Implementing the European Landscape Convention. How are we doing?
Many readers of this newsletter will know that most European countries have now ratified the Landscape Convention (CEP) but, how well is it being implemented? Looking for answers to this question has kept me busy over the past year , prompting me to organize a seminar in Sheffield for the Landscape Research Group, last November and since then researching good practice across the continent. The short answer to the question is, we are collectively trying hard , but, could do better! My research suggests there is much to be optimistic about but also reasons to be concerned and with the Convention well into its implementation phase, this is a critical time. The SWOT analysis which informed my conclusions reveals the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats now facing the Convention. Strengths include the facts that most countries have 'signed up' to the Convention, and many Europeans care passionately about their landscapes and take pride in their distinctive character and diversity. There is increasing public interest being shown in landscape protection, planning and management and practical lessons about implementing the Convention, and the benefits of doing so, are starting to emerge. The ELC benefits from not being overly prescriptive or regulatory and in the interest it shows in all landscapes. Weaknesses include the reluctance of some countries to ratify the Convention, or to put in place, landscape strategies, to implement its provisions. The paucity of good practice guidance to inform the implementation process, or, indicators against which to monitor performance, is a problem. Support networks such as RECEP/ENELC, CivilScape and UniScape remain embryonic and will quickly need to attract more members to 'champion' the Convention. Arrangements for educating and training professionals, and civil society about landscapes are generally poor. The Convention is seen by many to lack bite, as no economic benefits flow directly from implementation, compared to EU Programmes and initiatives. Landscape suffers from being seen as a fuzzy notion compared to biodiversity and, as such, is often overlooked when budgets get squeezed. Opportunities for changing political mindsets exist. Landscape is fast emerging as a policy driver, and closer ties between the EU and CoE on 'landscape' matters are planned. EU Programmes and Directives offer potential resources to support the delivery of landscape quality objectives. The implementation process can be helped by sharing best practice, building support networks and learning from the experience of others. Threats arise from ignorance about the Convention, what it is about and what is trying to achieve. The ELC suffers because landscape has traditionally been too narrowly defined, as 'the countryside', co-opted by the status quo and linked to elitist ideals. The EU, which has huge impact on landscapes but (seemingly) little competence in landscape matters, is largely responsible for the ever increasing homogeneity of European landscapes! Much of the 868 billion Euros in the EU budget for the period 2007-13 will impact on the planning, management and protection of our landscapes. Paradoxically, this budget could go a long way to improve the quality and diversity of our landscapes if the ELC approach prevailed! My overall assessment is that, while some countries are making good progress and others seem barely to have started, implementing the ELC should not be seen as competition or race between member states. Moreover, it is as a collective challenge to raise the quality of our landscapes so they increasingly meet our aspirations for ever more enjoyable, pleasant and productive places to in which to live and work. The aim must be to work together, sharing experiences and good practice, remembering, this is an on-going challenge and there is no finishing line. Gareth Roberts is a Director of the Landscape Research Group in the UK, and an Associate of the International Centre for Protected Landscapes.