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:

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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?

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Tenders sought for Landscape Character Assessment

Heritage Lottery FundAs part of the development works towards the stage 2 bid application, we are now inviting landscape professionals to tender for a Landscape Character Assessment study. The brief for this work can be downloaded from the Cambridgeshire ACRE’s Ouse Washes LP webpage. Please pass on this message to anyone you think might be interested in carrying out this work on behalf of the Ouse Washes LP Partnership.

Old Bedford plus willows

Old Bedford River

The Landscape Character Assessment will focus on:

1. The development of a landscape typology, with detailed descriptions of landscape character areas. This will describe and explain the natural and historic elements that have shaped the landscape and which have given it its unique character.

 2. The provision of a public facing narrative, to tell the story of the landscape and to improve people’s understanding of, and connection to, the landscape and build their sense of place.

3. The production of guidelines for the future management of the landscape, to influence land management decisions and to provide a framework for future partnership work.

Why do we need this? The results from the Landscape Character Assessment will provide essential data which will feed into various workstreams, forming a robust context for further works to be carried out during both the development and delivery phases of the Ouse Washes LP scheme:

– It will form an essential element of the required Landscape Conservation Action Plan (LCAP), in particular for describing the character, distinctiveness and historical development of the various landscape types within the Ouse Washes area;

– It will inform the required refinement of the boundary of the Ouse Washes LP area, to show which parts of the landscape form a coherent and recognisable unit that makes sense locally and with which people can associate, and which is distinct from the surrounding landscape;

– It will help further refine the various projects which are planned for the scheme’s delivery phase (starting April 2014).

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Fen Drayton Lakes

To give you an understanding of the type of work that comes out of a Landscape Character Assessment, I have listed below the main Landscape Character Assessments which have been produced over the last two decades, all of which cover at least part of the Ouse Washes LP area:

 The East of England Landscape Typology, produced by Landscape East, 2010

National Character Area 46, 2012

National Character Area 88, 2011

Huntingdonshire Landscape and Townscape Assessment, 2007

King’s Lynn & West Norfolk LCA, 2007

The Cambridgeshire Landscape Guidelines, 1991

The Landscape Character Assessment for which we are now tendering will provide us with the first of such studies specifically focusing on the Ouse Washes landscape and – by zooming in on a relatively small landscape area – should provide more detail than is given in most of the existing relevant studies.