modern landscape ecology has been closely related to the development of a growing interest in landscape planning and management following the foundation of the environmental movement and the rise of sustainable development as an agenda for the common future.

However, during the last decade the agenda on sustainable development has obviously been challenged by the agenda of globalization, closely related to the demand on an open marked pushed forward by the World Trade Organization. These two agendas are now running their own individual life almost independently from each other. The globalization agenda is driven by technological and economic renewal, dominated by traditional economic power. In comparison the agenda on sustainable development is more defensive and with less influence on the present rapid landscape changes. The agendas has at least up to now differed in the way that globalization is oriented towards and open market with the individual producer and consumer in focus, whereas the agenda of sustainable development is oriented towards collective goals, such as nature protection, pollution, common land use, social justice etc.  At the political level the globalisation agenda has been accomplished almost without any spatial or geographical dimension, whereas the sustainability agenda has been closely related to the handling of the differentiation in the material environment apprehended at different spatial scales.

The European Landscape Convention from 2000 (Council of Europe 2000) can be seen as a concretization of the sustainability agenda, focusing on the need of changing the historically developed landscape perspective from a more or less narrow specialist or artist issue to an integrated part of the local and regional democracy (Olwig 2007). The convention also develops a frame for a nationally and regionally differentiated handling of landscape questions in the different parts of Europe, by prescribing the signing national authorities to identify their own landscapes throughout the national territory, to analyze their characteristics and the forces and pressures transforming them, and to take note of changes, as well as to define quality objectives for the identified landscapes (Art. 6). In the explanatory report enclosing the European Landscape Convention it is explicated as an important aim that Landscape must become a mainstream political concern, since it plays an important role in the well being of Europeans who are no longer prepared to tolerate the alteration of their surroundings by technical and economic developments in which they have had no say. Landscape is the concern of all and lends itself to democratic treatment, particularly at local and regional level' (par. 23 of the Explanatory Report (Council of Europe 2000)).

Extensive integrated research projects carried out in several European countries during the 1990ties lead the foundation for this process, too, with emphasis on local studies of landscape and sustainable development.

Also the globalization agenda is carried out at different spatial levels from the global to the local, working primarily with deregulation, market orientation, product differentiation and reduction of distribution costs, attended by a considerable centralization of business power. However, where the globalization agenda at least up to now has been centrally regulated especially through international politics, the sustainable development agenda is mainly formulated and concretized at a lower often regional and local level.

As a consequence, policy formulated at the local landscape level is forced to handle economic decisions and rules most often made at a higher level.

In general, only at the local level the two agendas are integrated, and only here the landscape consequences of globalization come to the surface.

Here, the future influence from the globalisation agenda should not be underestimated -  not only at the material land use level with a variety of landscape ecological consequences, but also concerning perception and identities related to landscapes: The growing interest in the landscape as a place of identity with qualities to be protected and developed as a common good should be seen as a parallel to a growing commercial interest in the attachment of product qualities as a part of a unique landscape identity that can serve as a brand to escape price competition following the globalisation agenda. On the one hand we can observe how local and regional communities these years involve the inhabitants heavily in the promotion of any type of landscape qualities and local identity that can serve to place the community in the consciousness of the surrounding world. On the other hand powerful stakeholders will always dominate the resulting general regional and local branding process. The more the branding is separated from  ‘a world in which social institutions and physical arrangements are plaited together in an intimate grip' the more free it will feel to influence the landscape identity suitable for marketing purposes.  But what will be the result? An area as perceived by people? - whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors? Here you may probably have one of  the most difficult challenges for the landscape convention in the future. To meet that challenge you really need to mobilize all aspects of landscape science, planning and management, and destroy the fruitless division of landscape concept into a physical and a mental part.


Council of Europe (2000). European Landscape Convention and Explanatory Report. Landscape Convention\T-LAND 06e. Strasbourg: 20.         

Hodge, I. (2007). "Presidential Address: The Governance of Rural Land in a Liberalised World." Journal of Agricultural Economics 38(3): 409-432.

Hägerstrand, T. (1995). A look at the political geography of environmental management. Dublin, Cross-Disciplinary Forum. Department of Geography. University College Dublin: 27.

IALE (1998). Mission Statement. IALE Bulletin. 16: 1.

IALE (2007). IALE - International Association for Landscape Ecology - a flyer. Nottingham.          

Naveh, Z. (1998). Culture and Landscape Conservation: A Landscape-Ecological Perspective. Ecology Today: An Anthology of Contemporary Ecological Research. B. Gopal, P. S. Patak and K. G. Saxena. New Delhi, Int. Sci. Publ.: 19-48.

Olwig, K. K. (2007). "The Practice of Landscape 'Conventions' and the Just Landscape: The Case of the European Landscape Convention." Landscape Research 32(5): 279-294.               

Olwig, K. R. (2005). "Law, Polity and the Changing Meaning of Landscapes." Landscape Research 30(3): 293-298.

Svobodová (1990). Cultural aspects of landscape. Wageningen, Pudoc.          

Svobodová and Uhde (1993). Place in space - human culture in landscape. Pudoc, Pudoc.               

ten Houte de Lange, S. M. (1983). "The international Association for Landsdcape Ecology: A brief history." IALE Bulletin 1(1): 3-4.               

Tjallingii, S. P. and A. A. De Veer (1981). Perspectives in Landscape Ecology. Wageningen, Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation.               

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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSeventh meeting of the Workshop of the Council of Europe for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention : Landscape quality objectives: from theory to practice
Number of pages9
PublisherCouncil of Europe
Publication date2009
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Event7th meeting of the Workshops of the Council of Europe for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention - Piestany, Slovakia
Duration: 24 Apr 200825 Apr 2008
Conference number: 7


Conference7th meeting of the Workshops of the Council of Europe for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention

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