Detailed Aims and Objectives(of funded project)

Introduction. This research & exchange programme will survey current arts and humanities (a&h) research and practice in the UK and Netherlands (NL) in relation to low lying intertidal and littoral landscapes (ITLLs) and the communities who live and work with them. It will bring these together to exchange and develop conceptual and thematic approaches to living (within) dynamic, changing and rhythmic environments which are at risk, but also hold high value in natural and cultural heritage for the broader community. The project will be based upon case studies of the Severn Estuary (SE) and the Wadden Sea (WS), two of the most important intertidal landscapes in the world. The intention is to establish an international a&h community dedicated to ITLLs which will sustain beyond the project and extend to other areas across the world. The proposed research exchange is centred on the University of the West of England (UWE) UK and the University of Groningen (RUG) NL, (with other UK, NL and beyond participants). It addresses the ‘Sustainable  Communities in a Changing World’ theme of the call. ITLLs have always been changing and unsettled – routinely, through a series of rhythmic daily, monthly and seasonal cycles, and also in other ways through erosion, deposition and development. There are major points of uncertainty and contestation about these kinds of landscapes in terms of conflicting forms of value, use and management and differentiated risk and benefit between (sections of) communities and a range of stakeholders. All this impacts on how very important cultural (and natural) heritage is managed for the future, in relation to development and risk management.

By addressing how communities have lived with rich, dynamic, rhythmic and fragile landscapes such as ITLLs and the risks they bring, and how a&h researchers and practitioners have responded to such  landscapes and social interaction with them, the project will create wider insights into notions of ‘Sustainable Communities in a Changing World’. The project addresses how a&h practitioners can come together to help communities and local stakeholders develop new narratives of shared (i.e. locally, globally, future generations) heritage/risk. What can we learn from those living/working with these fragile and dynamic landscapes? What wider lessons can be learnt for a&h communities, and society more widely, particularly in the face of climate change and other environmental and economic challenges?

Rationale and Research Context. The UK and NL contain some of the most importanttidally dynamic, and most developed low lying, and defended-from-the sea areas in the world. ITLLs are hugely important for a range of eco-social reasons but are at risk from development pressure (industrial, tourist, energy production, reclamation, resource extraction and impoundment), climate change induced sea level rise and/or excessive erosion (e.g. by storm surges), and also divergence, fragmentation and conflict in governance terms. (Both case study areas span national and local govt. boundaries, and marine management zone  boundaries). Both the SE and WS are complex, dynamic, rhythmic and fragile landscapes containing rich ecological heritage – protected by a range of designations (SSSI, Ramsar, Natura 2000, World Heritage) – and cultural heritage (archaeological, heritages of landscape management, marine technology, fishing cultures, harvesting, recreation).

Both are wildernesses yet are located in highly developed, densely populated countries, the SE having large urban centres around its shores, the WS being slightly more ‘rural’. In both cases, coastal communities have ‘lived with tides’ and with the risk of flooding, particularly at high tides and times of storm surges. Such risks, and questions of living with the sea and tides, are now particularly pressing due to prospects of climate change induced sea level rise. Conflicts arise as a result of different uses of, and values ascribed to, such landscapes. Thus far, there has been limited scope to fully address the perception and role of values that impact on how we live with these landscapes now and into the future. The economic/ industrial uses of the WS, for example, have been subject to significant emotional discussions, but it is precisely the role of emotional attachment which remains underexplored.

This research exchange will bring together UK ,NL (and beyond) a&h researchers artists, and other stakeholders with interests in ITLLs, in order to revive and expand discourses about these from a multi-disciplinary perspective. The envisaged outcomes will be

  •  to develop mechanisms through which people of different backgrounds can experience, share and care for (different) ITLLs;
  • to provide concrete input to policy discussions about more holistic approaches to safe and sustainable living with ITLLs;
  • to develop wider lessons about living with unsettled landscapes. The proposed exchange will add an innovative and substantive focus to a&h research ‘portfolios’ and also make a new ‘space’ in which a range of subject areas within a&h can meet and develop in and through interdisciplinary and international encounters with ITLLs.

The aim is to establish a long term community of researchers which span between the UK, NL and beyond who work with various aspects of ITLLs and generate outcomes which will be relevant to a&h and other academic audiences, educators, communities, tourist interests and policy stakeholders of various types. The overarching academic thematic area is a&h approaches to landscape, environment, and society’s (communities’) places within them and nature more widely. Given the epoch making questions concerning sustainable (or otherwise) ways of living in the dynamic (and damaged) biosphere, a&h approaches have turned their collective attention to this area. Notably this has been developed through the AHRC “Landscape and Environment Programme” in which the PI participated in by presenting at the major programme conference, and taking part in three of the programme networks on landscape/environment.

Emerging from that programme, Pearson, Roms and Daniels state;

Landscape and environment are currently of compelling cultural significance, as fields of scholarly research, sites of artistic endeavour and arenas of public concern. Behind the singular terms hide a plurality of places: urban and suburban, rural and industrial, spectacular and overlooked, everyday and enchanting, remembered and contested, protected and degraded, embodied, enacted, looked at, moved through, worked on and lived in. As both imaginative representations and material realities, they are the loci where complex ideas, feelings and experiences – physical, sensual, emotional and cognitive – are dealt with: relating to beauty and health, belonging and identity, access to resources, relations with nature, the past and the future, making sense of the world and people’s place in it.(Pearson et al web page 2011).

All those themes are amplified significantly in ITLLs such as the SE and WS because of their extraordinary qualities of liminality, complexity, fragility and rhythmicity, and the challenges and opportunities they pose to communities who live around their margins, often protected by sea walls. The project will involve a wide range of a&h subjects (as defined by the AHRC) including; cultural geography, archaeology, contemporary visual/performance arts practice, creative writing, cultural geography, cultural studies, landscape literature & history, music (sonification), and philosophy. Furthermore, it will connect to a number of related subject areas relating to nature, landscape, environment in social/natural science terms, particularly in terms of new cultural (turn) geographies of landscape (Wylie 2007; Lorimer 2010), tourism ( van Hoven 2011), performance memory and landscape (Pearson, 2006) and deep mapping (Biggs 2011). The particularly dynamic, fragile, literally fluid and in flux nature of these landscapes speaks particularly to questions of ‘unsettled landscapes’ (Wylie, 2007) and non-representation (Lorimer 2010; Anderson & Harrison 2010).

Of course there is a long history of exchange between the UK and NL in terms of tidal/marine heritage, wetland drainage, reclamation, and sea defence engineering (Williamson 2005). This exchange echoes that shared history and extends it into new fields. In general, the margin of land and sea asks profound questions of human society and its place in the global biosphere, and has thus been a focus of a&h practice and research (along with social and natural science). Where those margins are animated by large tidal processes and related issues of erosion, flood risk, drainage, and land reclamation, those questions are compounded (Jones 2011). The emergence of Dutch geography is closely tied to the struggle against water and development of new land. However in general terms, Dutch geographers have not engaged actively with the ‘cultural turn’ (see, however, van Hoven 2010) which has implications for further work on human use of, and interaction with, ITLLs. There are exciting opportunities in collaborating with UK cultural geographers and a&h community to enliven NL geographies of landscapes.

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