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Land stewardship: reflections in a time of crisis

Jordi Pietx
Land Stewardship Network

Land stewardship can be defined as a philosophy, strategy or set of techniques associated with the people who take care of the land. In all its forms, stewardship is a potent concept for encouraging civil society and local organizations to play an active role in the conservation and direct management of the landscape and its natural and cultural values via different forms of agreement and entente with the owners and managers (farmers, shepherds, foresters, etc.) of these landscapes and values. Readers who wish to know more can read what Xavier Basora and I have written about this topic in one of the publications of the Landscape Observatory (1).

Stewardship is potent because it generates opportunities for action for people who believe in and wish to take action for the landscape and its values as owners, farmers and managers of rural and peri-urban estates, and even in urban spaces, with the concept of urban stewardship. When citizen and local bodies understand stewardship, they can (re)connect and play a far more active and independent role in caring for the landscape and its natural and cultural values. They cease to be extras and become the leading actors of agreements that can determine what the landscape looks like. To this end, there are more than 60 land-stewardship bodies and more than 400 agreements with owners in Catalonia and a total of 130 bodies and 1300 agreements in Spain. Land stewardship is beginning to take its first steps in Europe and this September will see the start of the first LIFE+ project on the dissemination and promotion of stewardship in Europe, involving the XCT, the Languedoc-Roussillon Conservatory of Natural Spaces, Eurosite and Legambiente-Lombardia.

However, we cannot ignore the fact that these interesting times for land stewardship are facing a crisis that profoundly affects the life of the planet, of people, of living creatures and the environments and landscapes in which they live, from the most natural environments to the most artificial and most shaped by human hands. Now, more than ever, Landscape, with a capital L, should be something that makes us stronger and helps us recover from the crisis with a greater sense of value. Efficiency, good management and entrepreneurship, particularly social and rural entrepreneurship, are essential, and landowners, farmers, civil society and local organizations must play a key role due to their proximity to the real landscapes, their services and their processes. Together, they can act as a "landscape community", and stewardship is a clear example of this. European, national and regional authorities must work in recognition of the multifunctional nature of the landscape and make a decisive and innovative effort to bring together the policies, departments and agencies involved in landscape, planning, agriculture, protected spaces, biodiversity and forests, while also seeking the necessary complicity with social and employment challenges that value the landscape in the context of the new green economy and infrastructure, of ecosystem services, of viable, quality, accessible landscapes that make a clear contribution to the economy of the future.

Jordi Pietx Land Stewardship Network

(1)Pietx, Jordi; Basora, Xavier (2009). "La custòdia del territori: un nou instrument de concertació basat en la implicació ciutadana per a conservar el paisatge", en Ordenació i gestió del paisatge a Europa. Barcelona-Olot: Observatorio del Paisaje de Cataluña, p. 297-325.

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