The Garden Guide

Book: Landscape Planning and Environmental Impact Design: from EIA to EID
Chapter: Chapter 7 Agriculture, farming and countryside policy

Scenic conservation and enhancement

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Agricultural scenery 

The farming landscape should be conserved AND improved. Rural scenery is a resource which is highly valued by urban dwellers. It is normally enjoyed as a public good. The money spent on travel and accommodation does not go to those who own and maintain rural land. Farmers only profit if they run hotels, farm shops, car parks or other facilities [Fig 7.9]. Though people will pay much higher prices for rooms with beautiful, extensive and dramatic views, it does not follow that owners of beautiful and dramatic land should receive public funds, any more than owners of fine buildings have a right to money from passers-by. The distinction between a wage and a rent helps to clarify the position. Farmers deserve a wage for any works implemented on behalf of the public, but they do not have a right to a rent for the public goods they supply. Farmers think and speak as though every square metre of farmland were equally beautiful. This is not so [Fig 7.10]. Some farms are very beautiful; others are very dull. But scenic beauty is hard to quantify and much depends on location. A woodland in a large city, or on a bare hill [Fig 7.11], will make an immensely greater contribution to the scenery than the same number of trees in the midst of a forest. Likewise, 50 hectares of flat grass can be judged very boring in a city but very beautiful on the floor of a mountain valley. Another 50 hectares of peat bog may be beautiful on the shoulder of a mountain and dull when surrounded by 50 km2 of similar bog. The scenic character of agricultural land can change because of a change in farming practice, because the land is put to another use (eg golf course) or because the public pay money to improve the scenery. If money is to be made available for the protection or improvement of scenic quality, then a Scenic Quality Assessment should be made, as discussed in Chapter 2. This procedure may be compared to the assessments of an old building which are made from time to time. Building managers tend to improve the worst areas and to leave the best areas alone. Countryside managers should do likewise. When a decision has been made to 'improve' the scenic quality of agricultural land, there are several Environmental Impact Design alternatives: Identity: take action to retain the existing character of the land, by protecting existing vegetation and existing structures (farm walls etc). This policy is appropriate in areas of high scenic quality. Similarity: respond to the genius of the existing place but take steps to enhance the scenic quality. This policy is appropriate in areas where the existing scenic quality is good but not outstanding. Difference: impose a new aesthetic concept on the existing agricultural landscape. This policy is appropriate when the existing scenic quality is low. Restoration: it may be desirable to restore the land to a previously existing condition. At the local scale, one can differentiate areas of low, medium or high scenic quality. But when one rates an area of locally high quality on a national scale, it may be judged 'low' or 'medium'. In terms of priorities for improvement, the area would have a low national priority, because it does not attract many tourists. Context theory, as discussed in Chapter 3, applies as much to rural areas as to urban areas. If change is to take place on agricultural land, the SID index needs to be considered: will the post-development land be Similar, Identical or Different, to the pre-development land? What Abercrombie called the Local Materials solution is sometimes correct: It argues that only old sorts of materials and old methods of building should be used, so that nothing new may appear: at its worst it would go to the length of faking an old appearance and it has given scope to the caricaturist to show Petrol Pumps masked as stumps of old oak trees (Abercrombie, 1934). Contextual decisions will depend, to a degree, on the existing quality of the land. If the scenic quality is high, there is a good case for resisting change. If it is low, there is, a prima facie case for effecting change. This is similar to the policy which many of us follow after moving to a new house: the worst rooms are decorated first.