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Research projects recognised by Landscape Institute awards 2014

The shortlist for the prestigious Landscape Institute Awards 2014 included research projects commissioned by Natural England and Defra.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

An historic parkland with vistors walking through a landscape shaded by veteran trees and close to a herd of red deer
An historic parkland landscape © Natural England/Michelle Hawkins

The Landscape Institute awards shortlist was drawn from entries received from all corners of the UK and overseas. The submitted entries span a diverse range of research, from small to large scale public and private projects.

Among this year’s shortlisted schemes were 2 research projects carried out under the agri-environment evidence programme, which is jointly operated by Natural England and Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). At today’s awards ceremony both projects received a highly commended award in the Policy and Research category. The aims and outcomes of the two highly commended projects are described below.

What have been the landscape effects of Environmental Stewardship at the scale of the National Character Areas?

Environmental Stewardship (ES) was introduced in 2005, to provide support to farmers in managing land for environmental benefits. ES is run under the Rural Development Programme for England. The maintenance and enhancement of landscape quality and character is one of the main objectives of ES alongside the protection of the historic environment, the conservation of wildlife and the protection of natural resources.

Evidence of the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes is required by the European Commission and this project was part of an ES monitoring and evaluation programme which provides an evidence base that assesses the effectiveness of ES. This project specifically focused on assessing the extent to which ES has met its objective for the maintenance and enhancement of the landscape.

Innovation

For the first time, this project has developed an objective and repeatable monitoring process for assessing the impact of agri-environment schemes on landscape character and quality. The work on indicators and thresholds draws extensively on spatial data to calculate the overall stock of characteristic landscape elements present in each National Character Area. The work has created a baseline reporting framework that can be used for future landscape monitoring across England’s farmland.

A database of ES uptake brings together a range of complex data in a more accessible format. An interactive web map brings together all the various project results, allowing interactive searches of the main characteristics and land management options and makes the information readily available for use by professionals working in the private and public sectors.

This research project has been described as “the most comprehensive assessment to-date of the landscape effects of agri-environment schemes”.

This contract was carried out under the ES monitoring and evaluation programme by Land Use Consultants.

A summary of this project is available on the Defra science and research projects site.

How effective is Environmental Stewardship in conserving and enhancing historic parklands, and how should funding be prioritised?

Historic parklands are complex ‘designed’ landscapes that have often developed over many centuries and been shaped by the political, cultural and physical environments of the time. Alongside their inherent historic significance, they make a distinctive and important contribution to landscape character, support rich ecological habitats, provide opportunities for access and recreation and act as productive landscapes.

The main objectives of this research project were:

  • to identify the main features of parklands that give them value and relevance in their own right (for example, woodlands, wood pastures, waterbodies, historic environment, access); many of these features contribute to the overall value of individual parklands when prioritising funding decisions
  • to identify the value of the key features of parkland in the context of providing ecosystem services
  • to evaluate the contribution and effectiveness of ES agreements for the conservation and enhancement of historic parklands
  • to use the information gathered for the evaluation exercise in order to develop a method of prioritisation for future funding of historic parklands under agri-environment schemes, using clear assessment criteria that will guide the targeting of support within local, regional and national contexts

Both qualitative and quantitative methods were used to evaluate the effectiveness of ES in conserving and enhancing parkland features, using a sample of 25 designated and undesignated historic parklands distributed throughout England.

Significant contribution

The research showed that where ES was implemented it had a high degree of success in conserving and restoring historic parkland features. This conclusion is supported by the qualitative analysis and the interviews with ES agreement holders. Overall both analyses suggest that ES made a significant contribution to the conservation and restoration of the parklands and that successful parkland conservation would in many cases not have been possible without it.

This project was carried out under the ES monitoring and evaluation programme for Defra and Natural England by Cookson and Tickner and funded through the Rural Development Plan for England.

A summary of this project is available on the Defra science and research projects site

Landscape Institute awards 2014

The Landscape Institute awards are presented annually to encourage and recognise outstanding examples of work by the landscape profession.

The Landscape Institute awards aim to:

  • promote the art and science of landscape architecture
  • advance the knowledge and understanding of the discipline
  • celebrate professional expertise
  • reward schemes that demonstrate a high level of commitment to sustainability

This year’s winners were announced during a ceremony on 27 November 2014 in London.

Countryside Stewardship

The ES scheme has now closed to new entrants and agreements under the new Countryside Stewardship will start in 2016.

Published 28 November 2014