Holistic Landscape Management in Ireland

Ferris Jay

"Holistic approaches call for balance between the different forces at play in the landscape and also call for environmental considerations to be integrated with the different sectoral policies. This can also be considered as an attempt to integrate conservation and development at the landscape level."


This talk aims to introduce the subject of holistic landscape management and to
explore its application in an Irish context.

As we are aware the landscape is influenced by a variety of forces and its resources
are being increasingly exploited in the face of economic and social development to a
point where many landscapes are on the point of being degraded beyond repair.,

Holistic landscape management recognises the need to manage landscape as a
whole rather than in separate parts, and could help to safeguard the landscape for
the future, whilst encompassing the need for development in a balanced manner.

Holistic landscape management should recognise the importance of the relationship
between people and the landscape and hence, should endeavour to incorporate the
needs of the people living in and using the landscape.

The paper will include an introduction to the elements of holistic landscape
management, provide a brief overview of current examples of approaches to holistic
landscape management in Ireland and will conclude by speculating on the future of
holistic landscape management in Ireland.


I have recently completed my MSc thesis entitled 'Holistic Landscape Management in Ireland'
and I would like to devote the early section of my presentation to discussing some of the
issues raised in the thesis.

As we are all aware, there are a wide range of activities and processes that influence the
landscape and its management (such as agriculture, forestry, planning, tourism and nature
conservation). All these activities have a cumulative impact on the landscape and its integrity
and thus, some sort of co-ordinated approach is needed to ensure that landscape values remain

In this paper I want to discuss the theory and practice of using holistic landscape management
approaches to meet this end and I want to focus on exploring exactly what has to be done by
us; as individuals, organisations and a nation to achieve this.

To begin, we need to take a good look at what landscape means to us and to examine how we
value it, as this greatly affects how we manage it. The basics of holistic landscape
management will then be introduced and some brief examples given. Finally we shall
examine the success of holistic landscape management approaches in Ireland at present.

Landscape: its value, nature and management

Landscapes are often underrated in today's society. Not only are they important as areas of
natural heritage and ecological value but they are also an intrinsic part of our cultural
heritage. Landscape is the canvas on which the ever-changing relationship between man and
nature is drawn and redrawn. It is valuable in historical terms, showing man's past
relationships with nature, and it is also of great spiritual and recreational value to local
inhabitants and those wanting to escape the cities, to get back to their rural 'roots' or to
explore other surroundings and cultures.

Unfortunately, it appears that present trends in economic and social development, for example
agricultural intensification, the expanding needs of industry, transport networks, increased
mobility and housing requirements, have changed the face of many of Europe's landscapes
very dramatically. The rate of change has steadily increased since the first and second world
wars and there are worries that part of Europe's natural heritage may be permanently lost if
the rate of change continues.

The long term requirements of maintaining landscape integrity need to be acknowledged and
plans need to be made to meet such requirements if landscapes are going to be passed on to
future generations 'intact'. A balance needs to be achieved where landscape quality can be
maintained without impinging on necessary development.

Landscape is a very subjective issue and has been described, by Meinig (1979), as

"The impressions of our senses rather than the logic of the sciences".

This is because our past experiences, knowledge and interests personally flavour how we
view and interpret the landscape around us.

Within my thesis, landscape was described (as it was by Lucas 1992) as

" an interface between nature and culture, the consequence of human presence in the
natural environment and an imprint of the natural environment on the culture and the
way of life of its residents, past and present "

This indicates that the landscapes we have in Ireland are almost all 'cultural' landscapes;
(those that have been modified and influenced somewhat by human activities) rather than
purely 'natural' landscapes, which are the product of geological, climatic and biological
processes operating independently of human influences (Aalen 1978).

Cultural landscapes are living and constantly evolving. Therefore, the management of change
within them is vital. Also, it is impractical to try to preserve landscapes in a bottle as they are
part of our cultural and social environment and this could hinder the growth and development
of society.

However, at the same time development should not be given a 'carte blanche' to utterly
transform a landscape just because it can be done. There should be more thought as to
whether it should be done.

Holistic landscape management in Ireland

Holistic approaches are based on an appreciation that each separate individual or element in a
system must be considered as part of the whole (Grant and Hawkins 1995). Thus, a holistic
approach to landscape management considers the landscape in its entirety rather than
reducing it to its separate components (geological, topographical, demographic, ecological
habitats etc) (Simmons 1997). This is important in the landscape context as many sectoral
activities can influence the appearance of the landscape 'whole'. Holistic management
approaches have enormous potential with regards to maintaining landscape integrity. They
can be used to analyse, and hopefully influence, the visual impacts of sectoral activities, such
as farming and forestry on the landscape. They have the potential to protect the natural,
amenity, spiritual and cultural values of the landscape, for example the maintenance of key
natural features.

Holistic approaches call for balance between the different forces at play in the landscape and
also call for environmental considerations to be integrated with the different sectoral policies.
This can also be considered as an attempt to integrate conservation and development at the
landscape level.

They can address issues that more 'piecemeal' management techniques do not. For example, a
holistic approach can address the cumulative impacts of development on landscape quality,
whereas many existing measures, such as land use or nature conservation policies usually
focus on specific elements of the landscape only.

Ideally a holistic approach to landscape management should promote long-term thinking in
relation to landscape and development needs and should be complementary to sustainable
development initiatives.

One of the vital characteristics of holistic landscape management is that it is 'people' centred.
This is important because people are an integral element of the landscape and hence should be
widely involved with its management.

Communication between all parties involved with landscape should be encouraged, as should
partnerships. The participation and involvement of local people is also an essential ingredient
in the management of (cultural) landscapes (Brown and Mitchell 1994). This is because local
communities have great influence, and therefore should have a large stake, in the future of
their own landscapes and without their support and commitment, projects concerning
landscape protection and management are likely to fail, especially in the long term.

Partnership is also necessary to allow for communication between all the stakeholders in a
landscape, especially between sectoral organisations, NGOs and community groups. This will
also aid the resolution of any conflicts that exist between different landscape stakeholders and
should help to build consensus about management and actions.

The application of holistic landscape management in Ireland

I will now briefly discuss the application of holistic landscape management in Ireland by
examining some current and potential examples.

1. The Irish Uplands Forum

The forum stemmed from a conference (entitled " Seeking a Partnership Towards Managing
Ireland's Uplands" (Hogan and Phillips 1996) which aimed to find effective ways of resolving
confrontation in the Irish Uplands and on involving stakeholders in the strategic planning of
upland areas. It encouraged the creation of a regional partnership structure, which could link
top down and bottom up approaches and raise awareness.

2. The Scenic Landscapes Project

This was a successful partnership between Bord Failte and An Taisce, where holistic thinking
led to a project initially concerned with sustainable tourism to look at the requirements of
sustainable communities and allow recognition of landscape value from within, rather then
relying on imposed designation for scenic areas.

3. The Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS)

This is Ireland's agri-environment scheme and it manages to link conservation and agriculture
at national level. Although there have been criticisms that the scheme is merely a farm
income scheme with an environmental label (Hickie 1997), and that the scheme will be out-
competed by other EU schemes, it is having a positive effect. Awareness of conservation
issues is being raised among the farming community and environmentally sensitive farming
methods are being promoted. As the scheme is voluntary it may not benefit whole landscape
areas, but it is a step in the right direction.

4. A National Landscape Policy

Obviously a National Landscape Policy would be a great aid to the promotion of holistic
landscape management, as it would ensure long-term commitment to the maintenance of
landscape integrity at a national scale, help to raise awareness of landscape issues and
encourage local involvement and partnerships.

5. Local agenda 21 and the blueprint for total landscape management

Local agenda 21 (LA21) is an opportunity for local authorities to help develop a more
sustainable local framework for landscape management and to encourage local participation
in landscape management.

Terry O'Regan's blueprint for the management of total landscapes by local authorities
provides guidelines for implementing LA21 in a dynamic way and could aid the collection of
baseline landscape data, landscape evaluation, monitoring of change, increasing awareness
and information dissemination on landscape matters.

6. The Leader II initiative

This European initiative concerned with local rural development could be a great opportunity
for local communities to help manage and protect their landscapes. Already, one project, in
the Ballintubber Tochar Valley, has involved 12 communities and has resulted in a proposed
development model where development is to be of a scale appropriate to that of the landscape
and community.

The future of holistic landscape management in Ireland - threats and opportunities

Despite the growing interest in holistic management, the actual adoption of such approaches
may be slow and some of the current initiatives may not continue to blossom in the near
future. Such approaches may involve too many changes to existing sectoral approaches and
short-term development patterns than is desired by many involved. Hence, politicians may be
hesitant in fully embracing active holistic management. Thus, the possibility exists that the
effect of Agenda 21, agri-environment schemes, landscape strategies and policies may be
limited and that landscapes may continue to be further degraded before appropriate
management is adopted.

It is possible that, although some people are concerned about environmental and landscape
issues, landscape change may be too easily accepted and the rate of change not properly
appreciated. Our landscapes may, however, not be taken for granted so easily and quickly if
people are made aware of the drastic effects of long-term change (through examples and
models), before they are experienced first hand. Otherwise it might be too late for some
landscapes to retain their integrity in the face of development pressure and they may be
permanently degraded. It is probably only then that their importance will be fully realised.

Hence, there is a need for education and awareness raising so people can become more
involved in future decision making - through a greater understanding of the complexity,
diversity and values of their landscapes. This being said, local participation is a delicate
matter and needs to be approached in a sensitive and appropriate manner. The first step is to
try to achieve some common ground and consensus on what needs to be done in order to
retain landscape quality and value.

It should also be noted that many of those involved with policies, plans and activities
affecting the landscape may have limited awareness of the breadth and scope of landscape
issues. This could affect their ability to make thoroughly informed decisions regarding the
landscape and hence may contribute to the further decline of landscape quality. In this light it
is crucial to have training available for all staff dealing with landscape management on a
regular basis. Training and education should also be made available to help motivate local
communities to safeguard their landscape heritage.

As indicated, there are plenty of opportunities for holistic landscape management in Ireland.
However, in order for them to flourish there needs to be a sympathetic environment (where
there is political and public acceptance and support) for them to take hold.

Otherwise, despite current holistic measures, unless it is accepted and endorsed that there
needs to be a balance between our need to develop as a society and our desire to maintain our
historical, spiritual, natural and cultural connections with the land, we may lose a vital part of
our landscape heritage and spend the next Millennium trying to pick up the pieces.

Q & A Session

Angela Binchy: I am a garden and landscape designer living in Kilcullen, Co. Kildare. I am
particularly interested in and I wholeheartedly support Ferris' paper here. I would just like to
say that every week I get far more calls from private clients, far more than I can cope with
and these are very often people moving out from the city to find a country property. They
require anything from three quarters of an acre up to even three acres and to be perfectly
honest they haven't got a clue as to what they are going to do with it or what it actually
involves. A certain number of them come to me and I find that in dealing with any of these
people they are actually very willing to learn - they want to do the right thing, but they have
nowhere to turn to and it's not everybody that can afford a private garden designer. I think
these people should have somebody in the public authority, either in the County Council or
perhaps in Teagasc who is sufficiently well instructed in country design quality to help them.

Again the problem with Teagasc is that there are so few horticultural advisors in Teagasc with
the necessary skills, certainly when I was going through college amenity horticulture was
non-existent, and so most of them have very little or no training in country design and I think
this is where there is a serious shortfall. I think our native people are willing to cooperate
with and use the country to the best of their ability, they appreciate our local environment, but
they simply don't know how to go about using it in the proper manner and I would like to see
this redressed in some way or another, though I am not quite sure how.

Art McCormack, U.C.D.: Earlier this morning the point was raised about the difficulty in
implementing legislation, whether we were prescriptive or offered incentives. There is an
alternative option to draw the local community in and involve them. Subsidiarity would seem
to be a major option, I know it is recommended in the Scenic Landscapes project. The
Forestry Commission in the U.K. in Scotland in fact have begun to experiment with involving
local people, local landowners in particular to help in preparing development plans for
forestry, so that effectively the development plan is not a top-down approach, it's not imposed
upon them, and that issue is very sensitive in Ireland where we often have a cultural attitude
to imposition from above. So it could be a solution where the local people effectively own
the development plan and the likelihood of opposition and resistance, is greatly reduced.

Terry O'Regan: One of the many roles of the Landscape Forum is to provide an outlet for the
tremendous work that goes on at post graduate level, projects which otherwise would end up
on shelves. Ferris Jay's presentation has demonstrated this so very effectively.


'The geographies of North America, the myriad small landscapes that make up
the national fabric, are threatened by ignorance of what makes them unique, by utilitarian attitudes, by failure to include them in the moral universe, and by
brutal disregard. A testament of minor voices can clear away an ignorance of
any place, can inform us of its special qualities; but no voice, by merely telling
a story, can cause the poisonous wastes that saturate some parts of the land to decompose, to evaporate. This responsibility falls ultimately to the national
community, a vague and fragile entity to be sure, but one that, in America, can
be ferocious in exerting its will.

Geography, the formal way in which we grapple with this areal mystery, is
finally knowledge that calls up something in the land we recognise and respond to. It gives us a sense of place and a sense of community. Both are
indispensable to a state of well-being, an individual's and a country's.'

Barry Lopez
'About This Life - Journeys on the Threshold of Memories'