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Environmental competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 2:
Evaluating the environmental competitiveness of an area


2.3 Landscape and rural land


The landscape is primarily the visual expression of the spatial planning of the area’s physical resources. However, it is also a strong element of the area’s identity. The four elements of analysis that we propose to examine introduce successively deeper methods of examining landscapes and land in rural areas:

  • first, analysing the landscape in its visual expression (analysis of the existing situation) provides an initial interpretation of the relationship between man and his environment down through history;

  • second, analysing the spatial planning of an area’s resources makes it possible to understand the different functions of the rural area concerned (level of utilisation practices);

  • third, analysing the rules on landscape and spatial planning - whether formal or implicit - provides an even more precise interpretation of the relationship between human activities and the environment;

  • fourth, analysing the inhabitants’ attachment to the landscape, as both a collective factor of the area and an identity factor, is the most refined level of analysis.

a) Existing situation: the landscape in its visual expression

    The landscape is the contemporary manifestation of the entire history of natural ecosystems and of the interaction between these ecosystems and society. The landscape is the result of the successive forms of utilisation that have been superimposed over the years and bear the stamp of the know-how and investment of hundreds of generations and the vestiges of local economic flows. We rediscover these features not only in agricultural and/or natural land, but also in built-up areas: villages and sites where products and services are processed, sold and consumed, etc.

    Analysing the landscape therefore provides a valuable element of information and insight into an area. It enables us to understand how, over the centuries, humans were able to exploit the potential of natural resources and establish rules for managing their area.

    A landscape can be analysed either by direct observation or photographically (i.e., by taking terrestrial photographs from strategic points and/or aerial photographs), supplemented by maps, and comparing them with older photographs, etc. Moreover, it is useful to study vertical sections along certain axes to reveal the successive strata, forms of land use, production systems, etc.


Various possible functions for the rural space

Functions Examples of landscape and spatial planning requirements
1- Economic function:
  • To ensure quality agricultural production that respects the environment
  • To develop local resources by ensuring that they are regenerated: wood, energy, etc.
  • To supply local markets
  • To attract new investment and workers
    To ensure the syntonic relationship between agricultural production and the natural environment (topography, type of land, water resources, etc.)

    To ensure access routes to markets: to valorise existing access routes and/or create new ones

    To create/adapt the other infrastructure necessary to economic activities
2- Ecological function:
  • To preserve biodiversity
  • To preserve and valorise distinctive natural and landscape features
  • To absorb carbon dioxide and other polluting substances
    To ensure spatial planning that maximises biodiversity: maintaining the diversity of biotopes (hedgerows, water courses, etc.); “patchwork” landscapes; organisation of biological corridors, etc.
3- Residential function:
  • To accommodate people wishing to stay
  • To integrate newcomers from urban areas
  • To ensure the quality of life of residents
    To provide conveniences whilst preserving the typical features of the local architecture

    To ensure nearby services
4- Cohesion function:
  • To ensure social integration and combat exclusion
  • To cater for the elderly
  • To turn the rural area into one of conviviality and good citizenship
    To plan space in such a way as to foster socialising and social integration: village squares, community leisure centres, etc.
5- Cultural and educational function:
  • To promote the values of the heritage and of local history
  • To turn the rural space into a place of learning and discovery
    To preserve and valorise the visual features that form part of the area’s identity: architecture, architectural heritage, land division, etc.

    Make the landscape a place of discovery and learning: visitors’ centres, etc.
6- Recreational function:
  • To meet the various needs of urban society: places for relaxation, leisure, sporting and keep-fit activities, etc.
  • Linking the needs of local populations with those of visitors
    To ensure the aesthetic quality of the landscape.

    To build meeting and leisure places highlighting the values of the heritage.


b) Utilisation practices: satisfying the major functions of the rural area

    The landscape is not only the visual remnant of an area’s history. It is also the living expression of the contemporary rural area. However, the rural area is the subject of expectations not only of the area’s inhabitants, but also of society as a whole. Rural landscapes therefore have a distinctly collective character that goes far beyond the boundaries of the area itself.

    Indeed, the rural space is expected to satisfy several functions, representing a number of different landscape and spatial planning requirements.

    Analysing the landscape is a key element in assessing the area’s ability to fulfil these different functions, especially the links between the economic and ecological functions and functions relating to the quality of life (aesthetics, comforts, social life, education and leisure activities, etc.).

    Very often only certain of these functions are fulfilled to the detriment of others, or conflict with them (as in the case of certain intensive agricultural practices that fail to consider the environment, aesthetics and/or the quality of life). Furthermore, land given over to intensive agriculture no longer serves nearby consumer centres and marginal land no longer appears to be of use to anyone. Such polarisation of land - overexploitation on the one hand and neglect on the other - results in the disappearance of the landscape’s former functionalities. The landscape becomes impoverished and its functional relationship with the people living closest to it is then called into question. This is a cause of social concern that goes hand in hand with a growing awareness of the damage being done to the environment and to the integrity of ecosystems.

    Running counter to these trends are multiple forms of complementarity and synergy. The crux of the matter will therefore be to find a balance in the composition of the landscape that will make it possible to fulfil all the different functions of the rural space and to mutually reinforce them without harming any individual function.

    According to this approach, livestock farming and forestry activities have a key role to play. How can agriculture be enabled to step beyond the boundaries of its traditional productive function and to become a component of other functions too? This question links with the issue of the multi-functionality of agriculture, which today has become a key issue at European level.

c) Rules on the use of rural land

    The functional analysis of rural land represents a new approach to planning and regional development. In addition to the former approach of establishing rules on a purely administrative basis (land use plans, local development plans, etc.), there is now a more complex approach according to which natural resources, aesthetics, the quality of life and social cohesion are gaining in importance.

    As a result, planning and regional development has evolved towards a more partnership-based approach that involves exchanges between different areas of expertise, plus a commitment from local players to implement jointly agreed rules. It is no longer merely a case of following pre-established rules, but of promoting consultation strategies in order to ensure diversification and complementarity between methods of land use and to prevent their polarisation.

    Consultation can therefore lead to the definition of landscape and land use guidelines for use in contracts. In France, for example, the “territorial exploitation contracts” make a portion of farmers’ subsidies conditional upon certain undertakings by farmers to abide by environmental standards.

    This raises the issue of developments in land use rules in rural areas. Are we in a situation where only the law prevails, with each individual free to do whatever he sees fit within the limits of administratively defined land use plans? Or do other forms of agreement exist for preserving landscapes? Are any consultation processes under way that may culminate in such agreements, or are such processes likely to emerge?

d) Values: the attachment of local players to the landscape and the landscape as a vehicle of image and identity

    How is it possible to foster cooperation and public debate on the subject of the use of rural spaces and landscapes? Without a shadow of doubt, local players’ attachment to the landscape as the expression of a shared identity is a key element to achieving cooperation and public debate. The landscape is of concern to all because it is the living environment with which each person identifies.

    More often than not it is an underlying attachment that is not explicitly expressed, but which comes to light in a situation where the landscape is under threat. Any event that exposes the landscape’s vulnerability, for example, can be enough to provoke an immediate reaction.


      The great storm of 1989 in France raised the awareness of the population of the Lanvollon region (Britanny, France) that it was necessary to stem the area’s degradation as a result of overexploiting the land. During widespread consultations between landowners and local authorities, a land management scheme was developed that made it possible to reconcile farming with the environment throughout the area.

    In many cases it is obvious gradual changes that finally trigger a collective desire to recreate the original landscape.


      In Majorca the disappearance of dry stone walls and farm terraces due to depopulation prompted the Consell Insular de Mallorca (Sierra de Tramuntana, Balearic Islands, Spain) to create a vocational college to train young people in traditional building techniques. In 1991, the LEADER group launched a support programme to restore the terraces and create a tourist walking trail (“stone route”). The Sierra de Tramuntana region has now become an internationally renowned skills centre for dry-stone building. This is quite apart from the fact that restoring the landscape heritage has provided jobs to many of the region’s young people.

    It is also possible to valorise the landscape by integrating it into other elements of an area’s identity, such as culture.


      In the Haut-Jura nature reserve (Franche-Comté, France), a festival has been created, called “Bis Repetita”, based on an inventory of the “sound landscape” jointly drawn up by a musical percussionist and a Park technician. A tourist route and several multimedia products were then created for a wider public.

    It is at times like these that it is possible to appreciate the local players’ attachment to the landscape and its role in the territorial identity and to use this attachment as the basis for constructing a strategy.

    The landscape can therefore serve as a “projection screen” to unite local players. By using the landscape as a unifying theme it can be possible to progress from considering an issue only in the short term, to taking a long-term view, with the landscape helping to “crystallise” the interests at stake.

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