Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Is sustainable development a contradiction in terms in protected heritage landscapes?

Sustainable development is all around us everywhere we look. there are products that are being sold as environmentally friendly and sustainable. we are constantly being sold the image and idea of sustainable development, but is it practical, especially with regards to heritage and tourism.

In Spain valuable water resources are being diverted and depleted by the tourism industry in the form of new golf parks. ‘Last year over 50 new courses were developed’ (, even though there has been a drought in parts of Spain for nearly two years.

Sustainable development, is in itself a good idea, but its the human factor that can make it a contradiction. We know that we are in a period of global warming or climate change, which is being made worse by use of fossil fuels. If people asked that in order to help prevent climate change, that they’d have to give up the car, how many people would be willing. I expect that only a fraction of people would be prepared to make that sacrifice.

Now we transfer that to the heritage and tourist industry, and if people were told that in order to help protect a managed landscape, such as Dartmoor or the Brecon Beacons, there would no longer be access to walkers and visitors. Then there would possibly be large scale protest from a wide variety groups and individuals. In effect, we want our cake and eat it. We want access, we want to visit monuments and protected landscapes, and at the same time we want it preserved and looked after in a sustainable manner. Yet is it possible to sustain our natural heritage in a way that will benefit future generations and allow complete access for all.

We are in a period of great change, within our life times our natural environment will change due to the warming up of the planet. The glaciers around the world are melting at a rapid pace, also the ice at both the Artic and Antarctic is also shrinking. We are also in a period of extreme difficulty with regards to energy use. Experts are now in agreement that we are slowly running out of fossil fuels, such as gas and oil.

With all this and the fact that we, humans, have a large impact on our ecosystems, is it possible for us to maintain, preserve and develop our natural heritage in a sustainable manner for the future, or is it just a contradiction, an idea that is sellable in all manner of forms.

Are we just kidding ourselves that we can have sustainable industries and heritage in the wake of climate change and energy depletion? If the sea levels rise we can’t stop or slow down the flooding. There is now amount of technology that we could possibly develop to help with sustainability around coastal areas. Mother Nature can’t be stopped, slowed down maybe, but in the end our natural coastal heritage will be swallowed by the sea, also as the temperature rises then there will be change within other ecosystems. Our natural heritage is going to change and change in a dramatic way, therefore we should only try to develop areas which can be made sustainable.

We know that nature is having an effect on the ecosystems around the world, but man plays a big part in destroying the natural environments. Farming practices down the centuries has had a great impact on the environment, from deforestation through to the diverting of rivers. Modern farming practice in and around protected landscapes is having a detrimental effect on the local ecosystems.

‘Agriculture may be one, if not the most important cause of pollution, either by the production of sediments or by the generation of chemical wastes.’ (Goudie 2006)

‘Almost daily there seems to newspaper and television reports related to issues such as acid rain, potential global warming, ozone layer depletion, erosions and depletion of top soils, and the destruction of forests and other habitats.’ (

Modern farming practice is to pump gallons of oil based pesticides into the soil. ‘On average 31 thousand tonnes of pesticides are applied to UK farmland every year.’ (Cook, 2004). Pesticide damages the natural balance of the soil, destroying, and local wildlife, especially those that thrive within the soil. ‘Pesticides also leave residues of the chemicals, found in the pesticides, in about a quarter of our food’ (Cook, 2004) as well as in the soil itself. Each year the topsoil is being eroded due to hot and dry weather patterns, whilst dry the soil particles are blown away every particle will contain chemical residues. These soil particles are then blown into the neighboring landscape, polluting the natural ecosystems. ‘This is only beginning to happen in a serious scale in Western Europe and no doubt will se all kinds of fixes in due course to arrest it‘. (Seymour & Girardet, 1986). The possible fixes will probably come in the form of artificial chemical based fixes, adding more pollution to the growing problem.

‘Chemical Farming can produce more crops in the short term, but this is only due to the massive inputs of pesticides and nitrogen based fertilizers, to maintain this level of crop production long term then greater amounts of chemical products have to be used‘. (Seymour & Girardet, 1986). This form of agriculture is not sustainable in the long term. ‘Chemical farming is lazy man’s farming‘. (Seymour & Girardet, 1986.) Pesticide pollute the water table, rain water seeps down through the soil into the water table along the way it picks up and carries these residues of chemicals within the soil. Once in the water table these chemicals can then be transferred to other local habitats, polluting both plant and animal life. ‘Nitrate trends in most rivers in Europe and North America reveal a marked increase since the 1950’s. This can be attributed to the growth in use of nitrate fertilizers.’ (Goudie, 2006).

Chemicals produce poisons which kill disease organisms and enable crops to grow. Yet at the same time it destroys the organisms that protect the soil. ‘This pushes the soil further on its way to becoming a sterile layer of powdered rock.’ (Seymour & Girardet, 1986) Once this has been achieved then erosion of the soil is inevitable.

We have to move away from a system of farming based on the inputs derived from fossil fuels to one based on organic principles. We need to return to localized systems of food production and consumption. ‘We’ve been polluting the landscape for over 50 years with an accumulation of chemical and mineral fertilizers.’ (Rackham, 2003)

As a result we’ve polluted our natural heritage with chemicals for a period of fifty years. If we are to sustain our natural heritage, then we nee d to change the practices of our agriculture, we need to make our farming industry more sustainable for the future. On a recent film (Corporation), Ray Anderson, Chairman and Ceo of Interface, stated, “If we aren’t making carpets sustainably, then maybe we don’t have a place in the world, but anyone else who doesn't make sustainable products doesn’t belong either”. This can be applied to any industry, farming especially. The practices of any industry, including farming in and around our protected natural heritage or any natural heritage has to be conducted in amore sustainable approach, without the use of pesticides or chemicals. Our current practices are having an adverse effect on the natural environment, making any sustainable development within a contradiction. The unsustainable farming practices are being conducted globally; deforestation is conducted world wide to make way for farmland. The practice of deforestation or the burning of forests contributes to the greenhouse effect and reduces rainfall, with potentially devastating effects in agriculture and the natural environment. ‘Each year around 5 billion tonnes of topsoil is eroded in the US, which is resulting in lower yields,’ ( to compensate this, the farmer adds more chemicals to improve the crop yield, making this practice unsustainable long term.

How can we develop our landscape heritage and industries in a sustainable manner, if we rely on using tonnes of chemical with our soil, food and energy use? Whilst we are doing this we will never be sustainable in any form. All attempts to be sustainable, while we are carrying out these practices will just be a contradiction.


We need to turn our backs on the globalized world. We need to return to localized economies, grow more our own food locally in an organic manner. If we are to make sustainable development work and not just be another contradiction, then we need to make sure that all industries, agriculture included within the area of a protected heritage landscape sustainable and environmentally friendly. We also have to accept that climate change will bring change within our natural landscape, and that possibly some areas of the UK may disappear altogether or change completely.

If we ignore both the impacts that man and global warming will have on our natural heritage then we will make any attempts at sustainability a contradiction. A good management plan will bring together all parties working, living and using a protected area and develop a plan that meets all the needs of those involved. By making all interested parties work closely together in a sustainable approach is the only way forward. Otherwise it will be a contradiction and we will have failed our future generations.


Blunden, John & Curry, Nigel – A future for our countryside, Basil Blackwell 1988

Goudie, Andrew – The Human impact on the Natural Environment, Blackwell publishing 2006

Hall, C.Mitchel & Lew, Alan (ed) - Sustainable Tourism, Longman 1998

Racham, Oliver – The Illustrated History of the Countryside, W&N, 2003.

Thirsk, Joan (Ed) – Rural England (An Illustrated History of the Landscape), oxford University Press, 2000

Ryrie, Charlie – Soil, Soil Association (the Organic Organization) 2001

Seymour, John – The Lore of the Land, Whittet Books 1992

Seymour, John & Girardet, Herbert – far From Paradise (the story of man’s impact on the environment), BBC Books 1986.

Holden, Andrew – Environment & Tourism, Routledge 2000

Mauforth, Martian & Hunt, Ian – Tourism & Sustainability, Routledge 1998

Cheung, SCH (2004) - Keeping the wetlands wet: how to integrate natural and cultural heritage preservation, Museums International, 56, 3, pp. 29-37

Fowler, P (2000) Cultural landscapes of Britain, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 6, 3, pp. 201-212


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