Land Use Strategy pilot: what’s it got to do with artists?

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Aberdeenshire landscape – photo: Chris Fremantle

Absolutely fascinating webminar organised the Ecosystems Knowledge Network on the Aberdeenshire Land Use Strategy Pilot undertaken by Aberdeenshire Council and James Hutton Institute. You can access the presentation online here.

This two year exercise was one of two pilots funded by the Scottish Government to take the national Land Use Strategy and ‘translate’ it down to a local authority level and below that to a more local level. Scottish Government expected GIS to be central to this work. One key output is a new tool which utilises existing data relevant to ecosystems services assessment and integrates it into one interface. The speakers recognised the limitations of spatial data, that some things are not easily translated into spatial data.

The core data in the model is based on ecosystems services assessment across three categories:

  • Provisioning Services
  • Regulating Services
  • Cultural Services

(I don’t quite understand why Supporting Services aren’t included, though in a sense they are perhaps ubiquitous?)

Cultural Services were broadly represented by areas identified for recreational use, areas adjacent to core path networks and judgements such as not prioritising woodland within two miles of coastlines.

The model, which is publicly accessible at xxx allows some key overarching issues eg prime farmland, forestry, water, biodiversity, flood risk, to be prioritised within the model so you can see areas where you might increase tree planting to promote biodiversity by linking up existing areas of woodland, or where you might prioritise farmland over woodland if you want more arable.

It immediately triggered a series of thoughts about where artists are working in ways that directly speak to the challenges described.

The Collins and Goto Studio has been working with Forest Research, the Forestry Commission and the local communities looking at the Blackwood of Rannoch in Perthshire – access the report here. This is a futures modelling exercise seeking to understand how different ways of thinking about priorities including cultural dimensions to do with both woodland character and also Gaelic culture might inform management. Their report can be accessed at . The Collins and Goto Studio have extensive experience working with GIS (as do some other artists working with ecological systems such as Aviva Rahmani in the US).

The artists Hodges and Coleman worked with Dr Claire Haggett, University of Edinburgh, to explore ways to integrate cultural dimensions into the conventional Environmental Impact Assessment process. Aspects of their process lend themselves to the spatialisation of inhabitants’ perception and value of their landscapes in interesting ways. You can access documentation here.

Hurrel and Brennan have demonstrated ways to spatialise traditional knowledge in their project Mapping the Sea – Barra looking at the waters around Barra in the Outer Hebrides and have also explored the biological, economic and cultural dimensions of the Firth of Clyde in their more recent project Clyde Reflections with a good overview here.

These three all benefited from Creative Scotland’s Imagining Natural Scotland programme developed in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage – Imagining Natural Scotland specifically supported artist scientist collaborations.  You can read the review Dr Wallace Heim wrote for us here.

Professor Pete Smith and John Wallace’s Cinema Sark directly sought to undertake ecosystems services assessment through the medium of film, offering a distinct form of analysis.

Another potentially relevant recent development is the Pinning Stones project which mapped culture across Aberdeenshire. François Matarasso’s brief was to produce “…a portrait of the the shire’s culture, highlighting the role of creativity in place making, identity, quality of life and prosperity.”

Clearly one of the challenges for the arts is to understand how to engage with land use strategy development both in terms of effective intervention, perhaps as evidenced by the Collins and Goto Studio work, as well as supporting understanding cultural ecosystems as demonstrated by the art science collaborations of Hodges, Coleman and Haggett, Hurrel and Brennan and Smith and Wallace.

The integration of the cultural dimension in meaningful and robust ways into GIS to contribute to land use policy and strategy is not new, but its also far from ubiquitous.  But even the list of examples we’ve cited covers Perthshire, Dumfries and Galloway, the Western Isles, the Firth of Clyde – only one example is in Aberdeenshire.  For useful artists work to be integrated into local GIS based Land Use Strategy there needs to be a lot more artists work commissioned.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.

It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge Research, Gray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.

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