A new book called “Beyond the Scene: Landscape and Identity in Aotearoa New Zealand”, is made up of eleven essays by a diverse range of writers reflecting on a landscape that is important to them. The writers range from farmer, art historian, geographer, landscape architect, environmentalist and poet, among others.

In an interview with Chris Laidlaw on Radio NZ, one of the editors, Janet Stephenson, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Agriculture, Food and Environment at Otago University, talks about some of the questions raised in the book, including the diversity of values that we associate with a landscape, how landscape is just as much a cultural as an environmental or physical construct, and how the question of “naturalness” of a landscape is sometimes misplaced, as no landscape in New Zealand is truly natural – i.e., unmodified by humans.

The question of “naturalness” of landscapes is a question explored by many articles on this site. While perhaps less important in the discussion about landscape values and perceptions, it is a useful question to stimulate discussion about our environmental history. That is because we are often unaware of the extent to which we have modified our natural environment, or of the implications these impacts have; a landscape may be green and aesthetically pleasing – such as the rolling green hills of a pastoral landscape – but at the same time, its human modifications may be the cause of ongoing degradation that impacts both on our livelihoods and our economy, as well as the ability of the environment to sustain itself from an ecological perspective. These implications include erosion and silting of rivers caused by deforestation of hill country, or nutrient run-off which impacts on the water quality of waterways.

Articles which explore the question of “What is natural?” and related questions are: What is natural? – the tussocklands of Otago, What is natural? The case of the Christchurch Port Hills, Why is understanding our environmental history so important?

To listen to the interview, download the audio file from this link.

Further reading: “Beyond the Scene: Landscape and Identity in Aotearoa New Zealand” (2010), edited by Janet Stephenson, Jacinta Ruru and Mick Abbott. Published by Otago University Press.

For reviews of this book see: Beattie’s Book Blog for a review of the book or Gavin Maclean’s review in Otago Daily Times.

Photo top right: View of a pastoral farm landscape with the Ruahine Ranges in the background (photo: Ministry of Agriculture). Centre left: The editors of Beyond the Scene: from left, Mick Abbot, Janet Stephenson and Jacinda Ruru.