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A “Landscape approach” for Coastal Zones and Marine Areas: the European Landscape Convention

Sunday, 21 December 2014
by Maguelonne Dejeant-Pons, Executive Secretary of the Steering Committee for Culture, Heritage and Landscape, and European Landscape Convention Council of Europe
A “Landscape approach” for Coastal Zones and Marine Areas: the European Landscape Convention
“Homer gave the landscape a voice”
...“Homere faisait parler le paysage”

                                        E. Lavezzi

“… this Convention applies to the entire territory of the Parties and covers natural, rural,
urban and peri-urban areas. It includes land, inland water and marine areas.
It concerns landscapes that might be considered outstanding
as well as everyday or degraded landscapes.”
Article 2 of the European Landscape Convention “Scope”

“Each Party undertakes to increase awareness among the civil society,
private organisations, and public authorities of
the value of landscapes, their role and changes to them.”

Article 6-A of the European Landscape Convention “Awareness-raising”

The Council of Europe, an intergovernmental international organisation covering Greater Europe aims to promote democracy, human rights, rule of law and to seek common solutions to the main problems facing society today. Regarded as the first sustainable development convention, the European Landscape Convention is a major contribution to achieving these objectives.

The Convention was adopted by its Committee of Ministers on 19 July 2000 in Strasbourg and opened for signature by the member States of the Organisation in Florence on 20 October 2000. It aims to promote European landscape protection, management and planning and to organise European and international co-operation on landscape issues. Its implementation contributes to conserve life and to consider the quality of life taking care of the landscape values, including its natural and cultural components.

To date, 38 Council of Europe member States have ratified the Convention: Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Republic of Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. Two States have signed the Convention: Iceland and Malta.

1. The foundations of the European Landscape Convention: landscape as a “basic component of the European natural and cultural heritage”

The concept of landscape in the European Landscape Convention differs from that found in certain documents which see landscape as an “asset” (heritage concept of landscape) and assess it (as “cultural”, “natural” etc. landscape), regarding it as a part of physical space. This new concept expresses the desire to deal comprehensively with the topic of the quality of the surroundings in which people live, recognising it as a prerequisite for individual and social well being (viewed in the physical, physiological, psychological and intellectual sense) and for sustainable development, and as a resource conducive to economic activity.

The sustainable development notion is understood as fully integrating the environmental, cultural, social and economic dimensions in an overall and integrated fashion; attention therefore is focused on the territory as a whole, including land, inland water and marine areas and without distinguishing between the urban, peri urban, rural and natural parts, or between parts that may be regarded as outstanding, everyday or degraded. What may be described as the “Landscape approach” considers that the landscape forms a whole whose constituent parts are considered simultaneously in terms of their interrelationships.[1]

By developing a new territorial culture, the purpose is to preserve Europeans’ quality of life and well being, taking account of landscape with its natural and cultural values. The Council of Europe member states that signed the Convention stated their concern to “achieve sustainable development based on a balanced and harmonious relationship between social needs, economic activity and the environment”. They also attached cardinal importance to the cultural dimension.

The Convention is a ground breaking instrument dealing with landscape as a whole, viewed as the setting in which individuals and societies live. Each Contracting Party undertakes to recognise landscapes in law as an essential component of people’s surroundings, an expression of the diversity of their shared cultural and natural heritage, and a foundation of their identity.

The Convention defines landscape as “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors”. It emphasises that landscape is an important part of people’s quality of life “in degraded areas as well as in areas of high quality, in areas recognised as being of outstanding beauty as well as everyday areas”. Outstanding landscapes are addressed in the same way as ordinary landscapes and degraded areas, since all landscapes are the setting for people’s lives. Many rural and peri urban areas, in particular, are undergoing profound changes and call for closer attention from the authorities and the public.

2. Towards integrated spatial management: landscape protection, management and planning under the European Landscape Convention

In subscribing to the principles and objectives of the European Landscape Convention, the Contracting Parties undertook to adopt a series of general and specific national measures conducive to the setting up of ecological corridors and more generally designed to consider an area in its entirety as a system formed of landscape components. The Parties are required to:

– establish and implement landscape policies[2] aimed at landscape protection, management and planning;[3] and
– integrate landscape into regional and town planning policies and into cultural, environmental, agricultural, social and economic policies, as well as into any other policies which may have a direct or indirect impact on landscape.

In each landscape area the balance between these three types of activity will depend on the character of the area and the agreed objectives. Some areas may merit the strictest protection. At the other extreme there may be areas whose landscapes are severely damaged and need entirely reshaping.[4] Most landscapes need a combination of the three modes of action, and some of them need some degree of intervention. In seeking the right balance between protection, management and planning of a landscape, the Convention does not aim to preserve or “freeze” the landscape at a particular point in its lengthy evolution. The aim should be to manage changes in a way which recognises the great diversity and the quality of the landscapes that we inherit and which seek to preserve or even enhance that diversity and quality instead of allowing them to decline.

The Parties are required to carry out specific measures, including the identification and assessment of landscapes and the setting of landscape quality objectives. They also undertake to implement other national measures concerning public participation, awareness raising and training and education.[5]

Recommendation CM/Rec(2008)3 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the Guidelines for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention, adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 6 February 2008, contains a series of theoretical, methodological and practical guidelines for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention. It is intended for Parties to the Convention which wish to draw up and implement a landscape policy based on the Convention. The nine general principles set out below are designed to provide guidance on some of the fundamental articles of the Convention.

The European Landscape Convention
Principles for a “Landscape approach”

1. Consider the territory as a whole

The Convention applies to the entire territory and covers natural, rural, urban and peri urban areas. It includes land, inland water and marine areas.  It concerns landscapes that may be considered outstanding as well as everyday and degraded landscapes.

2. Recognise the fundamental role of knowledge

The identification, description and assessment of landscapes constitute the preliminary phase of any landscape policy. This involves an analysis of morphological, archaeological, historical, cultural and natural characteristics and their interrelations, as well as an analysis of changes.  The perception of landscape by the public should also be analysed from the viewpoint of both its historical development and its recent significance.

3. Promote awareness

Active public involvement means that specialised knowledge should be accessible to all, that is, it should be easily available, structured and presented in a way understandable even by non-specialists.

4. Define landscape strategies

Each administrative level (national, regional and local) should draw up specific and/or sectoral landscape strategies within the limits of its competences.  These are based on the resources and institutions which, when co-ordinated in terms of space and time, allow policy implementation to be programmed. The various strategies should be linked by landscape quality objectives.

5. Integrate the landscape dimension in territorial policies

The landscape dimension should be included in the preparation of all spatial management policies, both general and sectoral, in order to lead to higher-quality protection, management or planning proposals.

6. Integrate landscape into sectoral policies

Landscape should be fully taken into account via appropriate procedures allowing systematic inclusion of the landscape dimension in all policies that influence the quality of a territory.  Integration concerns both the various administrative bodies and departments on the same level (horizontal integration) and the various administrative bodies belonging to different levels (vertical integration).

7. Make use of public participation

All action taken to define, implement and monitor landscape policies should be preceded and accompanied by procedures for participation by members of the public and other relevant stakeholders, with the aim of enabling them to play an active role in formulating, implementing and monitoring landscape quality objectives.

8. Achieve landscape quality objectives

Every planning action or project should comply with landscape quality objectives. It should in particular improve landscape quality, or at least not bring about a decline. The effects of projects, whatever their scale, on landscape should therefore be evaluated and rules and instruments corresponding to those effects defined. Each planning action or project should not only match, but also be appropriate to the features of the places.

9. Develop mutual assistance and exchange of information

Information exchange, the circulation of theoretical, methodological and empirical ideas between landscape specialists and learning from these experiences are of fundamental importance in ensuring the social and territorial relevance of the European Landscape Convention and in achieving its objectives.

3. Policies and experiences for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention

The European Landscape Convention provides that the Contracting Parties undertake to cooperate internationally at European level in the consideration of the landscape dimension of international policies and programmes.  
Council of Europe Steering Committee for Culture, Heritage and Landscape and Conferences on the European Landscape Convention

Meetings of the Council of Europe Steering Committee for Culture, Heritage and Landscape (CDCPP) and Council of Europe Conferences on the European Landscape Convention are organised in order to monitor the implementation of the Convention. They are attended by representatives of the Parties and signatories States and representatives of the Committee of Ministers, Parliamentary Assembly and Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. Representatives of Council of Europe member States which are not yet parties or signatories and various international governmental and non-governmental organisations also attend as observers. Recommendation CM/Rec(2013)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the European Landscape Convention Information System and its glossary, asks States Parties to the Convention to use this Information System “L6”  in the framework of their co-operation.[6]

The Meetings of the Workshops for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention

Organised by the Council of Europe on a regular basis, the Meetings of the Workshops for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention represent a genuine forum for sharing new concepts and achievements in connection with the Convention.[7]

The “Council of Europe Landscape Award Alliance”

The “Council of Europe Landscape Award Alliance” aims to highlight significant achievements in the Organisation’s member States. They reward a process of implementation of the Convention at national or transnational levels contributing to foster public participation in the decision-making process on landscape policies and make people more aware of the importance of landscapes for well-being of individuals and society as a whole.[8]

Concerning coastal zones, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided to acknowledge the great value of the following projects and make them well known to the general public as a source of inspiration:

The Durham Heritage Coast, by Durham Heritage Coast Partnership, United Kingdom
(Special mention of the 2nd Session of the Landscape Award of the Council)
The area of the Durham Heritage Coast has made a remarkable recovery since 1993, when it was still used as a dumping site for waste from the local coal industry. However, through the project “Turning the Tide” the coast has entered into its own and has embraced its geological, natural and historical heritage which supports increasing numbers of tourists. Through this project the spoil heaps have been removed from the shores, foot and cycle paths have increased access to the area and the re-creation of biotopes has increased the flora and fauna. The improvement of the inshore waters has been a main priority and these efforts have also been extended to integrate adjoining areas to create an Integrated Coastal Management Zone. The social needs of the area are the focus of constant attention, and the sustainable economic development is supported by a social and economic regeneration involving public participation and tourism. Guided walks and tourist paths do not only introduce visitors to the value of the Durham Heritage Coast but also allow the local population to reconnect to their home and fully appreciate their heritage.

Bere Island Conservation Plan, by The Heritage Council and the Bere Island Project Group, Ireland
The Bere Island Conservation Plan was completed in 2002. The aim of the plan is to shape the sustainable future of the island. The conservation plan demonstrates the value of a landscape approach to island management. In line with the European Landscape Convention, the conservation plan was developed with the full involvement of the Bere Islanders, who were proactive in developing strategies to protect and manage their landscape. It has resulted in a series of projects inspired by its vision. The conservation plan and its projects are informing and shaping policy at the regional, national and European levels. The Conservation Plan has also become a model of best practice for other European islands.

Landscape and water-management restoration of Skocjanski Zatok nature reserve, by DOPPS, BirdLife Slovenia, Slovenia
The project aimed to recreate the typical coastal wetland landscape of Skocjanski Zatok Nature Reserve, the largest brackish wetland in Slovenia, after the decay it suffered in the 1980s. This resulted in the restoration of the semi-natural coastal wetland ecosystem, landscape and its natural processes. It thus remedied the environmental problems of the past, and assured the conservation and development of the typical brackish and freshwater habitats supporting fauna and flora of European and national importance with a strong exemplary value, as well as the organisation of the wetland centre – a nature reserve open to the public. Visitors from within Slovenia and elsewhere nowadays enjoy the area for education, recreation and a unique nature experience. Awareness was raised in the local community, which participated in the project with a positive attitude – which also contributed towards a better quality of life and to the sustainable development of the Slovenian coast.


The European Landscape Convention states that landscape has an important public interest role in the cultural, ecological, environmental and social fields and constitutes a resource favourable to economic activity, notably via leisure and tourism. It frequently refers to the ecological and environmental and cultural dimensions and, in its preamble, expressly mentions the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern, 9 September 1979), the Convention for the Protection of the Architectural Heritage of Europe (Granada, 3 October 1985) and the European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (Revised) (Valletta, 16 January 1992).[9]  

Landscapes must not be mere backdrops, but healthy and living areas populated with indigenous animal and plant species. The landscape contributes to the formation of local cultures and is a basic component of the natural and cultural heritage, contributing to human well-being.

The European Landscape Convention considers that the sensory – visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, taste – and emotional perception which a population has of its environment and recognition of the latter’s diversity and special historical and cultural features are essential for respecting and safeguarding the identity of the population itself and for individual enrichment and that of society as a whole. It implies recognition of the rights and responsibilities of populations to play an active role in the processes of acquiring knowledge, taking decisions and managing the quality of the places where they live. Public involvement in decisions to take action and in the implementation and management of these decisions over time is regarded not as a formal act but as an integral part of protection, management and planning procedures.

As the above mentioned recommendation states, the concept of landscape is undergoing a period of rapid and profound change accompanied by significant advances. Together with the documents on its implementation, the European Landscape Convention is an innovation. It has led to developments in numerous European countries, irrespective of whether or not they have officially acceded to it, not only in their national and regional legislation but also at various administrative levels, as well as in methodological documents and experiments with active participatory landscape policies.

This situation has come about both in countries which have long had tried and tested landscape policies and instruments and in countries which are not yet at that stage. The Convention is used as a benchmark by some countries to initiate a process of profound change in their landscape policies, and for others it constitutes an opportunity to define their policy.

  1. This approach may be regarded as an extension of the “Ecosystem approach” developed by the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (Nairobi, Kenya, 15 26 May 2000, Decision V/6).
  2. The Convention states that ‘landscape policy’ “means an expression by the competent public authorities of general principles, strategies and guidelines that permit the taking of specific measures aimed at the protection, management and planning of landscapes”. The Convention defines each of these terms, which form the three aspects of landscape policy.
  3. The Convention defines the concepts of landscape protection, management and planning as follows:
    – Landscape protection “means actions to conserve and maintain the significant or characteristic features of a landscape, justified by its heritage value derived from its natural configuration and/or from human activity”. Protection therefore consists of measures to preserve the present character and quality of a landscape which is greatly valued on account of its distinctive natural or cultural configuration. Such protection must be active and involve upkeep measures to preserve significant features of a landscape;
    – Landscape management “means action, from a perspective of sustainable development, to ensure the regular upkeep of a landscape, so as to guide and harmonise changes which are brought about by social, economic and environmental processes”. Management therefore concerns measures introduced, in accordance with the principle of sustainable development, to steer changes brought about by economic, social or environmental necessity. Such measures may be concerned with organisation of the landscape or its components. They will provide for regular upkeep of the landscape and ensure that it evolves harmoniously and in a way that meets economic and social needs. The management approach must be a dynamic one and seek to improve landscape quality on the basis of the population’s expectations;– Landscape planning “means strong forward looking action to enhance, restore or create landscapes”. Planning therefore concerns the formal process of study, design and construction by which new landscapes are created to meet the aspirations of the people concerned. It involves framing proper planning projects, more particularly in those areas that are most affected by change and badly damaged (such as suburbs, peri urban and industrial areas, coastal areas). The purpose of such planning projects is to radically reshape the damaged landscapes.
  4. Restoring habitats is a priority in areas where they have become fragmented and this has seriously disrupted the functioning of ecosystems or markedly reduced the chances of survival of populations of European significance. Restoration will be substantial in areas of great potential value in terms of biological diversity, which have been physically disturbed or polluted. In a restoration project, reintroducing species should also be considered if it might benefit the functioning of a particular ecosystem or serve to restore communities of indigenous species.
  5. The idea is to introduce procedures for participation by members of the public, local and regional authorities and other stakeholders concerned with the framing and implementation of landscape policies; to make civil society, private organisations and public authorities more aware of the value of landscapes, their role and changes to them; and to promote training for specialists in landscape appraisal and operations, multidisciplinary training programmes in landscape policy, protection, management and planning, for professionals in the private and public sectors and for the associations concerned, and school and university courses which, in the relevant subject areas, address the values attaching to landscapes and the issues raised by their protection, management and planning.
  6. Public part to be completed by the Parties to the convention:
  7. See notably: “Vision for the future of Europe on territorial democracy: landscape as a new strategy for spatial planning… Another way to see the territory involving civil society…” (2012, Thessalonica, Greece); “Territories of the future: landscape identification and assessment: an exercise in democracy” (2013, Cetinje, Montenegro).
    The proceedings of the meetings are published in the Council of Europe’s “European Spatial Planning and Landscape” series and are available on the Council of Europe’s European Landscape Convention website:
  9. The Council of Europe Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (Faro, 27 October 2005) was adopted later.

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