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Landscape Character Assessment for Heritage Management

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In 200 words or less describe why landscape characterisation has over the past decade provided a significant new dimension to heritage management practice

Landscape Characterisation has been described by English Heritage as ‘a powerful tool that provides a framework for broadening our understanding of the whole landscape and contributes to decisions affecting tomorrow's landscape.’[1] Landscape characterisation enables archaeologists, landscape specialists, and conservationists to work together to manage change within landscapes, using a common source that compiles often disparate research into the character of landscapes into a unified and accessible ‘map’ of the area. For heritage management this development is particularly useful because it allows for a more comprehensive study of the area under management – such as the identifying, mapping and assessing of habitats. This allows for more careful consideration of development planning - especially in semi-rural areas where land is sought for residential use. To better understand the character of a landscape is to learn how to best protect it - and this offers the potential for a better ‘case’ for preserving important and/ or historic features of landscapes. The process is unique as it helps to facilitate the compilation of data from a great variety of specific historical, archaeological, and paleontological sites onto internationally accessible databases – this information is then used to help professionals manage change within landscapes on a national scale. This information can be put to good use in heritage management, particularly in terms of resources for education and visitor information. Landscape characterisation also helps the cohesion and implementation of management action plans and facilitates the strategic conservation of heritage. It does this by providing a historical context for already existing descriptions and research on landscapes, thus developing the understanding of how to manage landscapes - especially on a local and regional level. Issues that interact through the process of landscape characterisation include local development and its control, environmental issues, and government proposals. Its use has also widened the scope for heritage management practice as it provides valuable data for existing heritage programmes and assists in future proposals involving historic field systems.

Using at least three examples describe the benefits and uses of characterisation for managing landscape change. Your examples can be either urban (eg. from the EUS and UAD programmes), rural (eg. HLC) or thematic, or a combination.

Historic Landscape Characterization was first developed in Cornwall in 1994 and now runs as a well-established and major programme that has redefined work with spatial historic analyses (Clark et al, 2004). It has altered perceptions of how the historic environment should be managed and encourages professionals to take into consideration the greater historical timeframe of the landscape where development has been slow, rather than more recent changes which have tended to be more rapid and unsustainable. The approach does not attempt to set precedents – rather it aims to open up discussion of land-use and make accessible information that could influence contemporary decisions. The rural impact of landscape characterization work has much to do with methods of maintaining, conserving, and managing heritage – both geological, archaeological, and architectural heritage. As expressed by Clark et al in their publication for English Heritage:

“The drawing of ‘red lines’ around parts of the historic landscape was seen to risk devaluing the areas outside of the line; most importantly, it was not clear what would be achieved other than a flagging up of interest, an objective that can be reached more directly and clearly by other methods.”[2]

In both Hampshire and Lancashire the programme is reshaping the approach towards heritage management by producing interactive GIS-based descriptions of the ‘historic dimension - the 'time-depth' - that characterises [the] rural landscape.’[3] It benefits from being approved by and working in accordance with the European Landscape Convention; this shows that the approach is not only applicable to projects outside the UK but has been welcomed by foreign professionals and its value recognised. As much as the UK, Europe is experiencing the squeeze of development, especially in its rural areas, and HLC is useful as it specifically focuses on how to protect and manage these changing rural landscapes. It distinguishes itself from other methods as it has been identified as being more direct and clear than other methods.[4] Perhaps one of the greatest potential selling points of the programme is that it addresses a loophole in the system, whereby common rural land can become overlooked – falling in a ‘gap’ between the safety of having visible buildings of obvious archaeological importance and being of special scientific importance or exceptional natural beauty. In many cases the historical importance gets overlooked. English Heritage prides itself on the useful amalgamation of ‘Historic Landscape Characterisation (HLC), run in partnership with County Council Sites and Monuments Records.’[5]

Landscape characterisation is developing into one of the most useful and valuable resources in a society that promotes development and change, and which does so in response to the increasing demands being placed upon Britain’s landscape by the country’s economy and burgeoning population. As noted by Ucko and Layton[6] landscape character research is primarily driven by research objectives that require more in depth and comprehensive information about the landscape. For example, English Heritage need conservation-oriented information, while the planning system needs guidance, and land management decisions can rely upon the mapping of information to create landscapes of the future. A good example of how HLC is being used in the rural landscape can be seen in Suffolk, where a local Heritage Initiative has been overseeing a survey of the landscape that incorporates landscape mapping and photography. The objective of the initiative is to follow up a similar survey that was conducted in 1999, and involves a partnership between the Women's Institute federations of East and West Suffolk, the local planning authorities in Suffolk and the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Project Partnership.[7] This is a good example of what the process of landscape characterisation can bring to a community; it can promote the integration of otherwise separate governing bodies and social groups, and thus facilitates a more comprehensive understanding of the area. Different local Women’s Institute groups throughout Suffolk (about 75% of the total) surveyed the landscape and received training through events, a handbook, a leaflet and a video. The results of the study have been used to identify, rate, and type sources changes in the landscape between 1999 and 2004. The results were said to be assessed and analysed to ‘test the effectiveness of planning policies in protecting and enhancing landscape character.’[8] To aid community cohesion and promote the findings an exhibition of the WI groups’ findings was created, as well as local exhibitions within each community that took part. At Creswell Crags near the Peak District a Management Action Plan has made use of landscape characterisation work within an ecological potentiality study that:

  • Identifies, maps and assesses the management of existing areas of high quality habitat characteristic of the Heritage Area
  • Identifies, maps and assesses the potential for linking and extending these areas of high quality habitat
  • Identifies landscape characterisation work and its relationship to identification of potential for wildlife corridor links or extensions to major biodiversity nodes.[9]

Again, this example shows the potential for working on an interdisciplinary basis where landscape character can help professionals from different academic backgrounds to work together in better understanding of the forces which shape and change our historic landscapes. English Heritage has also been researching extensively into historic fields and settlements in their project titled ‘Turning the Plough’ that culminated in a publication documenting the dramatic loss of mediaeval fields systems in the east Midlands. Using landscape character research the project results established that ‘the loss of these ridge and furrow landscapes is extreme’[10] and that English Heritage, DEFRA and other agencies have the ’urgent’ task of sustaining a future for what remains. These examples qualify the study of landscape character as a crucial development in the archaeology profession - but also one that links archaeology to a number of other important areas, such as planning, community work, heritage management, and geology. It is important to recognise that landscape change occurs as a result of many different influences - that the activities of mankind within the landscape reflect, embody, and destroy formations which owe their existence to much older geological processes. It is our choice whether we choose to preserve the record of human endeavour - as shown by the mediaeval field system project ‘Turning the Plough’ - and the extent to which we maintain and preserve the heritage of rural landscapes depends on the availability of funds, resources, and the efforts of professionals. Perhaps of more apparent concern is whether we do actually have a choice, or whether landscape change is accelerating beyond our control. These are some of the issues that projects involving landscape characterisation seek to address.

Bibliography

Clark, J, Darlington, J, and Fairclough, G, ‘Using Historic Land Characterization.’ (2002), English Heritage [online]. Available from: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/upload/pdf/a4report.pdf

Countryside Agency, 2006 [online]. Available from: http://www.lhi.org.uk/projects_directory/projects_by_region/east_of_england/suffolk/suffolk_changing_landscape/index.html [Accessed 24/08/08]

English Heritage, ‘Landscape Character.’ [online]. Available from: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.1293 [Accessed 23/08/08]

English Heritage. ‘Cresswell Crags Limestone Heritage Area’ [online]. Available from: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/conWebDoc.4112 [Accessed 24/08/08]

Hall, D. (2001), Turning the Plough. Northamptonshire County Council [online]. Available from: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/upload/pdf/turning_plough.pdf. Full version available from: http://www.northamptonshire.gov.uk/goto/openfields [Accessed 24/08/08]

Ucko, P.J, and Layton, R. (1999) The Archaeology and Anthropology of Landscape: Shaping Your Landscape. London: Routledge 1


[1] English Heritage, ‘Landscape Character.’ [online]. Available from:http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.1293[Accessed 23/08/08]

[2] Clark, J, Darlington, J, and Fairclough, G, ‘Using Historic Land Characterization.’ (2002), English Heritage, p.4.

[3] English Heritage [online]: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.1293

[4] Clark et al, 2002: 2.

[5] English Heritage [online]: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.1293

[6] Ucko, P.J, and Layton, R. (1999) The Archaeology and Anthropology of Landscape: Shaping Your Landscape. London: Routledge.

[7] Countryside Agency, 2006 [online]. Available from:http://www.lhi.org.uk/projects_directory/projects_by_region/east_of_england/suffolk/suffolk_changing_landscape/index.html[Accessed 24/08/08]

[8] Ibid.

[9] ‘Cresswell Crags Limestone Heritage Area’ [online]. Available from:http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/conWebDoc.4112[Accessed 24/08/08]

[10] Hall, D. (2001), Turning the Plough. Northamptonshire County Council [online]. Available from:http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/upload/pdf/turning_plough.pdf. Full version available from:http://www.northamptonshire.gov.uk/goto/openfields [Accessed 24/08/08]


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