Overcoming the Fear of Landscape

European Landscape Convention Third Meeting of the Workshops, Cork Ireland

16th June 2005 

Terry O’ Regan

Founder /Co-ordinator Landscape Alliance Ireland



Over the past ten years Terry O’ Regan has lead Landscape Alliance Ireland which he founded in 1995, an informal loosely-structured NGO, whose objectives are to provide an open forum for discussing and exploring all aspects of landscape and landscape management, to engage in research, to develop a database of information and to act as advocates for effective landscape policies, strategies and instruments for implementation at European, National, Regional and Local level.

His participation in the development of the European Landscape Convention and the promotion of the Convention in Ireland led to Irelands early signing and ratifying of the Convention in March 2002.

Landscape Alliance Ireland has made a major contribution in a relatively short period of time to ensuring that landscape is on the agenda at national, regional and local level.

Landscape protection, management and creation has proposed difficult challenges for Ireland particularly over the past ten years at a time of rapid economic growth and the solutions that we develop will prove invaluable to many of our European neighbours.

The convening of the third meeting of workshops in Cork was an initiative of Landscape Alliance Ireland and should further advance the implementation of the convention in Ireland and Europe .


In the distant past we may have had reason to fear the landscape - a theme explored so thoroughly by Simon Schama in ‘Landscape and Memory’. He spoke of travellers returning from the early and very wooded landscape of Germany to Rome in the time of Caesar telling stories of flat-antlered elks that used the valonia oaks as their “couch”; hairy aurochs with red-black eyes and fearsome curving horns and, according to Pliny, strange birds whose plumage shone like fire in the depth of the night.

Today when we appear to have so successfully beaten the landscape into submission, albeit often creating urban landscapes far more dangerous than Hercynian forest of Germany , it is incomprehensible that we should still fear the landscape. Yet in my preparations for this workshop, I became aware of a sense of fear out there in relation to the landscape of Ireland . Are there “hairy aurochs” lurking in the few remaining woods and forests of this island?

The European Landscape Convention may not contain advice on what to do if you meet a “hairy auroch”, but it is intended to promote landscape protection, management and planning and to organise European co-operation on landscape issues.

Each ratifying party is required to recognise landscapes in law, to establish and implement landscape policies, to establish procedures for the participation of the general public, local and regional authorities and other parties and to integrate landscape into its regional and town planning policies and all other relevant policies including its cultural, environmental, agricultural, social and economic policies.

The specific measures required to achieve the aims of the objectives involved awareness raising, relevant training and education, landscape identification and assessment, the setting of landscape quality objectives and the implementation of the landscape policies.

I have been given to believe that the decision of the Irish Government to sign and ratify the convention in March 2002 followed an evaluation process that concluded that Ireland would have no difficulty in complying with the requirements of the European Landscape Convention.

The question that we in Ireland have to ask and indeed we invite our visiting delegates to consider; is whether Ireland ’s landscape today reflects the effective implementation of the spirit and text of the European Landscape Convention.

I would suggest that we might all agree that it would be difficult for any nation to make a bold statement that it has successfully reached a point where it can state that it has fully implemented the European Landscape Convention. 

In fact, I would suggest that no nation will ever reach that point, as the objectives and aims of the convention are intended to realise a process rather than an end-product.

Landscape Alliance Ireland organised a discussion group earlier this week to review the current position and it appeared to me that the conclusions of our two hour long discussion was that the situation in Ireland was not disastrous, that there is much about our landscape today of which we can be proud and that there are a wide range of policies, strategies and implementation measures in place, even if they are not fully integrated.

However there was a general consensus that there were still serious problems and difficult challenges in the Irish landscape and that they are all too often related to the fact that while there has been considerable lip-service paid to landscape, this did not always translate into practical implementation measures.

For all of us to evaluate our success or failure in implementing the European Landscape Convention we urgently require measurable indicators and I respectfully suggest that this is a particular area where the European Landscape Convention workshops might focus in the near future.

The structure of the Irish Experience presentation is intended to provide you with an overview of the current position in Ireland with regard to landscape management at national, regional, local and community level.

If the process is working effectively then if you can visualise a large old style clock - all of the wheels and cogs should fit neatly and snugly together and should engage efficiently and effectively.  There should be no clashing of gears, no sparks and no breaking of metal and certainly there should no wheels spinning idly and wildly.

The European Landscape Convention focuses very much on the issue of policy and Landscape Alliance Ireland has indeed focused strongly on landscape policy from the very beginning.

One of the major obstacles we confronted was that politicians have great difficulty in differentiating between the national policy of a nation and the party manifestos or current position papers. 

National policy should be designed and worded to serve the best interests and quality of life of all of the people of the nation concerned.

We in Ireland have a wide range of legislation in place with regard to planning and development which dates right back to 1963 and indeed is very relevant that today in the audience we have Michael Dower who worked on the preparatory work for the 1963 Planning and Development Act in Ireland.

That Act had significant aspirations with regard to landscape, though perhaps not as clearly defined as we would have wished and indeed the current act which replaced the 1963 Act in 2000 also has certain aspirations with regard to landscape.

However one of the difficulties with the Irish planning legislation to date is the inbuilt need for continuous correction and restraint achieved by the intervention of small NGO’s or community organisations concerned with regard to quality of life issues and that would suggest that the fundamental legislation is faulty.

Curiously the current situation has given rise to the paradox where on the one hand the government has recently on the one hand been criticising NGO’s for participating in the democratic process of planning and on the other hand they are criticising them for not participating.

Volunteers and activists in NGO’s and community organisations have a vital balancing role to play in the system of healthy democratic governance, such civic action must be valued, respected and nurtured. A society without such active voluntary involvement is in terminal decline.

The European Landscape Convention calls for a considerable sense of vision and a deep understanding of the true quality of life.

This requires a statesman and stateswoman perspective, which can prove difficult for politicians engaged in the demanding day-to-day work of governance.

That should not be a cause for despair for us, in fact it should be a wake up call because if we really believe that landscape is important, then there is a challenge for all of us to communicate landscape, landscape quality and the European Landscape Convention not alone to our politicians, but to the electorate to whom the politicians are most likely to listen.

Landscape Alliance Ireland through its public landscape forums, published proceedings, surveys and lobbying has made a major contribution in a relatively short period of time to ensuring that landscape is on the Irish agenda at national, regional and local level.

Our participation in the development of the European Landscape Convention and the promotion of the Convention in Ireland led to Ireland ’s early signing and ratification of the Convention in March 2002.

This week-long landscape event in Cork with its public lectures, exhibition, discussions and the bringing together of this wonderful gathering of people from all corners of Europe and beyond is very much intended to represent an important step in meeting this challenge.

Friends and colleagues, in Ireland and elsewhere we need only fear the landscape if we fail to value it for its importance in our daily lives, - it is not something remote, distant or inhuman, it is part of what we are. If we abuse and brutalise our landscape it will however turn on us and on our societies in complex, destructive ways. The challenge is about how we define civilisation and a civilised sense of stewardship for our place and space on this wonderful planet. 

My fellow speakers will now provide you with a comprehensive overview of the Irish Experience from different perspectives.