Woodland cover in Scotland. Image from Scottish Government website
The Scottish Government is consulting on a new Land Use Strategy for Scotland. This builds on the first Strategy (2011) and also on the two pilot studies done (Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Borders).
At the heart of the Land Use Strategy are the ideas of Natural Capital and Ecosystems Services Assessment. and the use of GIS to integrate many different aspects of our understanding of the land. Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, says in the Introduction to the consultation document,
In the wider context we have seen the development of the natural capital agenda and the formation of the Scottish Forum for Natural Capital, the increased use of an ecosystems approach and significant developments in areas such as the use of spatial mapping tools.
Natural Capital and Ecosystems Services Assessment are problematic both in terms of the financialisation of everything, as well as in the fundamental anthropocentric focus. But they also shift the framework from ‘single issues’ to ‘systems,’ and the Ecosystems approach recognises the cultural dimension, albeit mostly through a tourism lens.
It is acknowledged that the cultural dimension is particularly difficult to assess in part because it relates to both tangible (e.g. recreational areas, footpath networks, scenic beauty as well as perhaps traditional practices) as well as intangible (e.g. stories, myths and values as well as again traditional practices). Traditional agricultural practices for instance shape the landscape, but are also part of the cultural identity of a landscape. An example of the intangible aspect of this might be the Bothy Ballads of the North East. These form part of the landscape metaphorically, but also can perhaps contribute to understanding the pattern of land use.
But the cultural dimension is not only understanding and valuing the past, it can also be about the present and the future. This has been exemplified in two recent publications. Alec Finlay’s ebban an flowan is a poetic primer for the marine renewable industry and We Live With Water is a vision for Dumfries, where “…tak[ing] an alternative approach and try to imagine a future where increased rainfall, sea-levels and river surges would be seen as an opportunity. We tried to imagine Dumfries as River Town….a place that embraced its environment…a place that Lives With Water.”
As previously highlighted in the blog Land Use Strategy Pilot: What’s it got to do with artists? there are many examples of contemporary arts practices which can contribute to the Land Use Strategy, and we highlighted ones which already work with GIS systems, the spatial planning tool which is at the heart of Land Use Strategy development.
GIS is very valuable for seeing the relations between soil, water quality, biodiversity, ecosystems health and resource extraction. But it is a particular challenge to introduce cultural knowledge into GIS systems both because cultural knowledge doesn’t typically have a spatial character in the way that knowledge about soil type, forest cover, water or agricultural land quality is inherently spatial.
But if we believe that ‘place’ should be at the heart of any Scottish Land Use Strategy then artists and other cultural practitioners across the humanities (cultural historians and geographers, environmental philosophers, anthropologists, literature and language studies and art historians amongst others) need to find ways to contribute to the Land Use Strategy, especially given that the inclusion of the cultural dimension within the Ecosystems Services Assessment legitimises that input.
Moreover arts practices that focus on the systemic, relational and dialogic, artists with social and community, environmental and ecological practices, can make very important contributions. They can ask questions such as,
“What would Scotland’s landscape look like if significantly more people had stewardship over it?”
“Is conservation, and in particular keeping people out, the only way to manage areas of iconic significance?”
“What does a river see when it looks at us?”
“How can brownfield restoration meet more than legislative requirements?”
“What if renewable energy technology was developed by architects, designers and artists for communities?”
You can contribute to the Scottish Government’s Land Use Strategy consultation here. The questions seem to be very specific and directed at confirmation (or dissent) rather than any sort of open-ended discussion, participatory or deliberative process.
If you are willing to share your thoughts about what you you think the questions are and how the arts might contribute to understanding those questions (or enabling other questions to be asked) with ecoartscotland we’ll publish them to promote a greater understanding of the ways in which artists, producers, curators and cultural managers can contribute to this important issue.
Please include examples: we are particularly interested in examples of arts projects that address ecosystems, eco-cultural well-being, and ways of working with GIS systems (or challenge the spatial technologies).