The government has begun an important new dialogue about the major factors driving landscape change, with a report titled Landscapes of the Future

London Futures
London Futures

The report, published by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, examines how policy structures, including planning reforms, might deliver land use systems that meet the challenges faced by the UK. These include a growing population, the effects of climate change and economic growth with limited land and natural resources.

The report was compiled following research with a range of organisations, including the Landscape Institute, during the Spring.

The report was launched and discussed at a seminar on 8 June, which drew together MPs, peers, civil servants and leading experts in the field.

Val Kirby, head of Landscape and Geodiversity at Natural England, said: “It’s been a very big week for landscape – following the launch of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment (UK NEA) and the Natural Environment White Paper, this is the third event in a week linking landscape to ecosystem services that has received national coverage.  Even though many people might be unfamiliar with the terms, having the message repeated is valuable.”

The report’s key conclusions are that:

  • Prevailing patterns of land use may not be viable in the long term and may not match the future needs of society;
  • Strategic planning policy should include consideration of green infrastructure, landscape character and provision of multiple ecosystem services;
  • Balancing competing demands for land through complementary uses in a single area will help adaptation to environmental change.

Making these changes will require integration across policy areas, as seen in the innovative Land Use Strategy for Scotland. Speaking at the launch, Simon Marsh, acting head of Sustainable Development, RSPB, said that there was a need to embed sustainable development and that there needed to be cooperation between planning departments at a landscape scale, especially following the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies.

He said that local planning authorities would need to take strategic planning decisions for green infrastructure, and that the planning system was going to have to be “strategic in dealing with the landscape scale developments”.

Howard Davies, chief executive of the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, described landscape as “a framework that cannot exist without people”.

Joe Morris, Professor Emeritus, Resource Economics and Management at Cranfield University, said that more economic value could be released from a landscape through multifunctionality, but that it was “vital to incentivise multifunctional landuse.”

Merrick Denton-Thompson CMLI added: “This is the start of a long-term conversation about our land that will have to be had across all government departments and across the lives of numerous governments themselves.

“The landscape profession is at the forefront of being able to deliver multi-functional landscapes and to harness the power of natural systems for the benefit of humanity. This new age will create endless opportunities for the profession, now and in the future.”

Kirby and colleagues at Natural England are looking to provide the next level of detail to the UK NEA, which currently defines eight different landscape and ecosystem types, by developing a complementary online evidence base of 159 types in order to provide local and community groups with the level of detail and contextual analysis they need to make informed decisions. This is in line with Defra’s White Paper commitment that online data should be available to everyone to download.

Kirby said it’s about “enabling local communities to ascertain what they have already in terms of the landscape heritage and sense of place; what it is that the local landscape does for us in terms services, such as providing clean water and food; and therefore how you combine those in order to make the right decisions for our future”.

The publication can be downloaded here

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