The notion of ‘landscape’ thinking is gaining momentum, promising a more sustainable future. But what does this mean in practice, and more importantly, what mechanisms exist for achieving resilient outcomes from our natural resources? On April 17th, 3Keel convened a roundtable event to investigate the question ‘Who shapes the landscape and why does it matter?’— and to explore the relationships between natural resources and the organisations that depend on them. A report of the event can be downloaded here.
A group of 30 attendees from across government, business and civil society participated in a one-day workshop at New College, Oxford, including presentations from the National Trust, Sainsbury’s, the Crown Estate andFarmcare. The aim of the event was to not only stimulate discussion around how to produce better outcomes from more joined up land management, but to kick-start productive relationships that could lead to real pilot projects.
But what is landscape thinking?
Lessons from the past
In medieval times, the relationships between the land and people were explicit and deliberate. In a feudal village the woods, fields, and settlements were arranged to feed, heat, protect, and provide prosperity to the manor, church and population. And in Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good and Bad Governance—a series of frescos in the town hall in Siena—it’s clear that the wealth of the city and the health of the land are seen as two sides of the same coin. Landscapes were shaped accordingly—formed, in as much as they could be, around the needs of the population.
Current state of play
This interdependency between landscapes and people has never really gone away. Our economies and businesses still rest, ultimately, on things that are grown, dug out of the land, or fished from the sea. And our cities still need to take account of the elements. It’s still a material world.
The thing that is different—for practical, economic reasons—is that the businesses and communities on the ‘demand side’ no longer manage their natural resources; stewardship has been devolved elsewhere: to regulators, farmers, and conservation charities. This sets up a situation where some of the most potent players in the system operate without reference to the landscapes on which they ultimately depend. So we miss the opportunity to strategically shape landscapes to our long-term needs. And the danger—often realised—is that those landscapes become degraded and less able to deliver.
It feels like change is afoot. Food businesses are taking ever-keener interest in the landscapes they source from, and the processing of their raw materials. We see increasing activity in the wider functions of ‘natural capital’, and how its value can be secured, developed and transacted. And there is an emerging appetite to co- operate and move outside normal circles. Whether this change comes from consciousness about environmental constraints, or from exposure to global competition for sourcing raw materials, the implications are the same. Organisations are seeing that their long- term fortunes are linked, like in Lorenzetti’s fresco, to natural resources and the land. Those organisations are now looking to find ways to influence and shape the landscapes that support them.
We think this makes for a creative space. At the Who Shapes the Landscape event we heard from leading ‘land shapers’ from the UK economy, to understand their operations and perspectives on land and resource use, and ask, what are the new mechanisms—markets, coalitions, and new types of business— that will link landscapes to their beneficiaries? Who will see the opportunities and be involved? How can we make it happen? There was great enthusiasm amongst attendees to move forward in this still-developing sphere, and 3Keel will be putting together follow-up plans over the next few months.
If you are interested in being part of the next steps, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
It feels like change is afoot. Food businesses are taking ever-keener interest in the landscapes they source from, and the processing of their raw materials.