Monthly Archives: October 2012

Landscape Nicaragua

Nicaraguan Landscapes

Having lived for the past four years in rapidly developing countries, I have become interested in living in a slowly developing country. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America, according to the UN 48% of its population live below the poverty line, 80% on less than US$2 per day. Nicaragua has the greatest percentage of its area devoted to National Parks of any of the Central American states. The civil war of the 1980´s and the American government´s subsequent funding of armed groups opposed to the Sandinista faction has resulted today in a war-weary and cynical population (memorials to the asassinated are a commonplace, found even in rural school playgrounds), which with 48% underemployment does not show itself as optimistic with regard to the future, or indeed the present. An ideal place then, to adjust one´s professional and private view away from the serving of Mammon to something, perhaps, more useful.

I have visited two biological stations in the two months I have been here, one based in the National Park of Laguna de Apoyo, the other in the National Park Penas Blancas. The first is part of Nícaragua’s astonishing lowland landscape of extinct and active volcanoes, many of the extinct ones now deep lakes, the second part of the upland landscape of cloud forests. Both are staffed by volunteers, living conditions are very simple, morale is high, the people are mainly young and all enthusiastic. The stations have specialities, at Apoyo it´s the endemic lake fish, at Penas Blancas it´s bees and orchids: both stations though interest themselves additionally with the widest range of the flora and fauna which surrounds them. Both are also primarily involved in simply finding out what is there and how it´s changing, there is little hard information to be had at the most basic level, they are collecting much raw data that no one has taken the time to do before. One meets Dutch and German students, either self-funded, or on government grants, but local people are the backbone of the effort. For young people (and older ones, too) tired of boring jobs, lack of motivation and opportunity and wanting to make a positive contribution to something, somewhere, this would be a place to come. Get dirty, get bitten, work hard, rise early, sleep early, learn Spanish and be part of a collective, forward-looking group of people: where in recession-ridden Europe is all of that on offer?

Scotland's landscape & architecture Trumped by Alec Salmond and the SNP

Donald Trump enjoys a game of golf in Scotland (Guardian photo)

Donald Trump enjoys a game of golf in Scotland (Guardian photo)

I first noticed the disease on the outskirts of Edinburgh: splurges of badly planned, ugly developments with no consideration for the historic landscape and architecture of Scotland. This has been trumped and Trumped by the ghastly golf course north of Aberdeen. Donald Trump says it will be the ‘best’ golf course in the world. Fiddlesticks. The local people were against it so the planning application was called in by the Edinburgh government – and approved. Compulsory purchase powers are now being used to force local landowners to sell their land. Why is this being done? Because Salmond wants to prove that an independent Scotland can prosper economically. It is a policy which has worked elsewhere. If you effectively abolish town and country planning controls then developers are attracted, like crows to carion and Russians to the Mediterranean.
I lived round the corner from one of the founders of the Scottish National Party for 20 years and supported the idea of an independent Scotland. Wendy Wood was the daughter of a landscape painter, and an artist herself. Like me, I think she would have withdrawn her support from the SNP if she had known it would lead to the destruction of Scotland’s landscape. There are good landscape architects in Scotland but a friend told me that the major part of their workload is now supporting, and opposing, the construction of windfarms. The turbines are pork barrels – ways of giving subsidies to local people to buy their votes.
The Arbroath Delcaration, addressed to the Pope in 1320 stated (here in a brilliant translation from the Latin) the wish to be independent ‘Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom — for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself. ‘. Wood, like Roger Casement, was of English stock. The declarators of 1320 were proud of their descent: ‘Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since. In their kingdom there have reigned one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken a single foreigner.’ Today, they do not want to be ruled by the Pope or the English. Far better, they think, to be ruled by Mamon and the Brussels Bureaucracy.
Trump International Golf Links hopes to become “the world’s best golf course”. Bill Forsyth made a wonderful film in 1983. Local Hero is about a small community in Scotland chose preservation of their landscape to riches from oil. Congratulations to the Guardian for its photograph (above) and to BBC2 for showing Anthony Baxter’s film You’ve been Trumped.
I’d like to see Salmond return to the land of his forebears: Greater Scythia. He will find lots of oil and even-more-ghastly development. With luck, he will be able to wrestle naked with other Scythians and enjoy Borat’s Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. Good luck to him – and good riddance for Scotland.
I would like to be able to boast that the UK landscape profession, led by the Landscape Institute Scotland Branch, has fought a bitter campaign against Trump golf course. But it hasn’t.
Conclusion: watch Local Hero with a tumbler of malt whisky. It will make you feel better.

Wind turbines' landscape and financial impact in the UK

Wind turbines beside a motorway in North West France (image courtesy P-Y Bégin)

Big landowners have the easiest job getting planning permission for wind turbines, because the only people who live within sight are likely to be their tenants. Wind farm subsidies were about £1bn in 2012, though the rate of subsidy was cut by 10% this year. I drove past an ugly wind farm in Scotland this year, with 22 turbines dominating the landscape. The visual impact was grim, so I began to wonder about their financial impact. With the advantage of generous subsidies, Merryn Somerset Webb calculates that each turbine will yield the owner a profit of £200,000/year for 20 years. This amounts to £4m over the period, or £88m for the group of turbines. This lets the ‘generous’ company which developed the scheme give £1m to the local community over the 20 year period. A landowner who allows a turbine on his land can expect a rent of £1m over the period (£50,000/year). So why not follow the French example and locate the turbines on land beside motorways? This would keep the two sorts of ugliness together and remind motorists that they should be using electricity to power their vehicles. The airflow from vehicles might even be used, with special turbines, to generate electricity when there is no wind. Noise barriers could designed to deflect air currents to roadside turbines.
At present, visitors to the UK probably conclude that UK policy is to splat wind turbines anywhere in the landscape, providing only that no wealthy people, except landowners, live near them.