What 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.
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:
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?