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The landscape and its indicators

Jean-François Seguin
Head of Landscape Department, Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development (France)

A report by the European Environmental Agency (2005) on the integration of environment into the EU agricultural policy considers that "the European Landscape Convention does not define objectives nor does it contain well defined instruments to impose respect for them". I do not share this assertion, far from it, but it has the merit of reminding us that today, every public policy must define its objectives and the indicators of its effectiveness. In consequence, if we do not define the indicators of our landscape policies, we must, without a shadow of a doubt, use those defined by others. Now, the European landscape indicators existing today (notably those of the OECD and IRENA) refer only to the rural landscape and are linked to the biophysical characteristics of agricultural land and the economic flows connected with rural amenities. These two types of indicators, above all quantitative, seem rather to be reducers in comparison with the ambitions of the Parties to the European Landscape Convention.

We have to imagine and put in place indicators which respond to our ambitions for the landscape. They must correspond to the landscape definitions and the landscape quality objectives. These indicators, above all qualitative, must reflect the "landscape prism", that is, they must articulate together the forms of the land, the cultural and social perceptions, and the dynamics of evolution. This is not simple, as a landscape reference state, properly said, does not exist, and the three faces of the prism are continually changing. This is a first challenge: to imagine indicators which do not rest on a "zero state" but on undefined processes and are connected more to the evolution of landscapes than to their actual state.

A second challenge is that, beyond the forms and the flows, the individual and social wellbeing, the aspirations of local people, must be the red thread of landscape policies. These social and cultural perceptions must be at the heart of the indicators. In France, we have been preparing since 2003 to put into place social indicators of the evolution of landscapes. We can measure how critical it is to define them so that they are easy to measure, financially accessible and scientifically grounded and interpretable.

A third challenge is that the evolution of landscapes happens, essentially, under the influence of a thousand policies other than landscape policies. A landscape policy is integrated, that is to say composed in general principles, from strategies and orientations. It is not therefore a sectorial action plan. From this viewpoint, that of the European Landscape Convention, a landscape policy can be likened to a requirement of quality applied to the management of a territory. In this sense, and this is not the least challenge, the landscape is itself an indicator of quality in the framework of life of Europeans.

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