Landscape Forum '98 Opening Address

Terry O'Regan

"I am simply highlighting the fact that legislation alone will not solve the problems we have in managing our landscape. Landscape is too diverse, too complex for a simple legislative fix, there are too many players, each of them nibbling or biting at the landscape and the end resultis the cumulative effect of many actions, big and small."

Good morning ladies and gentlemen. You are all most welcome to this, the fourth
National Landscape Forum. I would like to extend a particularly warm welcome to
those speakers and delegates who have come from abroad. I appreciate that some of
you have travelled very long distances and we have speakers and participants from
every part of the island of Ireland over the three days, which makes for a rather
uniquely democratic conference for one taking place so close to the capital city.
Invariably such conferences can be Dublin dominated, and Dublin people tend to
forget the difficulties involved in getting from Achill to Dublin or from West Cork to
Dublin, and you find conferences timed to start early and finish late, making it
difficult for the distance traveller. The choice of Maynooth as the location for the
Forum is due to the fact that whilst it is central and convenient to Dublin it saves
travellers from the country all of the difficulties involved in making your way through
the city gridlock.

It is normal to have a Government Minister or other eminent person to deliver the
opening address at the Forum. However this year the star signs must have been all
wrong because "Murphy's Law" has been applying to our plans and those invited to
present the opening address were just not available on the day.

Bearing in mind that we have over fifty speakers lined up to address you over the
three days of the Forum you will not be surprised to learn that "Murphy's Law" has
been at work here as well and some of the speakers originally scheduled have been
unable to attend or been delayed due to unforeseen circumstances, illness, visa
difficulties, and so on.

Discussing the Landscape Forum with some friends recently, we were reflecting on
the fact that the Forum is a mix of practicality and vision. I am reminded of a song
which I won't attempt to sing, by Se n Tyrell (whose CDs I recommend strongly to
you). He used the words of a poem by John Boyle O'Reilly who was born near
Drogheda and who then enlisted in the English cavalry in order to convert many
Irishmen to Fenianism. He was arrested, courtmartialled and transported to Australia.

The poem is relevant to what we are doing today, and relevant to how I think

"I am tired of planning and toiling in the crowded tides of men
Heart weary of building and spoiling and spoiling and building again
And I long for that dear old river where I dreamed my youth away
For a dreamer he lives for ever and a toiler will die in a day."

Hopefully, if we dream enough over the next three days we will live for ever!

We will be talking a lot about sustainable development - one of those words that
tends to be abused and misused. I am inclined to conclude that sustainability was
invented by politicians as a word that they could circumvent and twist and turn until
they destroyed its original meaning. Listen to the definition of sustainable
development most often proposed, as follows.

'Development which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.'

Have you ever thought 'how do you define needs in the context of this definition?'.
Any of us could say 'I need a large motor car and I need telecommunications masts
and I need motorways and I need ring roads and I need hypermarkets and I need sugar
beet that can be sprayed with Roundup'. Our needs are elastic, so how do you define

Perhaps we should dispense with the word 'sustainability' today even though this
might well upset some of the speakers who will be addressing you later on. The
following is my alternative definition.

'We as a people (species) will behave in a manner that respects the present and future
dignity and essential needs of this earth in all its totality, organic and inorganic.'

The key words, I would suggest to you, are 'respect', 'dignity' and 'essential needs'.

Over the three days of the Forum you are going to have an extraordinarily wide range
of speakers presenting papers on an equally wide range of topics, and that is the
nature of the Forum. The Forum does not attempt to displace any existing
organisation concerned with particular aspects of the landscape. Our particular vision
is the total landscape as it is, as it was and as it will be and we would wish to address
it in all its totality and to identify all the links and connections that are out there.

It is true that delegates in the past have indicated a preference for a more focused
programme and to some degree we have endeavoured to address this preference in the
programme, but we have kept the general open platform that is the vital ingredient of
the Forum, reflecting its ability to embrace the wider landscape.

Within the programme time has been set aside to discuss the future direction of the
Landscape Forum and Landscape Alliance Ireland. There is so much happening in
relation to our landscape today that we could easily reach or pass our 'sell-by' date
and that is worth reflecting on.

We have fulfilled an important role over the past four to five years - I have been at it
for five years, the Forum has been going for four. The published proceedings have
contributed greatly to an awareness of landscape, but I would not pretend in any way
that we are the only body or organisation doing that. There are many other emerging
concerns throughout Europe and elsewhere in the world and we may well have
contributed in a very vital and proactive way to that. I believe that the over-riding
image that you will take from this year's Forum is that of a proactive, solution-
oriented approach.

Obviously, as I have said before, we have to look back, but not in anger, rather to
learn. We must also look around us in awareness to see just where we are now and
try to understand and appreciate the impact of what's happening at this moment in
time. It is only then that we can endeavour to look forward and preferably into the far
distance in order to anticipate what's ahead of us and the downstream impacts of what
is happening today on our future landscape.

I find it quite depressing to come across books published in America thirty or forty
years ago, which describe in detail a scenario in America of that time that is
frighteningly similar to that taking place in Ireland today - the mistakes made then
are all described and potential solutions offered.

All the signs are there that we will make the same mistakes again and perhaps having
done that we will have an enquiry or a commission or even a tribunal, and perhaps
after twenty-five reports we will identify the same solutions found in America thirty
or forty years ago. If I am right then this Forum is a wasted effort and perhaps that is
the nature of the human race - I was thinking recently about the saying 'did God
invent man or man invent God?' It is hard not to conclude that man definitely
invented God because he always has to have someone else to blame for the mistakes
he is making and God could hardly make such a mess of things as we are doing now.

There is a sort of blind momentum about the way we are going at the present - we
build ring roads to relieve traffic and then we permit massive developments to take
place on the ring roads to draw all the traffic on to the same ring roads and then we
wonder why it all suddenly grinds to a halt after ten years or so with the cars leaving
the housing zones to travel to the various retail parks, clogging up the traffic that was
supposed to by-pass the city in the first place, and this crazy system in so many ways
is destroying the landscape and it is a system that will not lend itself easily to public
transport in the future.

Hopefully this Forum will help us to develop some, at least, of the solutions.

Within your Forum pack you will find a questionnaire and we would welcome your
observations, suggestions and criticisms. We have gained much from past
questionnaires, and the organisation of the Forum reflects this. The body of
Landscape Alliance Ireland does not have a big membership, in many respects it's run
on a semi-dictatorial basis. We do endeavour however to consult as widely as
possible and the feed-back we get influences all our activities.

Also within your Forum pack you will find a publication from the Council of Europe,
'Naturopa' and this particular issue focuses on how different countries in Europe are
addressing the landscape issue. I thank Anne Grady in the Department of Arts,
Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands - D£chas - for making these available to us. I
became aware of this publication at a conference organised by the Congress of Local
and Regional Authorities of Europe within the Council of Europe and hosted by the
Italian authorities in Florence at the beginning of April this year. My participation
was supported by the Department of Environment and Local Government. The
conference was concerned with developing the European Landscape Convention and
the publication within your pack reflects the wide range of activity that is taking place
in so many other European countries. It is important that Ireland is not left behind in
developing its own policies and strategies in regard to landscape and indeed we still
have an opportunity to lead in the field if you will excuse the pun. The participants at
the Florence conference mainly consisted of government delegations, but there were
quite a number of NGOs represented and the Landscape Alliance Ireland prospectus
for the Landscape Forum provoked a lot of interest as a process for developing an
awareness of landscape.

I suggested to someone recently that damage to the landscape, or ill-advised change in
the landscape is rather like speed limits. Any motorist can choose to break the speed-
limit. Potentially every motorist could decide tomorrow to drive at 90 m.p.h. and it
would be impossible to have a police force of sufficient size to prevent such civil
disobedience no matter how sophisticated the speed traps, cameras etc. So the fact
that the carnage on our roads is not worse than it has been tragically in the last few
days is due to the fact that there are a lot of people who actually abide, broadly
speaking, with the law.

The situation is rather similar with landscape management and planning legislation. It
would be impossible to legislate for sensitive landscape management if the people
themselves do not understand what landscape quality is about and what they want
from their landscape. I am simply highlighting the fact that legislation alone will not
solve the problems we have in managing our landscape. Landscape is too diverse, too
complex for a simple legislative fix, there are too many players, each of them nibbling
or biting at the landscape and the end result is the cumulative effect of many actions,
big and small.

There are some very big players out there, but there is a multitude of small players.
Unfortunately very few of them appreciate the downstream implications of what is
happening, the linkages and the connections. We will have a presentation on bats on
Friday morning from Dr. Niamh Roche and when I was speaking to her about giving a
presentation at the Forum I was explaining how I connected bats with the landscape as
follows. The bats need old buildings to roost and if we knock the old buildings and
don't replace them with buildings that incorporate a roosting facility then we lose the
bats from that locality. If we lose the bats then the moths that the bats have been
eating all along will increase in population and before long we start getting an upsurge
in the caterpillar population. The caterpillars start to eat the crops and indeed the
plants in our hedgerows and woodlands. Our unsophisticated solution will be to apply
pesticides, and the pesticides will eliminate far more creatures than the caterpillars,
initiating a whole further series of domino effects. And this problem started way back
with the knocking of old buildings, which if retained and recycled would have given
character to the landscape and retained natural diversity within the landscape, in
providing a roosting facility for bats.

As I have inferred, one has the option of retaining and recycling old buildings or
indeed designing new buildings that can fulfil some of the associated roles of the old
buildings in providing habitats or partial habitats for various different species. This
example may well be over-simplified, but the whole concept of food chains and
natural cycles is now well established and understood, but unfortunately not by the
total community.

In your pack you will also find an Interim Report on a survey we have carried out in
recent months on Landscape Policy - the Legislative Framework. This survey and
the whole concept of a legislative framework for landscape policy, links many of the
presentations over the three days of the Forum and in particular on Friday afternoon
we will have representatives from various political parties looking at this whole
question in greater detail.

When I was in Florence, at the Conference referred to earlier, I was very conscious
that the legislative framework relating to landscape policy is very important and must
be carefully structured if it is to be effective and I say this despite the fact that I have
pointed out the limitations of legislation only a few moments ago. I must, however,
state that we do need greatly improved legislation on that which has been available to
us to date, but it must be comprehensive, integrated legislation with a balance
between the prescriptive, the informative and the supportive.

There are very diverse legislative frameworks in place in various European countries
and we can learn a great deal from these. When we decided to carry out the survey
we drafted a very straightforward letter and sent it to all relevant ministers and junior
ministers and this covered the bulk of the government departments, because
landscape, whether we acknowledge it or not, is influenced by the majority of
government departments, and whilst certain departments will obviously have to have
prime responsibility for the management of our landscape, it is most important that all
government departments recognise the importance of landscape quality and the role
that they can play in the management of same.

We are still awaiting some further responses to the survey and the final report,
together with an analysis of same will be incorporated into the proceedings of this
Forum in due course.

I should note that the survey also included local authorities, the political parties, the
EU Commissioners and our MEPs, so it provides a valuable overview of the current
position vis a vis the legislative framework for landscape policy.

Briefly, the outcome of the survey to date would indicate that there is, in fact, a
landscape policy of sorts in place at local, national and European level, but it is
patently inadequate in ensuring that our natural and cultural landscape is of the
highest quality, - with major gaps in the framework as it exists at present.

As I mentioned earlier, included in this year's Forum there will be a separate session
to consider the whole future of the Landscape Forum and Landscape Alliance Ireland.

The Landscape Forum has, in many ways, been an extraordinary success, and the
achievements of the Forum and Landscape Alliance Ireland are out of all proportion
to the resources available to the organisation.

However, we have unfortunately not succeeded in sourcing the necessary level of
funding to enable the organisation to continue at its present high level of activity.
This is despite the fact that we have, in common with many other NGOs, expended an
inordinate amount of valuable time and resources in making applications and
submissions to various award schemes and other funding sources.

We face some very hard decisions over the coming year and we hope that you will be
able to assist us in taking the right decisions.

You will be aware from the programme that art and artists figure prominently in this
year's programme. The artistic dimension of the Forum has always been important to
us as an integral part of what's happening, because the creative side of our nature is
what gives us the man-made heritage that we value now and there is a great danger
nowadays I think that art is being taken and shoved over to one side and there are very
powerful forces deciding on standardising our art and the creative craftsperson. It
would be very dangerous for society if the artist is boxed away and just given a little
bit of sponsorship here and a little bit of funding there, and the occasional commission
and so on.

Artistic creativity should be integral in all our activities and if it is not so, then we will
progressively get an ever more bland landscape of dull homogeneity. This is already
evident with standardised motorway signage throughout the thirty-two counties,
hypermarkets and franchised retail outlets influenced by corporate strategists who
think that we will not feel at home unless everything is the same wherever we are and
our main streets and letterboxes and telephone kiosks are becoming increasingly
standardised. The tragedy is that the people who take decisions to bring about these
effects in our landscape have not decided to destroy the landscape. The decisions are
taken for what they would term commercial or corporate reasons, but in the context of
the quality of life and our landscape they are the wrong reasons.

So we invited artists whose work related to the landscape to exhibit their work and
you can enjoy it and be hopefully inspired and stimulated by it in the various displays
mounted in association with the Forum.

As you can see the Forum is as diverse as the landscape itself.

The Forum would not be possible without the sponsorship and funding provided by
various bodies and organisations. We are deeply grateful for the support provided this
year by An Bord Glas, SAP Nurseries, Coillte, Malone O'Regan Consulting
Engineers, ENFO, Bank of Ireland, De Regt Special Cable, McAuliffe Barry Collins
Insurance Brokers and the BHL Landscape Group Ltd. The total value of sponsorship
received is about œ4,500, which might seem a large sum but without wishing to sound
ungrateful or churlish, it is far from adequate to cover all the costs associated with
organising an accessible Forum and publishing the proceedings and indeed you will
all be aware that we never have funding available to publicise the Forum which could
greatly increase its influence and impact.

It is an appropriate time to publicly acknowledge our appreciation of the funding
provided by the Heritage Council and the Department of the Environment and Local
Government towards the publishing of last year's proceedings. The total sum
received of œ4,000 fell far short of the actual costs involved, but we do appreciate that
there are many different and diverse demands made on both the Department and the
Heritage Council and perhaps we will just have to widen the range of potential
funding sources.

I would also like to put on record my appreciation of the contribution of œ500
provided by the Department of the Environment and Local Government towards the
costs associated with my participation in the Council of Europe Conference in

We endeavour to be as transparent and open as possible with regard to our finances.
It is our practice now to include a financial statement in our newsletter at some stage
within the twelve months following the Forum.

I do hope that you will be enriched, informed, and inspired through your participation
in the Forum over the next three days. I hope that we will witness the emergence of
more solutions to our landscape management problems and that we will identify the
best way forward, and finally I would of course hope that you will enjoy the

Thank you very much.

Terry O'Regan has been involved in the landscape industry for the past thirty years
as joint managing director of B.H.L. Landscape Group Ltd., a landscaping, maintenance
and design and consultancy firm. As part of his ongoing commitment to upgrading the
standard of landscape management and design Terry initiated the call for a national
landscape policy in 1994, prepared and circulated discussion documents in support of same,
founded Landscape Alliance Ireland and has convened an annual National
Landscape Forum
from 1995 to 1999 inclusive, subsequently editing and publishing
the recorded proceedings.

In late 1996 at the request of the then Minister for Horticulture, Terry prepared a draft
detailed agenda for an interdepartmental committee on the development of
national landscape policy
. He is chairperson of the executive committee of the
Cork Environmental Forum
, a Local Agenda 21 project of the Cork local authorities,
and has attended as Irish delegate at the Council of Europe Intergovernmental
on the European Landscape Convention, Florence, 1998, the First
National Conference on Landscape in Rome
, 1999 and most recently at the
Conference for the Opening for Signature of the European Landscape
in Florence, 2000.

Terry has written contributions for many journals and other publications,
as well as presenting lectures on the subject of landscape and environment.

"Cultivating Paradox

Now is a time for telling new tales, for retelling old dilemmas: how to live in the
world and preserve it; how to sustain tradition and foster invention; how to
promote freedom and cultivate order; how to forge identity and value
difference; how to appreciate the parts and grasp the whole. Paradox, the
fusion of seeming contradictions, has never been more critical. Apparent
oppositions need to be seen not as unsolvable dilemmas but as part of a larger
whole; they need to be fused in undisguised dynamic tension without loss of
distinctions, avoiding the tendency to reduce the discomfort that tension
engenders. This is a function of art. For humans invent new stories and recover
old ones to cope with threats to survival, and relate them in new landscapes.
Stories compel, capture imagination, change attitudes and actions, bring about
dramatic shifts within a single generation. Landscape stories explain the world,
define a place in it, justify actions, guide behavior, reinforce through
experience. Art amplifies the power of these stories, making them memorable."

Anne Whiston Spirn,
'The Language of Landscape'.