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South Coast sustainability: research, dialogue and action towards transformative landscape use
Posted on behalf of: Adam Skirkowski; Chris Sandom
Last updated: Tuesday, 19 September 2023
What is it that we are trying to sustain?
The South Coast sustainability (SCS) Research System is focusing on developing actionable transdisciplinary research by consulting academics and industries to co-design sustainability transitions that benefit local landscapes and communities across the Southern counties of Hampshire, Sussex, and Kent. Sustainability is a complex term embedded in many operational systems, promoting the fundamental question: What is it that we are trying to sustain?
To understand more about attitudes toward landscape transformation, the project takes a pragmatic approach to open inclusive dialogue with local stakeholders to better understand existing tensions impeding place-based sustainability transitions. So far, the project has engaged 27 researchers from 16 disciplines across four institutions as well as multiple community groups, land use practitioners and local policy makers. The project ran two workshops in July 2023, in partnership with Brighton and Hove Food Partnership (BHFP), Weald to Waves and Wiston Estate, to address challenges affecting future land use transition.
The South Coast: dynamic challenges, tensions and uncertainty
Building on previous research by fellow academics at the University of Sussex, SCS wants to deploy progressive approaches to sustainability and deliver equitable land use changes that benefit both people and nature. This pathway is exciting and complex consisting of dynamic challenges and uncertainty coupled with optimistic enthusiasm. We aim to address concerns around uncertainty by utilising democratic processes, outlined by the STEPS Centre, to better understand different perspectives toward land usage and change by analysing local transitional experiences and cultural histories within the landscape. Only by addressing these concerns around uncertainty can we ensure that future regional policy address context-specific challenges justly. SCS is also working to overcome barriers to transdisciplinary research within and between research institutions to galvanise local action and interest. Meeting so many regional academics has helped to shape the SCS ethos and helped us identify potential research pathways.
SCS workshops have demonstrated both the willingness of local stakeholders and academia to address local place-based challenges and transitional barriers. Richard Goring from the Wiston Estate was also able to give insight into the situation facing many largescale farmers: rigid national policy and the economic precarity of trialing new technologies and land uses. Our activities with the Weald to Waves Project, Knepp Estate, and many other partners and initiatives has helped capture the conflicts around landscape conservation and the difficulties in engaging diverse viewpoints in conservation actions with high degrees of uncertainty in outcomes. Coming away from these two workshops, academics were able to network across disciplines and with our current project partners to design research outcomes moving forward.
Our workshop at Community Base in Brighton brought together many different stakeholders in one space. Using Dr Perpetua Kirby and Dr Rebecca Webb’s toolkit 'Creating with Uncertainty: Sustainability education resources for a changing world', helped us to tap into the different perspectives toward system change. It was important to have divergent interests in one space to openly discuss the positives and negatives of different attitudes and strategies, forming a clearer image of potential knock-on effects from policy implementation.
Meeting the needs of people and nature
The project workshops generated keen support moving forward and we are determined to maintain momentum and excited to implement transdisciplinary strategies to tackle current and emerging sustainability tensions. The project looks to establish itself formally as a regional research entity where data and information is freely exchanged, and an inclusive space is opened for continued dialogue on sustainability research and field study between academics and willing practitioners. By collating the viewpoints of many different stakeholders, it is our hope that SCS will work to meet the needs of people and nature in equitable and novel ways through continuous adaptation and co-learning around emerging circumstances on the ground.
Embracing diverse perspectives toward sustainability action
As an early career ecologist, this project has demonstrated the need for a change of approach to sustainability as well as the desire from local people to take action through democratic bottom-up processes. I have enjoyed seeing how different stakeholders can come together and discuss sustainability when given the time and a safe, open space to voice their concerns. By embodying core democratic processes and embracing diverse perspectives toward sustainability action, it gives me hope that this project can address sustainability challenges with honesty and integrity. I look forward to seeing more positive, forward-thinking events take place around the project counties.
Written by Adam Skirkowski, Sussex graduate, early career ecologist and project assistant on the South Coast sustainability project.