Dr Sarah Govan is the project manager for our climate and land use portfolio at ClimateXChange, examining issues like salt marsh restoration and agriculture innovation.
Working as a project manager with ClimateXChange (CXC) can feel like working on a jigsaw puzzle, intensely focused on putting the corners and edges together. Our projects drill into the detail of specific areas for different Scottish Government policy teams requiring an evidence base for dealing with climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
We research how these individual pieces can best work specifically in the Scottish context. But what about the rest of the puzzle? Being able to step back and see the whole picture, where we have and don’t have the pieces, is very important.
I had the opportunity to consider the bigger picture when I joined a critical field study week with the Landscape Research Group. The group members came from a wide range of landscape-related backgrounds, including landscape architects, archaeologists, historians, geographers (like me), lawyers, early career researchers and senior academics. We spent five days together studying and discussing the land on the beautiful Isle of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland.
Each day of the field study had an overarching theme, from rewilding and regeneration to seascapes and soil, with time for group reflection, discussions and presentations around the varying landscape perspectives.
Although the programme wasn’t specifically focused on climate change, issues related to climate change were embedded in almost everything we discussed.
A long history
The weather was unusually cooperative during our time on Arran and we got to visit some stunning landscapes. With many parts of Scotland vulnerable to coastal erosion and rising sea levels, it was fascinating to see evidence of changes in the caves within the craggy sandstone cliffs.
We also visited the rich archaeological landscape at Machrie Moor where there is evidence of continuous human occupation since 3500 BC. We saw remains of stone circles, burial cairns and an extensive field system with the backdrop of Arran’s gorgeous green hills.
It was remarkable to reflect on how land use has changed over millennia and how evidence of human activity can be embedded in the landscape for such a long time.
Throughout the week there were discussions around natural capital, our planet’s stock of natural resources that provide services and income generation for many people, and how land managers can approach their work sustainably and effectively.
We met with a local land manager who talked with us about how change happens on the ground, the importance of trying out different things and being open to seeing what works best.
This approach is also important when it comes to nature-based solutions, which play a pivotal role in addressing the challenges posed by the biodiversity crisis and the climate emergency.
CXC research has shown how different nature-based solutions to tackle the climate emergency can be applied in diverse habitats, environments and locations in the Scottish context – be that peatland restoration or combining trees and agriculture on the same plot of land.
However, as land managers often find, not all solutions can comprehensively address every issue. An example of this is the expansion of woodlands as a nature-based solution to climate change.
Depending on the context, productive woodland may serve as a replacement for fossil fuels, while natural regeneration can provide long-term carbon storage benefits but may not directly address raw material needs.
Exploring these nuances and discussing them with colleagues from different areas of expertise within the landscape was an invaluable experience.
Bringing people together
Many of the individual puzzle pieces I work with came together when looking at the various land uses and seascapes in Arran. I left the field study with new insights on land management solutions and challenges when it comes to dealing with the climate emergency.
Seeing the land in use while talking to experts from around the world about their experiences from different professional perspectives reminded me of the importance of bringing people together.
Most importantly, we heard from people who live and work on the land in Arran. If we are going to implement lasting and effective solutions, they must be found with local communities. Place-based solutions that consider the interactions between people, their environments and their lived experiences are essential for success.