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MARCH-APRIL 08

QUARTERLY NEWSLETTER OF THE LANDSCAPE OBSERVATORY - 10

THE OBSERVER

Foto

Imagine...

Bas Pedroli
Secretary of Civilscape

A veil of mist seems to dissolve the white frosted meadows, wide and flat. An unexpectedly powerful sun brightly illumines everything that is white. A half distant group of seagulls flies in a glittering performance towards something interesting, and then simply vanishes. On the horizon I discern some white house-fronts between trees. Besides these, isolated groups of alders, their feet in the mist, irregular branches silhouetted black against the pale grey sky. And Rembrandt-like wooden gates, on small dams across ditches, receding toward the horizon. A landscape in grey-tones, quiescent, waiting for the colours of spring. Suddenly I realise that the train conductor is asking for my ticket. My idyll disturbed. Nobody on the full train seems to have noticed the scene. I feel slightly embarrassed at keeping the image to myself. A few weeks later I walk through the same flat landscape, along the small river Angstel, not far from Amsterdam. It is different than seen from the train. The picturesque-ness has disappeared, like a photo in a travel brochure that on arrival arouses a faint suggestion of having been deceived. No white frost, but the old green of squelchy meadows, here and there a wintry daisy, indifferent sheep. The pasture -rugged and tussocky in places, apparently under nature management- lies directly behind the houses that face the winding river; houses bearing the names of old mansions. An ancient laundry testifies that the water here was clean enough to wash the linen of the well-to-do in these houses and in the nearby city of which these are the outposts, to immaculacy. A little further down the road, I recognise a white house-front between trees. Two images shifting over one another. Are these two landscapes -the one from the train, the other in which I walk- the same? They express different things. A postcard awareness versus a participant awareness. It is the postcard awareness, or call it perhaps motorway awareness, that largely determines our relationship with landscape nowadays. We long for holidays in far away landscapes, without taking any responsibility for the landscapes in which we spend our holidays. We don't even take responsibility for the landscapes in which we live, with the possible exception of our own back garden. Taking in the landscape, carefully reading the landscape, I feel a participator in the landscape, which at the same time gives me a sense of belonging and consequently inspires action. This is exactly the way in which Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) practice observation of the landscape, prior to taking action. All over Europe, small-scale initiatives are being taken to allow people to play a part in the landscape, to enable them to manage and plan their own landscapes, to counteract deterioration and the negative impact of global economy. The Florence Convention (the Council of Europe's Landscape Convention) forms a most appropriate framework for such actions. These separate initiatives are now being brought together in a European network of NGOs for the European Landscape Convention, CIVILSCAPE (see www.civilscape.org). Bas Pedroli Landscape expert at Alterra Wageningen UR, The Netherlands; secretary of Civilscape, NGOs for the European Landscape Convention; secretary general of LANDSCAPE EUROPE, Network of Expertise on Landscape; ; president of PETRARCA, European Academy for the Culture of Landscape.

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