Scania (Skåne) in southernmost Sweden is one of the most densely populated and expanding regions in the country, with highly productive agricultural soils in the south, forested areas in the north; sandy beaches, small picturesque coastal towns and a gently undulating or sometimes flat landscape, rich in cultural heritage and attractive for summer tourism. Land competition between urban extension and agriculture is intense near the major cities, in the west, due to a high demand for housing, roads and business development. For more than 350 years the region has been Swedish, preceded by a period of war between Sweden and Denmark. Today the Danish connection is still noticeable in the region's old architecture, in the dialect and in place names. The recent bridge between Sweden and Denmark has been important for the re-establishment of a close connection between the two countries during the past decade, with many daily commuters travelling on the bridge.
The Landscape Observatory of Scania (http://www.landskapsobservatorium.se/) was created in 2011 as a joint initiative between a number of bodies; i.e. the County Administrative Board; (Länsstyrelsen i Skåne län), Skåne Regional Council, Scania's Association of Local Authorities, The Federation of Swedish Farmers (LRF), Swedish University of Agricultural sciences, and a smaller municipality (Kävlinge). The observatory is currently organized as a web based forum, aiming to ‘observe and taking note' of the landscape, with help of an editorial group and an editor in chief. The main objective is to promote landscape as a vehicle for sustainable development and to raise the awareness about landscape and its driving forces. Some further aims, as expressed on the website, are to increase the dialogue between different stakeholders in the landscape; to strengthen the role of landscape in physical planning; contribute to a changed perception from landscape as a static view or scenery to landscape as a dynamic process or a system, and to develop the discourse and interaction between urban and rural interests.
The observatory website is used to gather and disseminate knowledge, through texts, about the landscape in order to put light on its current status. Articles about ongoing projects, research, analysis, statistics, etc., viewed through a landscape perspective are published online. The initiative is much in agreement with the implementation of the European Landscape Convention, which was ratified and taken into force by Sweden in 2011.
The Department of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alnarp, has recently got involved in the Landscape Observatory of Scania through an independent study which investigates possibilities for the observatory's further development. The University is obliged to work with Environmental Monitoring and Assessment (FoMA), something that covers many different aspects, of which monitoring and assessment of the rural and urban landscape are not at least important. But as the landscape, according to the ELC, is ‘an area as perceived by people', how can the public be more involved in landscape monitoring, in order to fulfil the requirements of the ELC?
Just as there today in Sweden exist web based portals where the public can enter information about for example findings of plants and animal species, a portal for the gathering of quantitative and qualitative landscape information is explored in this study. A Landscape Portal could for example be used to provide a baseline for both future landscape changes and historical comparisons. This could be used for explaining the drivers of change and to guide management of change at different levels. Such a portal might also be used in order to develop Landscape Quality Goals, or to further develop a regional Landscape Character Assessment that was undertaken by the County Administrative Board in 2007.
Hence, the study at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences is looking into how an interactive web-based Landscape Portal potentially could be organized and used to collect and provide information about the landscape, its planning, and people's use and perception of it and linked into a major Landscape Observatory. For this, European examples are important, with the Landscape Observatory of Catalonia as the most comprehensive and elaborated of the existing Landscape Observatories in Europe today.
Dr. Ingrid Sarlöv Herlin is Professor of Landscape Planning at The Department of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alnarp.