2. Selecting and defining the landscape

This module will help you select and define the boundaries of your landscape. Whether you have or have not already selected your landscape, it will help you to clearly define its boundaries and guide you through the scouting process in case this is required.

Before diving into a landscape and stakeholder analysis, it is important to settle – at least roughly – on what the study area will be. This may already be more or less clear at the beginning of the collaboration, and it is just a matter of clearly defining where the boundaries of the landscape lie; in other cases, the landscape may not have been chosen or defined yet and some sort of scouting or scoping is still required. This note describes how you can decide on a (preliminary) landscape boundary.

What is a landscape?

Let’s start by defining what we mean by ‘landscape’. A landscape is often defined as a more or less unique, geographic unit, composed of both physical (geology, soils, water, climate) and living (ecology, human influence) factors. This means that in defining a landscape we have to look beyond the physical factors (e.g. where the boundaries of the water catchment are) and include the living world.

What shapes a landscape?

  1. Various forces work on landscapes to shape them. We regard three ‘levels’:
  2. Geological forces – Tectonic movement, uplift, volcanic activity, et cetera. These forces are very slow but very strong. They occur on very long timescales (millions of years) and determine the basis of the landscape: the rock types and the basic topography.
  3. Geomorphological forces – Weather and vegetation, among others, shape the rock that has been formed by the geological forces. They erode in some places and put sediment down in others, they weather the rock and build soil. These effects occur in the medium timescale: decades to millennia. Climate change is having an effect on these processes.
  4. Anthropological forces – Humans do a lot to alter the landscape. They cut down forests, drain, mine or cultivate land, change the course of rivers, build cities. The effects of human activity on the landscape are very profound and happen at very short timescales (months to decades). Although humans have interacted with their landscapes for many thousands of years, the capability of humans to change their environment has increased massively since the invention of the steam engine. Culture is a very important factor to take into account! Often invisible, but very powerful in how it informs where and how humans interact with their environment.

The water cycle. Water is one of the most important driving factors in shaping landscapes. It is therefore important to understand the water cycle in your landscape. Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica.

How do we define the boundaries of a landscape?

A landscape is a living synthesis of people and place, that is often vital to local and national identity. And, to add to the complexity: the definition of a landscape is not a hard science, it is arbitrary and to some extent also flexible. This gives us a lot of freedom at the beginning to define the landscape we work in, which can be nice – or it can be daunting.

To start with, it is important to identify any specific interests that exist among the partners who want to work together on landscape restoration. For example, one of the partners may want to demonstrate a certain approach (e.g. agroforestry), or they may have a preference for a specific kind of landscape (feature) (e.g. coastal mangroves). Noting these wishes down as criteria can already help give direction to the scouting.

With these requirements in mind, it is possible to start compiling a longlist of possible areas. To filter through the longlist, you and the partners can develop a list of criteria. Our advice though is to keep that list as simple as possible, and that you focus on finding an area where there is already awareness of the need for landscape restoration (sense of urgency) AND there are signs of local initiatives already working on topics related to landscape restoration. We are looking for a high sense of urgency because it means landowners more readily want to cooperate and experiment, and we are looking for existing initiatives because we can reach scale more quickly by strengthening and building on existing initiatives than by starting completely from scratch.

When you have settled on an area, the next step is to determine (roughly) where the boundaries of the landscape are. A few other factors which you could take into account here are:

  • Water catchment boundaries – water is the main force in landscapes and when restoring landscapes properly managing water is often crucial. To do this well you often need to start at the top of the catchment (it is very difficult to stop a flood downstream, you need to store the water at the top of the catchment). Therefore it is advisable to pay particular attention to the water catchments in your landscape definition.
  • Administrative boundaries – in many cases, administrative boundaries do not follow natural features in the landscape. Although it can make sense to define your landscape according to natural features, it can be difficult to work across the borders of administrative areas some times
  • Vegetation types – in some cases, there may be stark boundaries between different vegetation types running across an area. These vegetation types may have very different dynamics and requirements for restoration and/or sustainable management. Because of this you might choose to limit the landscape to one of these vegetation types, or you may go the other way to make sure you include both within your definition of the landscape.
  • Geology and soil types – similar to vegetation types, it may make sense to either focus on specific geology and/or soil types or to embrace the variation that is present in the landscape.
  • Topography and dominant weather patterns – if there is stark topography in the area, pay attention to the dominant weather patterns to make sure you know where high rainfall areas are and where rain shadows may occur. These are not factors you have an influence on during the restoration work.
  • Potentially interesting stakeholders – in some cases there may be certain stakeholders (funders, government agencies, showcase farms, et cetera) which you want to include in the programme at some point. In that case it can be strategic to include their working area in your definition of the landscape.
  • Total size – there is a minimum size, below which an area is no longer a landscape but a ‘site’, but there is also a maximum size: larger than that, and it becomes very difficult to keep tabs on what’s going on in all parts of the landscape. Exactly what size is too small and what is too large varies for different contexts around the world; we generally work in landscapes sized between 100,000 and 1,000,000 hectares. An interesting criterion to keep in mind is the fact that landscapes have to have multiple land uses in it; if the area has only one type of land use it is considered a site, not a landscape.
  • Water bodies are part of the landscape – be sure to look beyond the land in defining your landscape. Water bodies, such as streams, rivers, lakes and even coastal sea are important parts of the landscape. They have a large effect on and are affected by what is happening on land.

Restor allows you to define your landscape on a map and gives you science-based information about vegetation, biodiversity, land use, and more.



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Two acknowledgements that may reduce the pressure of selecting the perfect boundaries for your landscape:

  1. The boundaries are not ‘hard’; meaning that if there turns out to be someone very interesting to work with just outside the boundaries they are not per definition excluded
  2. The boundaries are not set in stone; although they are very valuable in determining your working area and your focus, especially in the beginning of the programme, they can be changed if necessary

The boundaries of drainage basins or water catchments are called ‘watersheds’. These imaginary lines separate one basin from the other. Two drops of water falling a few feet apart at different sides of a watershed will end up in a completely different river (sometimes even a completely different ocean).

In case scouting is required

Scouting is required in case there was no specific landscape determined yet. The scouting in its simplest form can contain three phases:

  • Determine criteria
  • Desk study to go from longlist to shortlist
  • Field visits to select final landscape from shortlist

Based on the requirements from the partners and the factors mentioned above one can come up with a rudimentary list of criteria. The key is to not make this list too long and complicated. With the criteria a ‘quick and dirty’ desk research is started to find potential landscapes. A longlist is created (the ideal length of the longlist will depend on the situation). The potential landscapes on the longlist are then examined in more detail, and compared on their showcase potential (in case there are specific wishes for demonstration value) and implementation potential (combination of high urgency and high local interest). The best 1-3 landscapes are put on a shortlist.

Each of the shortlisted landscapes is visited for further scrutiny. This can be seen as a ‘light’ version of the landscape and stakeholder analysis (see subdocument 3 here). With the information thus collected, it should be relatively straightforward to decide which of the shortlisted landscapes shows the best potential. Criteria that can be used for this step (longlist>shortlist) can be found in the annex (‘tools’).

In case scouting is not required

In case the landscape is already clear – e.g. because the partner is already working in a (more or less) defined project area – scouting for a high-potential landscape is not required. However, the exact boundary of the landscape may not be clear yet or there may be a desire to sharpen its definition further. In these cases it is advisable to move straight to the landscape and stakeholder analysis (see subdocument 3 here) and (re)define the boundaries based on the insights from the analysis. You can keep the geographic scope of the analysis a bit broader to avoid overlooking important initiatives in the fringe. It is easier to analyse a big area and then trim it down than to expand the area after you’ve done your analysis.

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