The Project  
 Projects of the Partners  
 The Forum  
 Virtual Exhibition  
 Press Comments  

Culture 2000

European Union


Press Comments

CBA Wales Newsletter 23 2002, 01.03.2002

European Pathways to Cultural Landscapes

by David Thompson

This three-year project is being funded as part of the European Union's Culture 2000 programme, with match-funding from Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments. The main aim of the project is to explore opportunities for public participation in their local cultural landscapes in poorer areas of Europe (Wales qualifies because of its Objective One status), and to share experiences and approaches to the subject across the European Union. To this end, this project is a joint undertaking involving twelve projects in ten countries (Germany, Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, England, Ireland and Wales), making this the largest project funded under the Culture 2000 programme. Each individual project has its own aims, timetable and work programme which fit together to form a larger umbrella project, and regular liaison between partners involves email contact, a joint web site (http://www.pcl-eu.de/), leaflet publication and a series of six seminars hosted by different partners.

The project takes as its starting point the definition of landscape included in Article 1 of the Draft European Landscape Convention:

For the purposes of the Convention:

a. "Landscape" means an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors; and the scope as defined in Article 2

Subject to the provisions contained in Article 16 the Convention applies to the entire territory of the Parties and covers natural, rural, urban and peri-urban areas. It includes land, inland water and marine areas. It concerns landscapes that might be considered as everyday or degraded, as well as outstanding ones, since they all influence the quality of the surroundings in which people live.

The Trust's project builds on the historic landscape characterization work, which we have been carrying out recently, and the European funding is intended to take this a step further by involving the public in exploring what they understand by 'cultural landscapes'. The area chosen for the project lies on the edge of a protected landscape (Snowdonia National Park), and has a rich and diverse character. North-west Wales probably contains some of the finest cultural landscapes in Britain, with areas of 'relict' prehistoric and medieval settlement and field systems and decaying industrial (slate-quarrying) landscapes, as well as the rural 'background' which still retains many of the elements which demon-strate chronological depth in the landscape. The area involved is bounded by Caernarvon in the north, Snowdon in the east and Aberdesach in the southwest, and is centered on the former slate-quarrying area of Dyffryn Nantlle. The status of the region as an Objective 1 area serves to underline its relative poverty in European terms, with principal problems being the crisis in farming, with falling incomes, and the social exclusion being experienced in the former slate-quarrying communities. The European-funded Slate Valleys Initiative is trying to address the situation, and is aimed at regenerating local economies by encouraging locally-based work and employment opportunities, rather than trying to attract companies from outside to move in. This Pathways project aims to add value to this by providing a means whereby the historic environment would be a dimension of this economic regeneration, through 'niche' tourism, for example, creating jobs, which, at the same time, ensure the survival of the cultural landscape. It will also contribute to a sense of community value and local pride.

Archaeologists cannot protect cultural landscapes on their own, but they form part of a wider community (which includes government agencies, local authorities, utility groups, local community, and landowners), which has a role and responsibility in understanding, interpreting and managing change in the landscape. Archaeologists need to engage with these others in creating a vision and achieving a balance between conservation and economic development.

Our role, as archaeologists, must be to influence landowners, decision-makers, grant-awarders and the public, and to provide information to ensure that the value of the historic dimension of landscape is fully recognized in all as-pects of countryside management. We must ensure that the contribution of the historic environment to the quality of people's lives is maximized; people should be encouraged to recognize and value the importance of the historic environment, and that includes the typical and commonplace along with those ele-ments considered to be of national importance. We must try to help reconcile the potentially conflicting demands of development and conservation and ensure that we bequeath a sustainable landscape for the benefit of future generations. Above all, we must recognize that fostering awareness and interest amongst landowners and managers, and encouraging public support, are the most important long-term investments we can make.

For this to happen, two things are necessary. Firstly, we need to establish an inclusive definition of what people understand by the term 'cultural landscape', and secondly, the information must be communicated to the public. This can be done in a number of ways through 'physical pathways' such as books, exhibitions, guidance, leaflets, trails, guided walks, and web pages. These pathways point the way and give access to the experience of the historic environment at first hand.

The Trust intends to develop a methodology for involving the public in the interpretation and conservation of their own local cultural landscapes, using historic landscape characterization as a tool. Characterization work is being undertaken by professional archaeologists as a first part of the project, and presented to local communities who will then be invited to define what they see as important in their local cultural landscape, what identifies community and contributes to 'sense of place' and how they want to see it evolve. In particular, the project will aim to demonstrate clearly the relevance of cultural landscape to sustainable development, and the general well being of society.

The results of this work will be available in several formats, each with a distinct aim. A web site will be reproduced, as will a high-quality publication describing the development of the cultural landscape in the area; both supported a seminar and a series of lectures. It will also be important to establish a series of footpaths and cycle routes, supplemented by explanatory leaflets, so that people can experience these cultural landscapes first-hand.

David Thompson, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust

design: Kai M. Wurm
menu back print