Landscapes of the Future and the Death of the Nimby

Engaging the public in decision-making about their local areas is key to making sure that landscapes of the future are ‘landscapes of desire’; that was the key message of yesterday’s BES event at the British Science Festival. We were joined by a number of excellent speakers who each adopted a different perspective on future landscapes, exploring how the multiple demands a growing population will place on these spaces can be modelled, and how our landscapes may be managed to take these into account. The Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management partnered the BES in organising the event.

Prof. Roy Haines-Young, University of Nottingham, began the session with an overview of his work on scenario-building as part of the National Ecosystem Assessment. Prof. Haines-Young discussed how backcasting and forecasting can be used to explore people’s ‘landscapes of fear’ and provide different models for the development of ‘landscapes of desire’. Prof. Haines-Young argued that scenario-building is as much about stakeholder engagement and talking to people, as it is about computational modelling.

The theme of public engagement continued through the talks of Francis Hesketh, from TEP Environmental Consultants and Landscape Architects, and Prof. David Miller, Macaulay Land Use Research Institute. Francis discussed how green infrastructure can be used to enhance the experiences of those living in an area – providing mental and physical health benefits – as well as providing services such as urban cooling and flood amelioration. David introduced participants to the Virtual Landscape Theatre – an innovative piece of technology which allows the public to ‘fly’ through a virtual landscape – and how it can be used to seek people’s views about how they would like to see areas near them develop.

Mark Felton, Natural England, introduced the concept of the ‘perfect storm’ and the multitude of factors which will impinge upon our landscapes beyond 2030: from a growing population to climate change, an increasing demand for meat and milk from an increasingly affluent population, and enhanced demand for water – with less available. Mark illustrated how one farmer, working with Natural England, in the River Till catchment in Northumbria, has been able to increase profits whilst entering his land into an agri-environment scheme and so managing his land sustainbly – a potential model for widespread agricultural land use into the future.

A lively question and answer session followed – with over 70 people in the audience. One question concerned the Prime Minister’s ‘Big Society’ agenda: how can communities which aren’t engaged in their natural environment at present be relied upon to manage it voluntarily. Won’t this simply lead to an increasing cycle of disengagement and degradation of green spaces? Roy Haines-Young, chairing the session, acknowledged this as a real difficulty. Many people have lost their connection with nature – the only thing to do to tackle this is for us, as scientists and those concerned about the environment, to get out to hard to reach communities and convince people of nature’s value.

Our press release, with further details about the event, is available from the BES website.

The Virtual Landscape Theatre will be appearing at the British Science Festival all week, and is free to visit.