Paisatg-e / Paisaj-e / Landscap-e / Paysag-e





The European Landscape Convention goes east, beyond Europe

Artemis Yiordamli
Director of the Laona Foundation of the Conservation and Regeneration of the Cypriot Countryside.

In 1949 George Orwell published his futuristic book 1984 [1] in which he predicted that the elite of society would rule the world with teams of unquestioning workers. He asserted that if you want to stop a society from thinking in a certain way, you should remove any word that describes a particular concept from its language. This is a simple notion that is not unfamiliar in totalitarian regimes, whereby if one cannot verbalise the concept, the concept ceases to exist. The practice of prohibiting thoughts and ideas is certainly evident in large parts of the world – it was once a policy of the Communist Bloc, although it is now more notable among extreme religious groups.

A different direction was adopted in the Western quest to rule the world; through globalization, GMOs and free trade, where words were added, rather than removed from current usage. New words often give a positive, less traumatic meaning. Thus redeployment sounds better than ‘unemployment; the wonderful expression "bail-in" – introduced by the IMF [2] – is simply a polite way to say that nothing will be done to save a national economy: It will not be "bailed out", but left to its own devices.

What, you might ask, has this preamble got to do with the European Landscape Convention? Though not immediately obvious, it has a lot to do with the word "landscape", which although much older than "bail-in", is still a "new word". It is new in the sense that it has come into being in many European languages within the last few hundred years; it is new in that its meaning is still shifting, [3] and it is new in that it does not yet exist in some non-European languages! There is, for example, no one-word equivalent for the term ‘landscape' in Arabic.

This is one of the interesting facts that came to light as a result of the two-year Medscapes Project (2013-2015), which is now in its final six months. Medscapes involves two European countries (Cyprus and Greece) and two non-European states (Jordan and Lebanon) and is funded by the ENPI, the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument. Each country works alongside two partners, an academic institution and an NGO. The project aims to develop a common methodology for identifying and assessing landscape character in the countries surrounding the Eastern Mediterranean, with a view to demonstrating that Landscape Character Assessment is the right tool for the effective conservation of natural heritage in this region.

Given that shared natural processes, such as limited rainfall, have led to similar agricultural traditions (e.g. viticulture and olive-growing) and that shared cultural traditions were reinforced by a succession of civilizations that held sway in all four countries (e.g. Greek, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman) [4], the project partners attempted to ascertain whether their shared features could lead to a common approach in the assessment of their landscape.

The European Landscape Convention proved to be an excellent starting point, especially its concept that all landscapes are important (not only those of exceptional beauty), that people themselves are in a position to identify what is important in their landscape, and specifically, that states should identify and assess all landscapes within their territories and take measures to consider landscape issues in the decision-making process. As the convention does not provide guidelines, the means of undertaking the assessment process were either left to academics or the authorities or a combination of both. What proved essential was the recognition that landscapes are not distinguished by their singular features (e.g. a castle on a hill, or a lake), but by the repeated patterns they contain, which differ from the patterns of another landscape [5]: e.g. a pattern of repeated vineyards contrasts greatly to the ribbon-development of a modern sea-side resort. Both are cultural landscapes, which is to say they have been shaped by the hand of man.

In all four countries those national authorities that needed to acquire a stronger understanding of landscape were involved at an early stage. Representatives from these bodies took part in meetings, exercises and discussions that focused on how the results of the project would be used.

Training in landscape character assessment was available in Cyprus, as the Laona Foundation, with Reading University in the UK, had already completed a draft landscape map of the whole island (9,251km2) at a scale of 1:250.000m2. During this Cyprus-based process, the researchers realized that the Eastern Mediterranean requires a somewhat different approach to that implemented in northern countries. An approach where human intervention on arid lands, where frequent forests fires and the ever-present sea, created different realities. Although Arabic may not possess a word for landscape, it offers another concept, expressed in a single word; hima or hema [6] and which is equivalent to a European notion that requires at least two words: the concept of land stewardship, i.e. the application of collective care in order to maintain traditional land use, such as pasture land, which in turn has a direct effect on conserving a landscape that supports specific ecosystems. The Society for the Protection of Nature of Lebanon introduced the other project partners to the concept of Hima and its application.

The most important steps in the Medscapes Project have involved training the field team, further developing the project's methodology and producing landscape maps with an agreed nomenclature, which were tasks led by the Open University of Cyprus, while the identification of threats to the landscape and the ecosystems they sustain was headed by the American University of Beirut (AUB). This process is now being developed as part of a post-graduate course syllabus in Earth Sciences being prepared by the German Jordanian University in order to create a cadre of future researchers and/or academics familiar with the concept of landscape and all that it entails. Their work will be enhanced by the Best Practice Manual currently being developed by the Greek NGO, Med-INA. Inspired by the work of the Catalonian Landscape Observatory, the project aims to set up a Landscape Observatory for the Eastern Mediterranean, which will be based at the AUB in Lebanon and which may result in the first step towards setting up national or regional observatories that would provide information for the AUB.

The University of the Aegean has set up a five-day summer course from 5 to 12 September 2015 on its home base, the island of Mytelene (Lesvos), to test the teaching material that will be used in the application of the project's results. Meanwhile, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature in Jordan has been working on identifying the additional benefits of this project (otherwise referred to as ‘capitalization)'. The focus here has been on participation in overseas conferences, on producing publications, considering future joint projects and encouraging a particular action in each country. One area that has not yet been examined, but which may well come up in the project's closing conference is the topic ‘Landscapes of War'. All four countries have had their borders threatened over the last 50 years; in Cyprus and Lebanon the signs of abandonment due to military devastation, or landscapes abandoned by Man after mine-laying are evident. Some of these areas have now developed into havens for biodiversity [7], proving that Nature has its own way of healing.

For more information about the project please contact



  1. Orwell, George: Nineteen Eighty Four, Secker and Warburg, 1949
  2. Jianping Zhou, Virginia Rutledge, Wouter Bossu, Marc Dobler, Nadege Jassaud, and Michael Moore: From Bail-out to Bail-in: Mandatory Debt Restructuring of Systemic Financial Institutions, April 24, 2012
  3. Wood, R. & Handley, J., 2001. Landscape Dynamics and the Management of Change. Landscape Research
  4. Larousse Encyclopaedia of Ancient and Medieval History, Paul Hamlyn, 1996
  5. Steven Warnock and Geoffrey Griffiths: Cyprus Landscape Mapping Project, Sept. 2008
  6. Kilani, Hala, Assaad Serhal, Othman Llewlyn, Al-Hima: A Way of Life, IUCN West Asia regional Office, Amman Jordan – SPNL Beirut, Lebanon, 2007.
  7. See for example the ‘Green Line' i.e. the no-man's land which has separated Cyprus into north and south since 1974 and which is now lush with natural growth, which many rare species have returned to.

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