Centre for Environment and Society Research

CESR research explores the interface between different environments, disciplines and theories to understand and inform landscape planning and change in both urban and rural environments. We work at frontiers between multi-functional natural and built paradigms, professions and environments (e.g. planning in the rural-urban fringe). We work between the past and the future (e.g. learning from history to plan for the future), and between different sectors and stakeholder groups (e.g. facilitating engagement between businesses, policy stakeholders and landowners under the Peatland Code).

Our work falls into the following broad themes:

Ecosystem service governance

We have developed new approaches to research, policy and practice for the sustainable management of multi-functional, dynamic environments, such as the rural-urban fringe, forests, uplands and drylands. For example, our research has integrated rural and urban policy frameworks, to help consider rural aspects of the fringe more explicitly in decision-making. It has also shown how it is possible to quantify and map how such decisions are likely to affect multiple ecosystem services, identifying potential trade-offs and complementarities between services. When these decisions lead to environmental degradation, our work has shown how engagement with the arts can reinforce bonds between residents and the place, and lead to the development of innovative remediation options. By combining an Ecosystem Approach with Spatial Planning, we have argued for a move away from disciplinary-based paradigms in favour of a more inclusive and accessible vocabulary.

The development of the Rufopoly board game is a tool that has enabled policy-makers, practitioners and members of the public to learn together about complex planning issues in the Rural-Urban Fringe. Similarly, the EATME web portal, which was developed as part of BCU research in the follow-on to the UK’s National Ecosystem Assessment,

provides access to tools to mainstream the value of nature in policy and other decision-making processes. One such tool is Payments for Ecosystem Services, and CESR has been involved in a number of Government-funded projects to better understand and operationalise this policy instrument. In this way, CESR research provides a range of tools that can enable an Ecosystem Approach and the ecosystem services framework to be applied in policy and practice.

Social and environmental change in multi-functional landscapes

Our research demonstrates the need for improved participation in planning and governance of dynamic and multifunctional landscapes. For example, CESR research has demonstrated the importance of capturing the actual experiences of multiple stakeholders, rather than relying purely on expert-led or visual approaches to landscape assessment. Where this leads to conflict, our research and practice shows how mediation techniques can help facilitate collaboration between disparate stakeholder groups, localise environmental decision-making and help deal with conflict. Thisaligns with our work on the history of planning, which demonstrates the need for meaningful public engagement during the modernization of urban spaces and infrastructure, and the need to build capacity for participation among the public as a precursor to successful engagement. These ideas have also been explored in contemporary contexts, for example with reference to community ownership and management in UK upland estates, real estate valuation in Nigeria, the development of games to facilitate learning (e.g. Rufopoly, Plainsopoly and the Game of Growthused in the development of a spatial strategy for a Local Enterprise Partnership), using Building Information Modeling to affect social change and the role of Web 2.0 and geovisualisation interfaces for collecting data from and engaging with the public in planning processes.

Finally, cutting across each of these themes, our research draws on lessons from history to plan for future adaptation to environmental change. For example, CESR research demonstrates the need for a long-term approach with multiple response options when considering adaptation to environmental change, as some short-term adaptations can increase long-term vulnerability to unforeseen future changes. Similarly, we have drawn on post-World War 2 planning history to consider how rapid decision-making during and after disasters can enable successful adaptation whilst still considering multiple values. However, for planners to learn successfully from the past, our research emphasizes the need to put resources into capturing and sustaining institutional memory, particularly when governance structures are changed.