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Cultural heritage and the historic environment in sustainable landscape management

Research project
Inactive research
Project size
3 482 286
Project period
2017 - 2019
Project owner
Department of conservation

Short description

The aim is to investigate the role of cultural heritage and the historic environment in sustainable landscape management. An interdisciplinary research group will use surveys, interviews and archive data to investigate opinions, feelings and judgments of respondents in Biosphere Reserves. Results (based on quantitative and qualitative analyses) will provide a better understanding of the landscape and its cultural heritage, historic environment, aesthetic and existential values as well as people's collective memories, place identity and well-being. The results will also contribute to the understandings of integrated landscape management and nature/culture boundaries in research and practice.

About the project

Culture’s role as being both an enabler and a driver of sustainable development is confirmed but putting theoretical insights into practical action are more difficult and the cultural dimension of sustainable development in practice needs to be stronger (UNESCO 2015). Landscape management requires a multi-dimensional framework in which nature and culture are regarded as integrated but the fact is that a clear nature/culture divide exists in both research and practice (e.g. MA 2005, Wästfelt et al. 2012, Knez & Eliasson 2016, Stenseke 2016). Furthermore, international integrative instruments for sustainable landscape management, such as the Man and Biosphere Programme and the Ecosystem Assessment, claims to have a holistic approach but both instruments show a bias towards a nature science paradigm (e.g. Tengberg et al. 2012, Stenseke 2016).  

The aim is to investigate the role of cultural heritage and the historic environment in sustainable landscape management. We choose to use the UNESCO Biosphere Reserves as the arena for our case studies, because previous literature report “obvious nature protection hegemony” (Stenseke 2016) and a need to strengthen the role of cultural values (UNESCO 2015) in this integrative landscape instrument, which explicitly aims to integrate conservation and sustainable development. The interdisciplinary research group will investigate how cultural heritage and the historic environment in the landscape influence and relate to the concepts of place identity, collective memory, aesthetic and existential values and people’s well-being. The importance of these values for residents, stakeholders, local and regional planning authorities and the nature/culture divide will also be investigated.

The goal is to create knowledge and arguments about how cultural heritage and the historic environment influence sustainable development in order to enhance integration between disciplines and sectors and bridge the nature/culture divide. The goal is that results will contribute to sustainable landscape management at both county and municipality level including Biosphere Reserves. Results will contribute to theories about the relationships between sustainability, cultural heritage, the historic environment, place identity, collective memory, aesthetic and existential values and people’s wellbeing in the landscape and thus, provide arguments to enhance implementation of immaterial heritage values in practice. The results will also contribute to the theory of ecosystem services which is an integrative instrument used in Biosphere Reserves practice.

The difficulty of putting theoretical insights of how to unite culture and sustainable development into practical action (UNESCO 2015) was obvious in a study carried out in the county of Jämtland, Sweden. A majority of the planners interviewed pursued a holistic approach, where culture and nature meet, but argue that lack of methods and arguments as well as the current sectoral breakdown causes difficulties in practice (Eliasson et al. 2015). Another emergent challenge for heritage authorities are related to the current focus on preservation of the material authenticity and lack of methods for implementing immaterial heritage values (Eliasson et al. 2015, Fredholm et al. 2016). Stories, culture and local history were regarded as important cultural and historical identifiers in the landscape by residents and the study showed a strong significant link between place-identity and wellbeing (Knez & Eliasson 2016). Building on these results, which have relevance for the cultural heritage sector, the aim is to further increase knowledge about relationships between sustainability, cultural heritage, the historic environment, place identity, collective memory, aesthetic and existential values and people’s wellbeing in the landscape. We want to create arguments to enhance implementation of immaterial heritage values in practice and increase integration between the cultural heritage sector and other sectors with the aim to dissolve nature/culture boundaries in sustainable landscape planning. We also want to highlight the role of cultural heritage and historic environment in Biosphere Reserves (BR) practice and its relationship to official planning at regional and local level. BR provides experience on the role of culture for sustainable development (UNESCO 2015) and BR is described as an incubator for sustainable development focusing on people and communities. The concept of Ecosystem services is a tool in BR practice but the question is if this includes cultural values.