Europe's landscapes - a better view
Europe contains landscapes that are breathtakingly beautiful - and essential for wildlife, communal activities, human wellbeing and local economies. An EU-funded project brings together data on how these landscapes are changing, to help manage them wisely for the long term.
© photyo - Fotolia.com
Think of the most beautiful regions in Europe, such as the petrified forests of Lesvos or the Armorique in Brittany. Over the years, these landscapes – and many others – have changed. Today, modern land use, the rural exodus to cities and the expansion of towns are altering them faster than ever before.
The HERCULES project is helping landowners, public authorities and NGOs protect and manage Europe’s diverse landscapes, both those that are common and those that are particularly significant. The EU-funded project’s researchers are learning how and why landscapes change – from both climate and human behaviour. They are also developing a programme to predict the impacts of new land uses and help keep our land heritage safe.
Landscapes are vital to rural economies and local products, biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem. They also provide irreplaceable views, historical heritage and outdoor recreation, which in turn can attract visitors and tourists.
Understanding landscape’s history and predicting their future are vital to keeping these benefits alive, says project coordinator Tobias Plieninger of the University of Copenhagen. “Landscapes are co-created by people and the environment. We have to bring them back together,” he says.
There is growing interest in studying the topic, within and outside Europe. HERCULES builds on the European Landscape Convention (ELC), which promotes European co-operation to protect, manage and plan European landscapes.
In its first 18 months, the three-year project has compiled information about the causes, patterns and outcomes of landscape variation. And to help researchers and policymakers better understand these, it has developed a new system for classifying landscapes.
Project partners have also held a number of workshops and developed an online platform – the ‘Knowledge Hub’. These allow researchers, stakeholders and the general public to share data and advice on good land management.
Much of the project’s information about long-term landscape change is collected from archaeological, historical, environmental and satellite data. More detailed data comes from the project’s case studies on nine diverse landscapes around Europe, which identify long- and short-term factors behind change.
The combined information is being analysed by HERCULES’ researchers to predict the impacts of policy changes and find ways to preserve landscapes' historical and archaeological value.
In addition to the strong focus on academic research, researchers are seeking out input based on practical experience of landscape issues.
In eight of the study landscapes, local stakeholders such as landowners, businesses, municipalities and foresters are sharing views on how to preserve environmental and archaeological heritage. At the European level, HERCULES researchers have received valuable feedback from the European Commission, Members of the European Parliament, public-private bodies, companies and non-governmental organisations, says Plieninger.
Other decision-makers and individuals can access the project’s research for free through the Knowledge Hub. This web-based application – developed by the project partners – is a store of detailed social and geographic data, presented through maps. Its interactive platform allows users to view regional changes, add information and model future developments.
“The Knowledge Hub is a central component of HERCULES,” says Plieninger. “We are trying to provide tools that make landscape management more tangible.”
With the case study fieldwork nearly complete, attention now turns to completing the data analysis, finalising landscape modelling and making policy recommendations.
HERCULES can improve understanding of the value of cultural landscapes – for land users and policymakers, says Plieninger. He is seeking funding for the Knowledge Hub after the project’s end so that it can continue to support sustainable land management.
He praises the project’s partnership between academic, commercial and policy-making interests. “It was an enormous enrichment to work with key players and institutions at the EU level.”
Olive plantations in Lesvos, Greece
Screenshot of Knowledge Hub displaying Good Landscape Practices in Europe.