Development of Landscape character assessment as a tool for effective conservation of natural heritage in the Eastern Mediterranean

MedScapes Project is funded by the multilateral cross-border cooperation “Mediterranean Sea Basin Programme” which is a part of the new European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) and its financing instrument (European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument – ENPI) for the 2007-2013 period. MedScapes brings together eight partners from four countries for this two-year project: Cyprus, Greece, Jordan and Lebanon. Each country is represented by one non-governmental organization NGO and one University, and are led by the Laona Foundation for the Conservation and Regeneration of the Cypriot Countryside. The project aims to support stronger protection of and reduced risk to the landscape heritage through the introduction of an integrative landscape character assessment (LCA) framework for enhanced and sustainable territorial planning and decision-making. The project’s specific objective is (a) to develop and apply a best-practice methodology for identifying, mapping and assessing Landscape Character in pilot areas, and (b) to promote the results as a tool for sustainable land use decision-making and landscape-scale protection of the natural and cultural heritage in the East Mediterranean context. It will include the cultural, environmental, geological and other spatial elements of the landscape, providing a more holistic understanding of the dynamics created in different areas of each country or region in order to gain a better knowledge of their vibrant and ever-changing landscapes.

How the Project will improve the Situation of the Target Groups and Final Beneficiaries.

The specific objective of the project is To Develop and apply a best-practice methodology for LCA and landscape recording in pilot areas, and to promote the results as a tool for sustainable landuse decision-making and landscape-scale protection of the natural and cultural heritage in the East Mediterranean context.

. The key target groups are state and local authorities involved in territorial planning and cultural/natural heritage protection (to whom the results will be disseminated through WP2). Their situation will be improved in the following ways:

  • The fully tested regionally-adapted BPM will facilitate the wider application of LCA throughout their territories and the landscape character typologies and finished maps will set a benchmark standard for such work, whilst the provisional East Mediterranean Landscape Typology will enable much greater consistency between territories in future landscape mapping, so that trans-boundary cooperation in the applications (e.g. in nature conservation) will be easier.
  • Technical/management capacities of land-planning stakeholders will improve from the Decision-Support- System (DSS, WP7) based on spatial risk assessment of pressures. This will be a user-friendly interactive spatial framework that will summarise spatially the risks/problems and set out the vision and goals for each landscape area (something foreseen in the European Landscape Convention ELC) in an objective framework. It will support decision-making at (i) the strategic and policy level as well as (ii) the landscape unit/local project level (see WP7).
  •  Overall, the capacities of planning authorities (and other government departments) will be significantly improved in having for the first time (in the words of the Director of the Town Planning Dept. of Cyprus) “a framework for planning and zoning that will be objectively-based and therefore robust in the face of challenges”. Those objective zones are determined by both natural and cultural formative factors, making it an ideal platform for integrating planning in natural and cultural heritage protection.

NGOs are likely to value the DSS as a way of focusing and scoping natural and cultural heritage-protection campaigns. Working with either governmental or local community stakeholders, the landscape maps and the DSS will provide NGOs a real-world framework for communication and discussion, supporting voluntary management agreements or strategic protection mechanisms (such as agri-environment measures) for biodiversity or cultural-heritage protection on a landscape-scale rather than just within protected sites.

Local communities in the pilot-areas (whose landscapes in the longer-term are likely to be better-protected as a result of the measures foreseen in the project, in line with the project Overall Objective) will benefit also in a more immediate way from the project. WP6 develops a model approach for community participation in landscape-scale protection. A specific output will be a best-practice methodology for community-based decision-making, encouraging local people to be directly involved in the management of their own landscapes (again a specific measure of the ELC). WP6 will bring together for the first time the traditional Arabic “Hima” (land protection) system with the robust spatial-framework of LCA. Hima is currently seeing a revival (promoted by PP4 SPNL in Lebanon) as a way to involve communities together with other stakeholders in the management of their special landscapes, leading to voluntary protection agreements that – though not necessarily binding in law – are robust due to the element of local ownership developed through the process. People seem to have more respect for the Hima agreements than for conventional ‘top-down’ protection measures in which they have no say.

Landscape ecology (and related) practitioners will find in the LCA BPM and the DSS an opportunity for technical skill-development, as will postgraduate students of environmental management and planning. All of these will benefit from the Distance Learning LCA Training Materials (the results of WP8). People will access these materials either as part of formal tertiary (mainly post-graduate) education, as part of on-going professional development or through continuing education (lifelong learning).

Regarding wider-scale long-term beneficiaries will be addressed through the process of Capitalisation (WP3), which will set in place the mechanisms for extending the project impact both temporally and geographically. For communities in neighbouring areas and countries the project will have an example of participatory approach in Landscape management. For state/local authorities and NGOs in other east Mediterranean countries the project will provide a complete methodology to carry out LCA, identify the distinct role that these entities can play in the process and establish a Landscape Observatory to exchange ideas and practices in integrative land use planning. For practitioners outside the partner countries there will be training opportunities whilst for people who enjoy nature and culture the project will demonstrate the importance and interplay of nature and culture in shaping Mediterranean landscapes.

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