Resilience and the Cultural Landscape; understanding and managing change in human-shaped environments
Editors: Tobias Plieninger and Claudia Bieling, Cambridge University Press, 348 pp.

The combination, resilience and cultural landscape is intriguing, as it combines two different scientific worlds, the dynamics of a systems approach, tipping points, but also change and the stability of the man-made landscapes that are conserved and protected against change. The author group (41 divided over 19 chapters) is predominantly European with just a few from the USA and Australia. This might seem logical as most research seem to be carried out in Europe. However, there is also knowledge and in research on cultural landscapes in Asia and Latin America that is only marginally included in this book. The book is divided into four sections: Concepts, Analysis, Managing landscapes and Perspectives.

The subject resilience and cultural landscape is probably most important in those parts of the world where pressures for change are dominant, or where regime shifts are likely to happen. It is a not much debated relationship, but important as the editors state in their introductory chapter. It is also a difficult subject as it is interdisciplinary, requiring social and natural sciences cooperating in a systems approach. Bringing together political, economic, technological and natural sciences aspects is challenging. Thus Selman explains and uses Stephenson’s cultural value model by recognising that landscape integrates more than scenic beauty and the visible expression of ecosystem services, but that there is also system information below the surface.

Considering landscapes as social-ecological systems makes the link with resilience. This is discussed in several chapters and essentially resilience is considered the capability of a system to experience shocks, while retaining the same function or returning to a state in which it can retain the same function. Social-ecological systems should be capable of doing so and the authors demonstrate that cultural landscape can be considered as such in cases where they are able to retain the traditional functions they have enjoyed for decades or centuries. However, landscapes shaped by traditional land use often seem to be problematic in maintaining functions and providing the same ecosystem services. The authors provide a nice overview of the approaches taken in both science fields and show the remarkable similarities between the two approaches. They also recognise the problems and caveats that do occur between persistence of management and resilience of systems and conclude that in fact that landscapes and social-ecological systems until now have been explored in parallel scientific fields with few cross references.

This therefore is the challenge in this book. Do the two approaches come together?  Are there avenues for future integration in landscape and system analysis, of social systems and natural systems analysis in practice and what can this mean for land management, sustainable use and landscape maintenance? The book contains a real cross referencing between the concepts discussed, such as the problem of sectoral approaches in landscape planning and the vagueness of definitions but also the use of Green infrastructure as a driver for future new sustainable and resilient landscapes. Although not mentioned, the Emerald Necklace in Boston is an example of maintaining an urban landscape structure for more than a century.

In the analysis section a kaleidoscope of approaches for the analysis of landscapes come across with important considerations such as the fact that the chosen time window for the analysis might be important for the results and adding to this also the path dependency as an important element. The approaches show that complexity in both socio-economic and ecological aspects is a characteristic of cultural landscapes and therefore this makes the resilience analysis complex as well. Landscapes can be analysed at different spatio-temporal scales varying from land unit, land use system to landscape level, that all have their own characteristics. For instance the Picos de Europa study shows these links between scales in both sociological and ecological sense.

The combination of path dependency and resilience is for me an interesting way of looking at cultural landscapes, because indeed, if a certain direction has been started in landscape transformation, it is very hard to deviate from it. The reason for this is the institutional agreements, investments already made, societal perceptions and tipping points that have been past. Several authors show good arguments for the linkage of both approaches, although there seem to be contradictory indications.

In the analysis and management sections there are interesting case studies showing the possible avenues set out in the first sections of the book. Some make a clear distinction between the ecological and sociological aspects of the analysis while others try to integrate the social and ecological aspects through management actions.

Most approaches in the book are case studies; only one attempts international comparisons of  ecological or social systems as does Karin Prager on landscape management groups in Great Britain, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, to get a better insight into what is the common factor and what divides us. Although she concludes that the approach is difficult, these comparisons can provide insights in collaborative learning in these systems.

The book presents a kaleidoscope of approaches that can be a good start for future landscape research and land management. It can offer a useful common framework to link social and ecological systems. The challenge is then to go further on the way in really developing a systems approach that makes it possible to compare landscapes in all their aspects. I agree with Ann Kinzig as she argues in her chapter on “deeper understanding of the social in resilience” for the need to better integrate social aspects in the landscape system, since resilience and social ecological systems tend to start from the physical aspects of landscapes. The drivers of change, however, and of renewal are in the economic and social systems. This however asks for efforts from both sides to come together and formulate common projects. In their concluding chapter Bieling and Plieninger discuss this way forward and conclude that there is a future for landscape and resilience research. I think this book is a good start for further developments in this direction but with a lot of hurdles to take. I can recommend it to all landscape researchers to learn about your partners if you want to know them and their ideas better.

Rob Jongman is Senior Researcher at Alterra, Wageningen UR: