Landscape Scale Land Management

Aerial photo over River Crouch taken 30th May 1966 by Simmons Aerofilms
(Higher resolution images are available from NCAP)

At the Oxford Real Farming Conference I attended the session ‘Shaping our future together’ organised by CTRLShift and facilitated by Andy Goldring. Rather than a presentation from the front, this session was designed to create a space for collaboration and planning between organisations, practitioners and networks building on the process started in Wigan, March 2018 at the initial CTRLShift: An emergency summit for change event.

The session began with a brief introduction and then encouraged participants to introduce an area of focus they would like to discuss.  Folk then clustered according to which area they found richest and most relevant to them at that time in order to discuss that topic through the lens of three questions: What is the issue that needs solving? What are potential ways forward? and Who are already working on this? I came with a bioregional hat on and listened out for  an area that seemed most relevant to that – I was drawn to a cluster formed by Steve Smith of Edibles a permaculture education and demonstration site in West Yorkshire. Steve wanted to discuss ‘landscape scale land management’. Others who were drawn to form this cluster were Rod Everett of Backsbottom Farm and Middlewood Trust in Lancashire, Mark Walton from Shared Assets and LandExplorer their community mapping software, and David Davies – who I believe is involved with The Green Party in Leicestershire.


Steve graciously agreed to take notes on our discussion, write them up and email them to all the folk who clustered around this topic, which he did so shortly afterwards. Below is his write up:

Landscape Scale Management
Notes from discussion at CtrlShift workshop at ORFC – 4.1.19

What is the issue that needs solving?

• How to maximise the potential of landscape scale land management to achieve multiple benefits for people and nature?
• How to ensure there is community input / engagement in how land is managed?
• How to facilitate collaborative decision making as local communities are often not involved in planning and decision making and do not derive benefit from the way in which a lot of land is managed?
• How to develop ecological governance on a bioregional scale?
• How to define what a bioregional scale landscape is – in a way in which people can identify with?
• What is the most appropriate landscape scale for public participation in planning and decision making?
• How to develop the potential for local / regional green employment and enterprise development for land management?
• What type and level of organisation needs to lead on this?
• How to link those involved in enterprise/economic development with environmental focussed organisations?
Potential ways forward
• Convene collaborative planning events bioregionally (or at another more appropriate level) to consider broad scale landscape management.
• Working at a city level – seeing a city as a landscape.
• Connect up emergency preparedness with business / community / resilience planning.
• Use the work of Catchment partnerships and other water / flood management planning processes as a vehicle to develop and expand the conversation regarding landscape management for multiple benefits.
Who are already working on this?

• Catchment Partnerships – bring together many of the water management and environmental organisations at a catchment scale. Economic development organisations not so involved.
• Sustainable food networks.
• Bioregional association.

Steve brought to the discussion his involvement with landscape scale land management where he lived, including the forthcoming event ‘Our Future Landscapes – Making the most of our moorland‘ a participative workshop tthat will inform the management of the moorland in and around the Holme and Colne Valleys in West Yorkshire and form the basis of a vision and plan for our South Pennine landscape. Listening to Steve talk about that drew me to thinking about the a very bioregional question of what the most appropriate landscape scale for public participation in planning and decision making might be. The moorland landscapes Steve spoke about are a very different scale to the peninsula one I focus on in the Dengie.

I was also reminded of David Fleming’s entry for ‘County’ in his book Lean Logic; A Dictionary for the Future and How to Survive It in which he makes the case for the English county as the appropriate scale for balancing effective governance and local participation (while implicitly disfavouring a bioregion approach – see his discussion of the problems of  alternatively dividing territory by the ‘characteristics of particular areas’).

screen shot 2019-01-19 at 12.35.13

I currently find myself thinking/acting at the level of the district, Maldon District in my case which contains practically all of the Dengie Peninsula (as well as other territory north of the Blackwater) making it the closest existing governance fit with the landscape feature (although that part of Rochford district across the Crouch taking in the Essex archipelago also seems relevant biogeographically). I find that the county subdivision of district is at an approachable scale for engagement. Fleming writes that:

On the scale of the county, there is a good chance that you can get to the county town and be home in time for supper. Even on a horse. Or, failing that , you can reach your local town which is local enough to sort out the problem and able to make the case at the level of the county.

I could certainly get to Chelmsford, Essex’s county town, by bus and be home in time for supper, and even by bicycle it’s a 4 hour round trip so doable. The county scale seems alienating though and Maldon town, which is a little closer, seems near enough to be aware of the particularities of this place. This isn’t in disagreement with Fleming’s thought exactly but does seem somewhat different in sensibility. I’m trying to find the opportunity space between that Fleming understanding of political agency and the parallel ‘logic’ of Robert L. Thayer Jr’s concept in LifePlace; Bioregional Thought and Practice that:

The bioregion is emerging as the most logical and locus and scale for a sustainable, regenerative community to take root and to take place.

I’m aware that I’m still struggling to articulate a suitable spatial scale for bioregional praxis in the Atlantic Archipelago (aka British Isles) and the Dengie Bioregion continues to provide a suitable place of enquiry. In Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision (1985) Kirkpatrick Sale outlined a nested set of bioregional spatial scales from the largest  – the Ecoregion – through the Georegion to the smallest – the Morphoregion. Mark Burton usefully applied the Sale spatial scales to an Atlantic Archipelago location in his discussion of  the Manchester-Mersey Bioregion where he writes:

The bioregion itself can be subdivided – Sale distinguishes between the ecoregion (probably bigger than our Manchester-Mersey bioregion) and smaller, nested georegions (often, as here designated by river catchments or watersheds), and smaller morphoregions – e.g. the Dane valley around Congleton, the Pennine foothills above Rochdale, or the fertile coastal plain between the Ribble estuary and Liverpool.

Thinking in this manner I can see the Dengie peninsula as a morphoregion within a larger georegion of the eastern coast (similar to the scope of the ‘terraqueos zone located somewhere between the tidal estuaries of The Humber and Thames’ I suggested might form the ‘English orient’ in Managed Retreat #1).

Does any of this help answer the question ‘What is the most appropriate landscape scale for public participation in planning and decision making?’, let alone any of the others, I’m not sure. I do feel that useful conversations are opening up though and that the right kind of questions are being asked, even if the answers are not yet clear



7 thoughts on “Landscape Scale Land Management”

  1. Thanks for the mention of my work from some 10 years ago. You quotation threw up a typo that I hadn’t noticed before: “deigned” should read “designated”.
    I still think the bioregion and related concepts are useful but they didn’t get much traction / buy in here, in large part because the mainstream focus has been on the City Region, with its devolved powers and Metro Mayor. However, it continues to inform our work at Stead State Manchester – see for example this discussion in relation to spatial plans

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mark, thanks for commenting and directing me towards the Social ecological spatial framework post. I’ve corrected the typo you noted. I’m not sure if you are aware, but recently there’s been some new, and growing, interest in bioregional praxis in the UK with a community of practice of various bioregion practitioners across England, Scotland and Wales facilitated by Isabel Carlisle of the Bioregional Learning Centre and I’ve been pointing folk towards the Steady State Manchester work

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this James. I find myself both stimulated and in full agreement with your conclusion that “the right kind of questions are being asked, even if the answers are not yet clear”. More mulling will take place here!

    Prompted by your thoughts I just ran a search on the text of ‘Lean Logic’ for “bioregion” and was interested to find in the bibliography a 1985 book by Kirkpatrick Sale: ‘Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision’. Since everything I’ve read by Sale made incredible sense, and David swore by his thinking, I fancy that might provide some useful grist to the mill..

    Btw, since we’re talking typos, the link you give for ‘Lean Logic’ is to our self-published version, brought out immediately after David Fleming’s untimely death. The better link would be to the far more compelling and fully-realised version published by Chelsea Green Publishing in 2016:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s