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Written in the Land Reflections and Exhibition

During the last months of 2021, the Landscape Decisions Programme worked with established authors Emily Diamand and Patrick Laurie to offer a writing tuition course for farmers and land workers across Britain. Written in the Land offered eight applicants from across the UK support through a range of subjects designed to improve their skill as writers. The workshops were first devised as part of the Tipping Points project and Pen and Plough collaboration by Dr Pippa Marland at the University of Bristol.

Written in the Land was designed to complement the Landscape Decisions programme, placing a focus on the decisions made every day by those who live and work in rural places. Representations of the British countryside are often strangely contradictory. Rural landscapes can become an ideological battleground for issues of policy, media and culture, but despite their inherent familiarity, they are also frequently portrayed as belonging to a different world, with opaque systems of conventions and rules.  

This sense of difference, the amorphous “non-urban” that surrounds the bulk of our population, has been heightened by a surge in popularity of writing which looks in at the countryside from the position of a visitor. It’s no coincidence that this kind of “nature writing” overlaps with travel writing, and while these writers respond to an important need for a predominantly urban UK majority, they also risk alienating voices which originate in rural landscapes. Of course, we don’t want to tear down the voices of nature writers, but balanced discussion requires counterargument and for that we need to amplify those voices which are so often spoken for, without speaking themselves.  

In our deeply historied island, landscapes are artefacts created by the long partnership of human activity and natural processes, and rural livelihoods exist within structures and systems that may be many centuries old. Despite this, the decisions we take every day in the countryside do not always feel like a conscious or strategic movement. Decisions take a variety of forms, and some may be just a small part of plans determined decades, or even lifetimes, beforehand. Working through a daily list of small chores or tasks, an over-arching decision might seem vastly abstract; there isn’t always time to zoom out and consider the strategic meaning of an action when sheep are off to market in the morning and there’s paperwork to do.  

The literal experience of landscape decision-making is frequently balanced against more immediate concerns, while also having complex roots in history, tradition, family and connection to place.  Such decisions cannot always be expressed in the formal language of policy and evidence, or even cause and effect, instead they shift into the worlds of feeling, of rightness, of what needs to be done. They are no less valid for that, and Written in the Land is our contribution to developing the skills required to articulate the rationales that underpin them.  

The pieces in this exhibition explore the varifocal experience of living and working in landscapes, of big issues and small decisions. Andy Roberts examines the root of his decision to step from suburban living into a life embedded in the countryside. Carey Coombs’ extract gives a snapshot of what it is to be an older farmer who has handed decision-making to a younger generation. Emma Hillier lays out the tension and strain of official decision-making when it might mean the destruction of your livestock. Jamie Forman takes us back to his childhood and the reality of a farming life, as opposed to the urban perception. Tom Dutson talks us through his landscape, reminding us how much we share the landscape with other forms of life making their own decisions. Kevin Ford vividly describes the exhausting and exhilarating decision after decision that is required at lambing time. Harry McKerchar brings us his lifetime of veterinary experience and humour, showing us that events can also be determined by chance.  

We are delighted by the writing created by the people who participated in the Written in the Land course. Their work shows a breadth of engagement and experience which runs far beyond the geographic spread of the voices involved; a spread which stretches almost five hundred miles from Lanarkshire to Devon. It has been a pleasure to see these voices develop, and it’s exciting to see where they go next as a group of writers.  As abstract policy ideas squirm across the political landscape, we hope that a key outcome from this project is the recognition that those living in our countryside rarely face simple decisions. When it comes to the choices we make in farming and land management, one reassuringly common thread in this exhibition is the blend of warmth, care and humanity. 

Emily Diamand & Patrick Laurie 

The stars of the show

Re

Pink Footed Geese in flight by Andy Roberts
The Logger by Tom Duston

Emma Hillier runs a small livestock farm in Devon with her husband. Formerly an English teacher, her farming focus is on Devon ruby cattle and British Lop pigs. Read ‘It’s Monday Morning’

Jamie Forman is farmers’ son who has crossed over to land management. Brought up on a tenanted dairy farm in South Leicestershire, he now manages a large, publicly-owned estate in the East Midlands and lives surrounded by the countryside his family has farmed since the 1600s. As a result of Written in the Land he has started his own blog: Jamiewritestoo.wordpress.com Read ‘Winter Chores’

Andy Roberts is a countryman and field sports enthusiast with an interest in nature friendly farming. He lives in the urban fringes of South Yorkshire but has an affinity with southern Scotland. He is most content when exploring the fields, woods, estuaries, rivers and lakes with a dog at his side for company. Andy is vice-chair of the Wild Carp Trust conservation charity. Read ‘A thousand acres of sky’

Tom Dutson and his family have a small farm in the Lake District where they combine a forestry and sawmilling business with keeping rare breed cattle, sheep and goats. Tom enjoys working his native Dales ponies in the woods and on the farm. Listen to ‘Sunday morning meadow ramblings’

Harry McKerchar worked for forty years as a country vet in the Scottish Borders, treating all types of livestock, horses and pets. He has always had a passion for storytelling and now, in retirement, is trying to put his life experiences down for his family. Harry writes a daily post for a local wildlife group about what he sees on his walks, whether birds, beesties, farming, plants or fungi. He hasn’t missed a day since the first Covid lockdown. Read ‘Harry Houdini’

Kevin Ford lives on the edge of Salisbury Plain, near Stonehenge. He has been connected with agriculture all his working life, spending the first 23 years as a stockman, shepherd and livestock manager. Read ‘Lambing’

Carey Coombs farms close to Dunsyre, which lies at the southern end of the Pentland Hills. He breeds Beef Shorthorn cattle alongside a flock of Lleyn ewes. The farm is also home to a selection of horses, buzzards, roe deer, curlews, foxes, lapwings, skylarks, hares and peacocks. Read ‘Heather Lowpers’

Emily Diamand is a published author who won The Times prize for children’s fiction in 2008, and has been nominated for the Carnegie prize along with many other accolades. Emily describes herself as ‘a bookish child who always wanted to save the world’, her fantasy adventure stories come with an environmental twist, helped along by her experience of working with environmental organisations and in organic farming. After becoming a published author Emily went on to develop creative writing workshops and is active in promoting reading and writing, especially in her home county of North Yorkshire.

Patrick Laurie is a published author, farmer and freelance journalist with a long-standing interest in the environment. He writes a hugely popular blog Working for Grouse – in addition to writing and farming in the beautiful Scottish countryside, he works for Soil Association Scotland on a program which supports conservation projects on farmland, and contributes to writing courses – we don’t know where he finds the time!

The mentors

Crabley Creek in February by Andy Roberts
it was ‘this’ big by Andy Roberts
The proud winner by Carey Coombs

Participants comments and feedback

At the end of the course we asked participants for anonymous feedback including suggestions about how we could improve the course; we’re pleased to report that everyone enjoyed their time on the course and gave ‘very well delivered’ and ‘very useful’ ratings to our questions about delivery and content.

What (if any) difference has attending the course made for you?

“The topics covered have provided some extremely useful points of reference, things I can repeatedly come back to and work from and around. The practical tasks within each workshop were invaluable, a chance to immediately put into practice what had been discussed and not only get feedback, but also listen, learn from and get to know others on the course. The 1-2-1’s were very useful too, Emily gave feedback and explanations for her recommendations but also brilliant ideas and suggestions for where my writing could go and how I can bridge the gap between country sports and nature writing. I feel much more confident about my writing and am excited by the thought that a book is not beyond me!”

“Improved my writing, Voice, Character, Description Free writing, genuine pleasure. Decision now on My Stories, how to take them forward, and Nature writing /post/blog. All positive.” 

“The classes were well structured and provided very useful focused stimuli for important aspects of my writing. In addition it was a huge benefit to be in the ‘company’ of like minded writers.”

“The course has been really built my confidence as a nature writer and consolidated my feeling that the voices of farmers and land workers are an invaluable part of the genre moving forward. Not only this, but it has created an entirely new community of writers, with a range of different voices and background, who I am sure will remain in touch in the months and years to come. What a wonderful way to bring people together and create a sense of worth for those rural voices who are so often vilified or unheard. Emily and Patrick really are the ‘dream team’, and their skills complement each other perfectly, offering a wide range of techniques to those of us fortunate enough to have been part of this experience. Thank you so much, Landscape Decisions, for providing the funding. “

“As fairly new to writing, I found the course really fascinating, it opened a new vision on different aspects of writing as well as a new outlook when reading books”

“The course has opened up my writing. The discussion with mentors and fellow students has really helped me feel more at ease with my writing and given me the confidence boost to put my work out there in a more structured manner. The different sessions have helped in various ways, validating the knowledge I didn’t realise I had or opening my eyes to a different perspective on the work (and my thoughts).”

What could be improved? 

“Perhaps consider recording each workshop and making these available to those attending. it would be nice to watch and revisit each workshop again for reference and motivation.”

“More one-to-ones, found that positive criticism extremely helpful. Like minded participants, all with positive feed to each other.”

“Not much, but could possibly have been a better outline delivered at the start so participants had a better idea of what to expect. Also it has been slightly unclear as to how much writing is appropriate for submission for scrutiny by the tutors.”  

“Nothing!”

“There was so much to take in, the course could have been a couple of weeks longer, just to help absorb all the information”

“Perhaps some accompanying notes. More sessions.”

Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

“I mentioned a class of 2021 re-union of sorts in the future, would be great to catch up in a year’s time and see how everyone is progressing. Other than that, I’d just like to say thank you, both Emily & Patrick have been brilliant, very encouraging and so willing to share their knowledge and experiences. I feel very fortunate to have been able to take part and learn so much.”

“Was not aware of exhibition , very keen to continue with creative aspects of course. Too short.” 

“I hope you can keep these valuable courses going.” 

“Well, only one thing! I would love to be part of an extended course, which builds on the work already delivered. I also think a residential, which took place in one of the landscapes we all so clearly love, would be a wonderful idea!”

“Just to say Emily and Patrick’s presentation and approach to the subject  were clear, concise and very informative.”

“I’ve really enjoyed participating in the course, it’s been an invaluable journey into my writing and very enlightening view of the writing process via the thoughts and experiences of Emily and Patrick.”

Categories
Events News Projects

Creative Conversations Workshop March 2021

Organised by the AALERT 4DM project this workshop will consider arts-based research related to landscapes and the environment, and discuss barriers and opportunities for further integrating these approaches into decision making.

Providing opportunities for discussion and constructive dialogues between diverse disciplinary perspectives and professional practices. It will bring artists (practitioners and researchers) into conversation with other academics and stakeholders (including land managers, policymakers and natural and social scientists) to critically reflect on emerging interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary examples involving arts research from the UK and abroad.

The workshop will also be used to help set the agenda for AALERT 4DM regional case studies planned for later in the year.

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Events Projects

Creative approaches for understanding and influencing landscape decision making

Webinar Style Event

Friday 18th September 2020

Two Sessions: 10.00 – 11.30 am & 2.00 – 3.30 pm

Coordinated by The Landscape Decisions project AALERT 4 DM and hosted by the Programme Coordination Team

A number of projects funded under the Landscape Decisions Programme explore how creative approaches can influence landscape decision making.

The event is organised by AALERT 4DM with the Landscape Decisions Coordination Team and it will be delivered in two sessions.

  • The morning session will explore and debate perspectives of different projects about engaging with creative practices and understanding landscape decision making in the context of specific projects.
  • The afternoon session in an open conversation will debate how creative approaches can influence landscape decision making.

The event is open to wider audiences and all speakers and hosts will be participating in both sessions.

Sign up for the workshop on Eventbrite here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/x/creative-approaches-understanding-influencing-landscape-decision-making-tickets-120132498537?utm_term=eventname_text

MORNING SESSION 10.00 – 11.30 am

INTRODUCTION

General overview to event scope and structure by AALERT

SESSION 1: UNDERSTANDING DECISION MAKING

Short talks by a number of participating projects

To outline their practices and explain how they understand decision making in the context of their project. Open discussion – speakers to respond to each other and take questions posted in the chat

AFTERNOON SESSION 2.00 – 3.30 pm

INTRODUCTION

Stimuli presentation on barriers and opportunities in influencing Decision Making – by member of the LDCT – TBC

SESSION 2: INFLUENCING DECISON MAKING

General discussion to reflect on issues raised in the morning session and explore:

How do we believe creative approaches can influence decision making?

We hope that the discussions will lead to a written output that will complement the writing themes that emerged from the Landscape Decisions discussion events in July on the general theme of “Principles for participatory landscape decision making, the role of creativity, and best practice for interacting with landscape stakeholders”

List of Participating Projects

  • AALERT 4DM – Arts and Artists fro Decision Making
  • Changing landscapes, changing lives: how can narrative and biographical perspectives improve landscape decision making?
  • Connecting disadvantaged young people with landscape through arts
  • Creative landscape futures: making decisions with the arts and humanities
  • Decommissioning the Twentieth Century:
  • Design Innovation and Land-Assets: Towards New Thinking & Communities
  • Energy Landscapes, Heritage and Community
  • Field\work
  • HydroSpheres: co-design for landscape decision-making
  • Imagining the measure of change: art, science and the estuary community
  • Landscape Futures and the Challenge of Change: Towards Integrated Cultural/Natural Heritage Decision Making
  • Landscapes of the Mind
  • Multisensory multispecies storytelling to engage disadvantaged groups in changing landscape
  • TREESCAPES – Making visible the cultural values at risk from tree pests and diseases through arts approaches.
  • Unlocking Landscapes: History, Culture and Sensory Diversity in Landscape Use and Decision Making
  • Tipping Points: Cultural Responses to Wilding and Land Sharing in the North of England
Categories
Events

Virtual workshop

Integrating quantitative social, ecological and mathematical sciences into landscape decision making. 

7th to 11th September 2020

Organised by the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences

A follow-up to the highly successful Isaac Newton Institute (INI) Programme Mathematical and statistical challenges in landscape decision-making held in July 2019. The aim of this workshop is to build on this success by exploring how to integrate state-of-the-art social modelling approaches with environmental and mathematical approaches in landscape decision-making. The workshop will also, provide an opportunity to feedback on methodological advances made since the INI programme and match these to the changing needs of stakeholders. 

The primary goal of this follow-on workshop is to further extend these interdisciplinary links to the social sciences community. This is crucial in order to advance a holistic understanding of landscape decision-making. 

All talks and discussion sessions will be available virtually  

Timetable 

If wish to participate virtually, please contact workshops@newton.ac.uk

This workshop will include: 

  • Talks on the state-of-the-art in quantitative social and environmental and mathematical approaches to modelling landscape systems. 
  • Discussions on how to integrate quantitative social modelling approaches into existing quantitative approaches in landscape decision-making 
  • Summary of key outcomes and research roadmaps that emerged from the INI programme “Mathematical and statistical challenges in landscape decision-making”. 
  • Stakeholder perspective on current challenges in landscape decision-making. 
  • Feedback from projects funded under the UKRI Strategic Priority Fund (SPF) “Landscape Decisions: Toward a new framework for using land assets” mathematical and statistical challenges call. 

Participants in the workshop will include a highly interdisciplinary mix of both academic and non-academic researchers as well as stakeholders working on land-related research and policy questions. These will include (but not be limited to) participants interested in ecological modelling, social modelling, as well as mathematicians, statisticians and computer and data scientists with expertise in system modelling, uncertainty quantification and decision-making who are also interested in these wide ranging applied questions. 

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Events

Imagining the Measure of Change Launch Event

Follow the links above to find out more about this exciting new event from the IMOT project!

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Events

VIRTUAL EVENT NETWORKING IN SPITE OF COVID-19

GETTING TO KNOW YOU  
Short presentations will be added to our YouTube page in a series of bite-sized themes: 
(contact the team for access to the videos) 
You’ll be able to see general overviews of projects including non-specialist introductions and how projects will enhance the landscape decision-making process in the UK 
 
Theme 1: Comparing, combining and improving models, and creating tools and frameworks – Upload date 21 May  

Theme 2: Modelling specific factors – Upload date 26 May  

Theme 3: Understanding shared social values (making invisible values visible) – Upload date 28 May  

Theme 4: Assessing how the social sciences/hums/arts can contribute to landscape decision making and inform landscape decision making models and tools – Upload date 2 June  

Theme 5: Multidisciplinary understanding – understanding how decisions are made and integration between disciplines – Upload date 4 June 
LINKING-UP  
Work Package leaders from the Programme Coordination Team (PCT) will deliver short presentations focusing on how projects fit into the overall Landscape Decisions objectives and highlighting commonalities and links between projects.    

Presentations will be about 15 minutes long and will be added to our YouTube page on 18 June for viewing   
GETTING TOGETHER 
An opportunity for Project Teams to get together for group discussions – via Zoom  
Dates of sessions: 25th & 30th June, 9th & 16th July 2-4 pm. 

For technical reasons numbers will be limited to a maximum of 150 per session.
 
Entry to the discussions will be via a pass code sent to project teams ahead of the day 

Each session will focus on a specific topic and last for a maximum of 2 hours.  Sessions will be held on 4 separate days to minimise video-conference fatigue.  

Sessions will be recorded to inform the subsequent writing retreats.  
    
The Topics 
Topic 1: Understanding people’s interaction with landscapes and landscape decision making 
 
Topic 2: Multi-functional landscapes and ES  

Topic 3: What pressures on Landscapes are currently not being considered – i.e. where are the gaps in our understanding of the pressures  

Topic 4: Can we understand different levels/scales of landscape decision making and the interactions between them?   
 
 
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Events

VIRTUAL EVENT – FITTING MODELS AND QUANTIFYING THE UNCERTAINTY OF PREDICTIONS WORKSHOP

Wednesday 15th July 2-4 p.m.

This is an addition to our Virtual Event series and is a workshop style event for those interested in:

Fitting Models and Quantifying the Uncertainty of Predictions.

Aim and Scope: The Landscape Decisions Programme contains a number of projects that involve the use of computer models designed to aid the decision-making process. This workshop will bring together researchers working with models, and in particular, will discuss the issues of calibrating models (also known as “parameter estimation/tuning/fitting/optimisation”, or as the “inverse problem”) and comparing or combining models. For this workshop we intend to focus specifically on stochastic models that cannot be fit using standard likelihood-based inference techniques.

This 2-hour zoom event run by Richard Everitt and Richard Sibly will have the following structure: 

  1. Organisers’ welcome and introduction (5 min).
  • Individual case studies. Each will consist of a brief description by a participant of their model, and the challenges associated with estimating its parameters and quantifying the uncertainty attached to its predictions (max 5 min). This will be followed by a discussion of how new inference techniques might help.
  • Conclusion and proposals for future collaborations.

Call for Participation: If you are interested in speaking at this workshop, please by Friday 3rd July fill in the form at https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/statistics/staff/academic-research/everitt/landscape_workshop. If you are interested in parameter estimation, assessing model fit, or uncertainty quantification, but are not sure if your work fits into the scope of this workshop, please get in touch via the form above, and let us know what you are working on. We would like to get an idea of the different types of models being investigated in the Programme and where applicable of the progress being made on parameter estimation and uncertainty quantification. We hope from this to see where future collaborations might be helpful.

Any questions, please email Richard.Everitt@warwick.ac.uk or r.m.sibly@reading.ac.uk.