Category Archives: Landscape arts & aesthetics

The arts and restoration – a fertile partnership

David J. Curtis

[Update of EMR feature: Curtis, David J (2009) Creating inspiration: The role of the arts in creating empathy for ecological restoration. Ecological Management & Restoration, 10:3, 174-184. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1442-8903.2003.00152.x]

Key words: creativity, ecological restoration, capacity building environmental attitudes, environmental behaviour


Figure 1. The Plague Demon — a puppet made from 3000 plastic shopping bags by a team of 30 people. It rose to a height of 6 metres and represented the equivalent of 3 hours of plastic bag consumption for the city of Armidale. It was used in the Armidale Autumn Festival parade in March 2004 (pictured) and the production of Plague and the Moonflower in the main arena of the Woodford Folk Festival in 2003 to an estimated audience of 10,000 people. (Photo Garry Slocombe)

Introduction: In my original article for EMR in 2003, I posed the question: Are the arts a valuable partner with ecological restoration? The article was written early in my research into the role of the visual and performing arts in shaping environmental behaviours. I answered this research question through key informant interviews, analyses of several case studies and participant observations, and concluded that there was indeed substantial potential for the arts to create inspiration and empathy for ecological restoration. The research continued until 2007 with the completion of my PhD thesis but the outputs of that research continue to the present day, with numerous journal papers and book chapters (see bibliography). It has also led to the formation of the non-government organisation Ecoarts Australis and the coordination of three international conferences around these themes: 2013, 2016, and 2019, all of which  demonstrate the high potential for fertile partnerships between the arts and ecological restoration.

Further works undertaken: The main case study in the 2003 article for EMR was the ecological oratorio Plague and the Moonflower that was staged in Armidale NSW in 2002 by the Armidale community. The Armidale community went on to restage the work and take 300 performers to the Woodford Folk Festival in 2003 to perform it in the main arena to about 10,000 people (Fig. 1). A further seven case studies were developed including: an examination of attitudes and practices of about 100 arts, farming and natural resource management practitioners; the Nova-anglica: the web of our endeavours event staged in Armidale in 1998 to an audience of approx 5,000 people (Tables 1 & 2); the Gunnedah Two Rivers Festival in 2002-04 and the Bungawalbin Wetlands Festival, both of which incorporated visual and performing arts (Tables 1 and 2); a play-building study with secondary aged school children in 2002 examining the greenhouse effect; participant observations of my own work from 1990-2000 in which I incorporated the arts into natural resource management extension (https://www.publish.csiro.au/book/6713/) and the Ecological Society of Australia conference in 2003 in which we incorporated an ambitious performing and visual arts program (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. As part of the arts program of the Ecological Society of Australia Conference, Armidale 2003, this commissioned image, In the Balance, summarized the themes of the conference. (Image Anna Curtis. Lino reduction print on paper, 30 x 30 cm, 2003)

Findings from the subsequent research. Papers listed in the bibliography referred to above show that the arts have an important role in:

  • raising awareness and communicating environmental information (Table 1) through environmental education and extension;
  • changing and challenging environmental beliefs (Table 1);
  • communicating scientific information (Fig. 2);
  • mobilising rural communities to achieve environmental sustainability and community capacity building for Landcare and environmental action (Table 1; Fig. 1);
  • creating empathy for the natural environment and ecological restoration (Fig. 3);
  • transforming our highly energy-intensive consumer society to one that is ecologically sustainable through community development and embedding the arts in ecologically sustainable development .

In addition, particular art events could encourage people to want to adopt pro-environmental behaviours (Table 2) as well as:

  • encourage people to reflect about their impact on the environment;
  • make them feel strongly towards the natural environment;
  • expose them to ideas they hadn’t thought about much before;
  • affirm their beliefs about people’s relationship with the environment;
  • help people learn about environmental issues; or
  • provide a vehicle to express feelings about the environment (Table 1).

Figure 3. Ephemeral clay sculptures with impregnated native seeds, Artist Andrew Parker. These sculptures were part of an ephemeral art project organised by Ecoarts Australis as part of the Black Gully Music Festival in Armidale in 2016. The sculptures were integrated into the ecological restoration project along Black Gully. As they decayed, the seeds were released and germinated, adding to the revegetation of the creek. (Photo David Curtis)

Implications for arts : restoration relationships:  It is clear that the work of individual artists can influence the behaviour of citizens through ‘internally derived’ interventions, which impinge on a person’s values, beliefs, knowledge, attitudes, self-identity and habits, and through these, on social norms (Fig. 4). However, desire by individuals to adopt pro-environmental behaviour can be hampered by situational or infrastructure constraints. The arts can also have a role in reducing some of these constraints, through ‘externalist interventions’ where the arts are embedded into ecologically sustainable development. This might be where community and public art are incorporated into urban planning as a means of making active transport modes more attractive, or where the arts provide alternative forms of consumption which are lower in embodied energy and higher in embodied labour. The degree to which a person responds to the arts will depend on personal characteristics (e.g. gender, class, etc.), situation, institutional factors, as well as the type of art. The accumulated result of individual behaviours leads to macro-level impacts on the environment. A knowledge of these impacts in turn influences individual artists, and affects their practice.

Figure 4. Model of how the arts affect environmental behaviour.

I found that the arts can foster pro-environmental behaviour through one of three ‘pathways’ (Fig. 5). The first pathway is where the visual and performing arts are used to synthesise complex ideas and to communicate them to non-specialist audiences in an engaging form. A second pathway is where the arts and particular artists connect their audience to the natural environment through thoughtful or evocative representations of the environment or by being in the natural environment itself. The third pathway is where the arts are embedded in ecologically sustainable development, through the combined effects of community development, economic development, and changes in the patterns of consumption.

Figure 5. Three pathways in which the arts can be used to help achieve ecological sustainability.

The three Ecoarts Australis conferences were a culmination of the work that I did following the 2003 EMR article. These three pathways provided the structure for each conference, and enabled the innumerable Australian and international examples that were presented to be organised into a coherent conceptual framework. It was evident through these conferences that there has been a shift in projects that link the arts to environmental sustainability. In the first two conferences a majority of the papers provided examples of where the arts fell into the first or second pathways. In the most recent conference there were more examples where the arts were integrated into ecologically sustainable development in some way, for example in transport or manufacturing. Also there seemed to be a shift towards multi-artist projects.

Stakeholders and Funding bodies:  Funded by Land and Water Australia and Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.

Contact information: Dr David Curtis, Honorary Senior Fellow, School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, Faculty of Social Science, University of Wollongong NSW 2522 Australia.

Table 1: Comparison of case studies as to how the event affected respondents. Respondents were scored: 1 = strongly disagree, 2 = disagree, 3 = neither agree nor disagree, 4 = agree, 5 = strongly agree.

 

 

Responses to survey

Those who agreed (score 4-5) as a percentage of all respondents
Plague and the Moonflower

(n = 169)

Nova-anglica (n = 9) Gunnedah (Twin Rivers)

(n = 11)**

Gunnedah (Common Ground)

(n = 46)

The event moved me emotionally 73 44 18 45.6
The event made me reflect on humanity’s relationship with the natural environment 74

(n = 168)

67 36 61.7

(n = 47)

The event made me feel strongly towards the natural environment 60

(n = 168)

78 18 58.7
The event made me feel an appreciation and pride in community 81

 

89 91 73.9
The event exposed me to ideas that I may not have thought much about before 31

(n = 167)

89 36 34.8
The event affirmed my beliefs about humanity’s relationship with the natural environment 59

(n = 167)

44 18 60.9
The event allowed me to express my feelings for people’s relationship with the natural environment 50

(n = 98)

29

(n=7)

20

(n=5)

The event allowed me to strengthen my beliefs about certain issues 53

(n = 98)

67 18 46.7

(n = 45)

The event allowed me to learn about some environmental issues 43

(n = 96)

56 9 28.3
I enjoyed being part of a large team working together 94

(n = 98)

56 60

(n=5)

It made me more appreciative of where I live and work 57.4

(n = 47)

** Gunnedah data are combined data from both focus groups. (–) = not asked.

Table 2: Comparison of case studies as to whether the event made people want to change their behaviour. ‘Yes’ and ‘A bit’ combined into ‘Yes’. Gunnedah data are combined data from both focus groups.

 

Did the production make you want to do something different for the environment?

 

Percentage of all respondents   
Plague  and the Moonflower

(n = 170)

Nova-anglica

(n = 9)

Gunnedah (Two Rivers)

(n = 11)

Gunnedah (Common Ground)

(n = 46)

Yes 67 67 18 52.1
No 21 11 64 39.1
Unsure or unanswered 12 22 18 11.6
People who listed things they would do differently 43 44 18 26.1

 

 

 

Tasmanian Northern Midlands Restoration Project

Neil Davidson

Introduction. The Midlands Restoration Project is a long-term (multi decade) landscape-scale environmental restoration initiative designed to increase connectivity and biodiversity in the Northern Midlands, an area with a long history of agricultural production. It is intended to provide a demonstration of how strategic native vegetation restoration at an industrial scale can reconnect native animal habitat in a fragmented agricultural landscape.

Design of the project complies with the Conservation Action Plan for the biodiversity hotspot and ecological models that identified optimum pathways to reconnect existing vegetation remnants through ‘corridors’ and ‘stepping stones’, to improve habitat and facilitate the movement of native mammals and birds across the landscape from the Eastern Tiers to the Central Highlands and provide better resilience to predicted climate change impacts.

The landscape and its ecosystems. The Tasmanian Northern Midlands is recognised as being one of Australia’s 15 “Biodiversity Hotspots” – a place with exceptionally high numbers of native plant and animal species. Although over half of Tasmania’s land area is protected in national parks and reserves, the Northern Midlands biodiversity hotspot is mostly on private land, not formally protected, and its natural values are in a state of decline – with real risks of further species extinctions.

The low dry landscapes in the Midlands of Tasmania are predominantly privately owned and have been farmed for more than 200 years. The distinctive dry native vegetation communities are now present as small fragments in a sea of intense agricultural production. Most remnant patches are degraded through loss of understorey, tree decline and invasion by exotic weeds, and are at greater risk of further decline as a result of climate change. A consequence of this is that habitat values for native fauna are compromised, leading to fewer types and numbers of animals present.

Macquarie River near Ross: Part of the Ross wildlife corridor in the early stages of revegetationPhoto taken in June 2014

Fig 1. Macquarie River near Ross: Part of the Ross wildlife corridor in the early stages of revegetation. (Photo taken in June 2014.)

Aims and objectives. The aim of the project is to reverse the decline in species richness and habitat values in the Tasmanian Midlands biodiversity hotspot.  A primary objective is to re-establish functional connectivity for native mammals (quolls, bandicoots, bettongs, Tasmanian devils, bats) and woodland birds in the Northern Midlands, where less than 10% of native vegetation and less than 3% of native lowland grasslands remain.

Specifically the project aims to restore 6,000ha in two wildlife corridors across the Northern Midlands. We are doing this by strategic restoration using local native species to buffer and connect existing vegetation through the construction of two wildlife corridors, the Ross Link and Epping Forest Link (see Figs 1 and 2).

Map 1: Biodiversity Corridors in the Tasmanian Northern Midlands

Figure 2. Biodiversity Corridors in the Tasmanian Northern Midlands

Works to date. The first 1,000ha in Stage 1 is nearly complete, with 200,000 native plants planted in more than 600ha of grassy woodland and riverflats, and a further 400ha of existing native vegetation being secured for conservation purposes. We are currently planning Stage 2 of the project, to revegetate a further 5,000ha, including 1,000ha of riverine revegetation to complete the two corridors.

We are employing two revegetation approaches to best suit the open grassy woodland and river system landscapes:

  1. Woodland restoration: so far we have buffered and restored 410ha of native woodland remnants near Ross and Cressy. The wide-spaced plantings recreate an open grassy woodland suitable for more mobile animals and birds (Fig 3) .
  2. Riparian restoration: to date we have replanted 16km of the banks of the Macquarie River, Isis River and Tacky Creek (>200ha) with local native riparian plants. These are dense plantings (625 to 830 stems/ha) that provide habitat for less mobile and secretive animals and birds. Our Macquarie riparian restoration work is recognised as being currently the largest riverine revegetation project in Australia.
Grassy woodland restoration at ‘Connorville’. Caged trees & shrubs planted August 2014 – photo May 2015

Fig 3. Grassy woodland restoration at ‘Connorville’. Caged trees and shrubs planted August 2014 – photo May 2015

Fig 4.Tas Midlands

Fig. 4. Some of the important plant and animal species in the biodiversity hotspot.

Science. The project has strong scientific support from the University of Tasmania (UTAS), where Greening Australia is an industry partner for three Australian Research Council (ARC) supported research projects embedded in our revegetation and restoration activities:

  1. Professor Brad Potts is leading a large scale field experiment investigating whether it’s best to use local native provenance eucalyptus seed or seed collected from elsewhere for restoration plantings in an area already experiencing climate change;
  2. Associate Professor Menna Jones’s team is researching midlands native mammal and bird populations, how they move across fragmented agricultural landscapes and their habitat preferences; and,
  3. The new ARC Centre for Forest Value, where students are currently being selected and the projects are being determined.

Through these research projects we have more than 15 PhD candidates and post-doctorate staff assisting us to better design and undertake our on-ground restoration activities. In addition to the UTAS projects we have research trials underway to improve tree and shrub direct seeding and native grass seeding methodologies.

Cultural restoration. Whilst we place a high emphasis on ecological restoration in the midlands, we recognise that we must engage with the people in the landscape and their enterprises. In order to effectively communicate and engage with the local and Tasmanian communities and visitors we are working with artists, schools, businesses and Aboriginal people to better interpret the natural environment and involve them in our restoration activities.

We recognise the importance of supporting vibrant and profitable agricultural and rural businesses and complementing commercial enterprises in the midlands at the same time as improving the natural values and ecosystem wellbeing across the landscape.

Education. Greening Australia employs a teacher on an education project associated with the Midlands Restoration Program. The teacher works with the local Oatlands, Campbell Town and Cressy District schools and several urban schools to engage local and city children and communities in all aspects of the restoration project. The education program aligns with the Australian Curriculum across all subject areas and provides students with a great link between indoor and outdoor learning.

Landscape artworks. The University of Tasmanian College of the Arts is currently conducting a pilot landscape arts project to engage local schools and township communities in developing sculptural artworks to be placed in the landscape. The artworks will include functional features that are beneficial for native animals, which may include nesting hollows and/ or bird perches.

The project’s principle financial supporters in Stage 1 have been the Australian Government, the Ian Potter Foundation, John Roberts Charitable Trust, the ARC Linkage program, Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, Targa Australia, Stornoway, Dahl Trust, and the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal.

Future directions. In order to complete Stage 2 of the project (to restore a further 5,000ha in wildlife corridors across the midlands) we need to raise AUD$25m. Work is underway on landscape planning, community consultation, landholder engagement and the establishment of a fundraising campaign. We expect that the Tasmanian midlands will be transformed in the next five years, with two green bands of native vegetation connecting the Western Tiers to the Eastern Tiers and measurable improvements in native fauna habitats and populations.

Project partners. Greening Australia is working in partnership with many individuals and organisations to deliver the project and associated scientific research. Delivery partners include midland farmers, the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, Bush Heritage Australia, Australian Conservation Volunteers, Green Army program, Department Primary Industry Parks Water and Environment, UTAS, NRM North, CSIRO, Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, Northern Midlands Council, Department of Education and Independent Schools.

Contact. Neil Davidson, Restoration Ecologist (Greening Australia) and Adjunct Senior Lecturer,  School of Biological Sciences, University of Tasmania, Sustainability Learning Centre, 50 Olinda Grove, Mt Nelson 7007,
GPO Box 1191, Hobart, TAS 7001 Australia. Tel: +61 (0)3 6235 8000 Mobile; 0427 308 507 . Web:  www.greeningaustralia.org.au