What is an Environmental Landscape?

Rebecca Ford New Canaan

February 7, 2023

An environmental landscape is a dynamic space that includes the physical environment, people’s perception and appreciation of that environment, and the social and cultural associations that are linked to the environment.

Landscape approaches seek to manage multiple land uses at a landscape scale to address various socio-economic, environmental, and climate change issues, including food security, poverty alleviation, and biodiversity conservation. They aim to integrate single-sector conservation, forestry, and agricultural production into broader integrated management strategies [2-5].

What is a Landscape?

Landscapes are defined by the European Union (ELC) as an area whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and human factors. A landscape is a synthesis of people, place, and time unique to a region and essential for local and national identity.

A landscape comprises physical elements, including geophysically defined landforms and living elements of the environment, as well as elements. That may not be directly derived from nature, such as buildings or structures. A landscape also incorporates elements of culture, such as history or traditions.

A landscape can be both an ecological and a cultural product, and its study and management require a balance of cultural and ecological approaches. Many landscape approaches aim to achieve spatial and ecological targets for conservation, development, or both. They can be used to support the achievement of many Sustainable Development Goals.

The Physical Environment

The natural environment encompasses the physical features of the Earth’s surface, such as climates, vegetation, soils, underlying geology, and topography. These characteristics influence the patterns of human activity, as well as how people adapt to their surroundings.

The geographic sciences help us understand these physical environments, their trajectories over time, and how humans interact with them. Our research focuses on various topics, from how societies change the landscape to how we might better manage our planet’s resources.

The natural environment is a complex mix of biotic and abiotic factors, including climates, soils, water bodies, and the landscape’s underlying geology. It is also subject to changes in the weather, earthquakes, and other climatic events. Often, this dynamic process continues to change as new conditions emerge over time. This can significantly affect the region’s diversity and resilience of biological communities. Those impacts can include deforestation, changes in microclimates, pollution, erosion, and habitat fragmentation.

The Social Environment

Landscapes are indissociable from people’s surroundings and form part of their cultural identity. This is reflected in Article 5. of the European Landscape Convention, which states: “Landscapes are essential components of people’s surroundings, an expression of the diversity of their shared cultural and natural heritage and a foundation of their identity” (European Landscape Convention 2002).

This paper presents a framework for studying the social production of ecosystem services by focusing on three analytical moments: generation, distribution, and articulation, using landscape ecology and network analysis at the citywide coarser level.

In doing so, I aim to replace a black box perspective on ‘nature’ as an isolated ‘factory’ that generates benefits and ills equally.

Social practices of management and protection play a central role in the generation and distribution of ‘ecosystem services.’ For example, in Indianapolis, trees providing shade and shelter to a densely urbanized neighborhood would only be of value if rich homeowners supported them.

The Cultural Environment

Cultures rely on natural resources to survive, influencing how they look at their landscape. This is why we see that landscapes change over time, and in different places, with people’s adaptation to climate and other factors.

The cultural environment surrounds the environmental landscape and consists of fixed archaeological structures on land or water, constructions, built environments from different ages, bridges, roads, and power lines. These things make cultural landscapes valuable. This is why it is important to plan, implement and monitor cultural environments as part of a whole.