Design a site like this with
Get started

What exactly is landscape sustainability? Searching for clarity through Q-analysis of 45 landscape case studies

Business-as-usual land use has failed as a land management strategy during the Anthropocene. As a result, landscape approaches to land use, which take a more holistic understanding of natural processes, have cropped up around the globe.

Roughly, a landscape approach is “a framework that integrates policy and practice to address the multi-scalar pressures on social-ecological systems and to reconcile economic development with the conservation of natural and social values” (Torralba et al. 2023) However, the application of landscape approaches varies. The question stands: what is the specific objective of a landscape approach and how exactly is it being used to promote landscape sustainability? In this research project, Torralba et al. explored how the idea of a ‘landscape approach’ is understood and used. By better understanding what is happening, we can continue to bridge the gap between science, policy, and practice.

To understand how landscape approaches are seen and implemented at the ground level, Torralba et al. used a Q-analysis to examine 45 participating case studies. A Q-analysis is a semi-quantitative technique that clarifies the different perspectives on complex issues.

The main objective of the study was to identify the different landscape sustainability lenses (or epistemological approaches) that are used across the 45 case studies. The study also explored how the lens changed according to the social-ecological contexts and value types attached to each unique landscape.

From the 45 case studies four main lenses, attitudes, to landscape sustainability became apparent.

Lens 1: Landscape sustainability for the Preservation of natural values  This first lens focuses mainly conservation or restoration of the biodiversity and ecosystem functions of the landscape. There was a strong emphasis on environmental resilience and these landscapes were valued highest through the guise of instrumental value.  
Lens 2: Landscape sustainability for the preservation of socio-cultural values  These landscape approaches focused on the socio-cultural values of the landscape. They maintained the human-natural interconnected relationship mainly through conservation/preservation and empowering local actors. They valued the landscape mostly from a relational value perspective.  
Lens 3: Landscape sustainability for the promotion of social justice and participatory governance  The third lens emphasized the relationship between people and the environmental by focusing on the political and governmental structures of the landscape. Their goal was to encourage participation, reduce inequalities, and empower vulnerable actors. They valued the landscape mainly from an instrumental value understanding.  
Lens 4: Landscape sustainability for securing food security and local livelihoods  The last lens focused on covering basic human needs, such as food security, health, and employment. They aimed to protect natural resources without impacting local livelihoods. while Like lens 3, they also endowed the landscape with instrumental value.  

Across all the case studies, there were five core principles deemed important in any landscape approach. 1) conservation of biodiversity, 2) preservation of local ecological knowledge ad practices, 3) awareness of the social-ecological landscape values, 4) empowerment of the local community as resource stewards, and 5) conservation of the integrity and wholeness of the landscape.

While most of the case studies intentionally focused on one of these five aspects, that does not mean the others were ignored. Instead, it was generally assumed that by focusing on any of the five principles, the other four would develop organically alongside those judged most relevant in a particular landscape approach.   

The analysis also revealed that, for a landscape approach to be meaningful for a local community, those involved must begin the projects by considering what elements of the social-ecological system needed the most help. Intentionality is key to the success of a landscape approach.

Overall, the study found that while some core principles remain true in all landscape sustainability projects, the application and stress placed on certain principles remain situational. However, for any landscape approach to be relevant, it must emphasize the role of local actors and employ a transdisciplinary attitude to achieving landscape sustainability within each individual context.

If you would like to read further into this research, you can find the full paper HERE.

Torralba, M., Nishi, M., Cebrián-Piqueras, M. A., Quintas-Soriano, C., García-Martín, M., & Plieninger, T. (2023). Disentangling the practice of landscape approaches: a Q-method analysis on experiences in socio-ecological production landscapes and seascapes. Sustainability Science, 1-14.


One thought on “What exactly is landscape sustainability? Searching for clarity through Q-analysis of 45 landscape case studies

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: