Distinctiveness: A Local Perspective

Heritage Lottery FundWhat makes the Ouse Washes area special? This is a crucial question that I believe we need to find an answer to.

Early on in the process leading to the stage 1 bid we already set out some reasons why we believe this is a special area worthy of attention. The stage 1 bid application clearly convinced the HLF as well, judging from its reaction on our bid.

Unlike well-known landscapes in the East of England such as the North Norfolk Coast, the Broads or the Chilterns – all of which have been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or National Park and are well-known tourist destinations -, the Ouse Washes area does not get that much attention. One of the key aims of the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme is to change this around, to give the Ouse Washes the exposure it deserves: it is a unique landscape which should be better understood and much more explored.

One of the main aims of the Landscape Character Assessment which we will produce this year, is to assess what makes the Ouse Washes landscape distinct and special. Landscape character is often defined as such:

A distinct, recognisable and consistent pattern of elements, be it natural (soil, landform) and/or human (for example settlement and development) in the landscape that makes one landscape different from another, rather than better or worse.

Understanding the character of a landscape starts with the search for recurrent patterns that dominate the landscape and which are distinct from those of neighbouring landscapes. Landscapes result from the way that different components of our environment, both natural and cultural, interact together and are perceived and valued by us. The below diagram summarises some of the elements that constitute landscapes. This originates from the Landscape Character Assessment Guidance for England and Scotland, produced in 2002, and which can be downloaded here. 

What is landscape from 2002 landscape character assessment guidance

What is landscape? From: Landscape Character Assessment Guidance for England and Scotland, 2002, Countryside Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage

Going back nearly two years now, in April 2011 Cambridgeshire ACRE organised a workshop which was well attended by tens of people from organisations in and around the Ouse Washes. One of the items on the agenda that day was a word association activity. The outcomes of this are quite interesting, and I would like to present these here as well. The participants were asked from a long list of words to tick those which they thought best describe the Ouse Washes area.

The results of this exercise are shown in the image below; on the whole, the participants were surprisingly consistent in their choice of words, with the ones below chosen by the vast majority of people:

New Picture (2)

Equally interesting perhaps are those words which absolutely nobody ticked; these included: ‘Uninspiring’; ‘Pretty’ and ‘Untouched’.

My questions to you are:

1. Do you agree with the above selection of words? taken together, do these describe the Ouse Washes area, or is anything missing?

2. Do these words specify the Ouse Washes landscape, or could most of these descriptions equally be used to describe The Fens as a whole? In other words, what makes the Ouse Washes area a distinct landscape, different from the surrounding landscape?

cropped-new-bedford-river-at-earith-copyright-steve-beeston.jpg

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This entry was posted in Landscape Character, OWLP Strategy, Stage 2-Development Phase, Theme 1-Water Everywhere, Theme 2-Hidden Heritage and tagged , , , , , , , , by markatousewasheslps. Bookmark the permalink.

About markatousewasheslps

I am currently coordinating a partnership-led bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund (for a circa £600K Heritage Grant bid) focusing on strengthening the unique yet vulnerable natural heritage in the Cambridgeshire Fens surrounding the Old west River, the new 'New Life on the Old West' project. Until recently I was the Programme Manager for the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership scheme, leading on the 1-year development and 3-year delivery phases of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant-aided Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership (OWLP) scheme (from Dec 2012 until March 2017), on behalf of and in close cooperation with a wide range of local, regional and national partner organisations. The Ouse Washes LP's portfolio of 51 projects have focused on: conservation works to historic and natural environmental assets; improving community participation & engagement with the landscape and its heritage; increasing access and learning opportunities; and providing more opportunities for training in traditional land management skills. The overall aim has been to leave a long-term legacy for this fascinating and unique landscape, in the process creating tangible improvements to social, economic and environmental aspects of this landscape, its heritage and communities.

3 thoughts on “Distinctiveness: A Local Perspective

  1. I just loved the words that your workshop identified to describe the Ouse Washes. BUT, I think that : (1) Most of the words are not unique to the Ouse Washes, and can equally apply to other places, although probably not altogether. (2) Indeed, most of the words can equally apply to the washes between the banks on the river at Stretham Old Engine. (3) The words that I think do describe the uniqueness of the place are “350-years old and still working as built”, and “road closure”, neither of which appear in the list, or indeed anywhere else.
    Chris

    • Thanks Chris. At a meeting with the Manea Pit Management Committee last night the word ‘Eerie’ was also suggested. Furthermore, by email I was given the following two descriptions: ‘Peaceful’ and ‘Quiet’.

      Keep the word suggestions coming – I think it is a great way of capturing how people view this landscape whether they live in it, make a living from it, or visit the area.

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