Landscapes represent the connection between people and the rest of the natural world. They come about as a result of the ways people have shaped the natural world, and the ways the natural world has shaped the activities, economies, cultures and values of people.
Yet we need to move beyond the simple, perhaps simplistic, idea that ‘people’ and their landscapes are somehow self-contained, or made up of ‘sectors’. These characteristics and relationships are driven by outside processes, such as globalisation (including travel), mass communication, policies, the assumptions found in external scientific knowledge for a few examples. We need to move beyond ‘desert people’ (or whatever) to recognise that there are complex dynamics occurring across the globe – people are connected to their landscapes and ecosystems, yet there are significant processes impacting on them in terms of sustainability and their sustainable futures – for better and for worse.
Our understanding should be based on the dynamic ways people understand and continually reinterpret their landscapes and get their identities, values, livelihoods and sustenance from them, and from well-beyond them. And we need to understand critically how these forces from beyond the local are impacting on all this, and their sustainability.
So there are lot’s of complexities…
Moving our gaze from specific sites, sectors or locations to the ways these integrate with ecosystems and their people – and the ways these external processes impact – gives us important and holistic understandings of possibilities, challenges and options for sustainable futures. Even better, at least from my perspective, the landscape thinking puts people and their actions (and their potential) firmly in the sustainability equation.
By doing this, we see landscapes as not only ecological things, but as political, economic, historical and socio-cultural things – a much more holistic, though complex and dynamic, way of viewing them. As I’ve said many times, all the tiger ecologists in the world won’t save the tiger until we get the tiger landscapes sorted out.
This is the focus of my writing and professional advising – integrating people, communities, landscapes and conservation/sustainability.