Vital Landscapes project brings partners and stakeholders from around Central Europe together to develop solutions through regional activities and international exchanges. The centuries-old landscapes are an essential part of the region’s identity, but all too often a lack of awareness of their value leads to insensitive developments. With their shared desire to preserve the quality, beauty and diversity of landscapes in central Europe, the eight partners from academia and the professional sphere associated in the project are eager to test innovative forms of citizen involvement as well as organizing more traditional transnational events, conferences, working-group meetings and study tours. They inspire stakeholders from around central Europe to discuss approaches for landscape and cultural heritage preservation and learn from one another to increase their pool of potential solutions. Total investment for the project was EUR 2 million of which the EU’s European Regional Development Fund is contributing EUR 1,6 million from the Operational Programme “Central Europe”.
The Vital Landscapes project focuses on involving local people in decisions about how their own landscape should develop in the future. In Unteres Saaletal (Germany), cultural landscape guides are trained so as to act as ambassadors for the region, informing the public about its scenic qualities. The team in Unteres Saaletal also works with local experts to identify suitable sites for maintaining the natural environment that can serve as a counter-balance for nearby areas undergoing more intensive land development. In the Austrian Mühlviertel region, the project organises landscape dialogues to ascertain what local people expect concerning the development of their village and surroundings. They collect opinions and conduct meetings where participants are invited to formulate priorities for their community and to discuss development scenarios. In the Sumava Mountains (Czech Republic) for example, regular meetings help to strengthen connections between local people and the newly created biosphere reserve.
In Ljubljansko Barje (Slovenia), local farmers also persuade suburban families of the value of local food and explain to children how they can better contribute to the sustainable development, while promoting the vital importance of an intact natural landscape. The changes that affect our landscapes often occur so slowly that they can be difficult to perceive. However, images or simulations can help stakeholders visualise threats to the landscape and demonstrate the process of change more clearly. The project uses a variety of visualisation techniques to provide an objective basis for discussion. It examines advanced methods for visualisation along with using conventional methods – like comparison of historical images and maps – as was done in Male Karpaty (Slovakia). In its efforts to preserve cultural landscapes, the project communicates ways to connect the diverse needs of regions’ economic development with environmental protection and social welfare. A key result of the project is to encourage dialogue between landscape-maintainers, including farmers, investors, environmentalists and residents, at both the regional and European levels.