Valuing our landscape
Not so very long ago farmers were being paid subsidies to grub up hedges. The requirement to produce more food dominated; small fields were deemed unviable and hedges were perceived as occupying space that could better be taken up growing food. Bigger fields facilitated the use of the larger machinery that was regarded as time- saving and so more cost effective. Simultaneously, hedges were being lost to make way for motorways and other infrastructure: it is estimated that between 1945-70, no less than 120,000 miles of hedgerow were lost as a result of farming and a further 20,000 miles disappeared as a result of other projects.
Latterly ‘reality' and ‘holism' have made an appearance (some would say not before time!) One of the drivers is recognition of the important part hedges play in relation to wildlife and the fact that genetic diversity is fundamental, in a wide range of ways, to human health and wellbeing.
Today's farmers develop practices that take account of conservation and biodiversity and we are fortunate to benefit, in so many different ways, from their work. But farmers and growers are facing enormous challenges posed by the impact of climate change. Whilst we can expect some advantages such as the ability to grow more exotic crops and extend growing seasons, other consequences such as water shortages and Extreme Weather Events may mean that our farmers are forced to develop radically different practices in order to produce the food we need.
The Environment Agency has already warned that it will be impossible to protect all the areas threatened by rising sea levels. Homes and businesses affected by flooding will have to be relocated - thus putting additional pressure on land usage in other areas.
At the same time global population is predicted to reach 9-plus billion by 2041 - at the current time it is a little in excess of 7 million. The high percentage of food we currently import will not be sustainable long term and the UK must become more self sufficient.
Increases in fuel prices have triggered higher road, sea and air transport costs - and even further rises could be on the horizon. In any event, developing countries are unlikely to be able to maintain exports at their current rate as they struggle to deal with the effects of climate change while simultaneously providing food security for vastly increased populations. Most importantly - we must factor in the impact of carbon emissions created by transporting goods for vast distances.
Thus we shall need more homes on less land whilst at the same time producing more food.
‘Land' - and the way we use it being the crucial factor - we shall need more Landscape Managers. They will be tasked to use their technical and management skills to find sustainable solutions that take account of all the factors and issues involved. The discipline of ‘landscape management' is relatively new - it has existed for less than twenty years - but year on year it is becoming ever more vital. Landscape managers mitigate in order to come up with the best possible solutions. In the very near future, management of the landscape will become even more challenging - and crucially significant.
Hadlow College offers a BSc (Hons) in Landscape Management, the only landscape management course accredited by the Landscape Institute. Richard Tilley, who heads up the programme, can be contacted direct on 07905 275413.