Wadden Sea Metageographies

Metageographies and Spatial Frames: Coastal Management as Situated Practice in the international Wadden Sea Region

Following a successful application for funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG), my funding is secured for three years of research on embedded spatialities and situated practices of coastal management in the Trilateral Wadden Sea Region. The project commenced in Autumn 2016 and ran until January 2020.

Wadden Sea

Summary of Key Findings

Nature conservation and coastal management are place-based situated practices. Contemporary practices of nature conservation and coastal management must be understood in relation to their geographical and temporal contexts. They are nevertheless informed by distinct governance cultures and institutional arrangements at higher spatial scales as well as international policy concepts such as integrated coastal zone management, nature-based solutions, or wilderness management. These concepts are given meaning and become enacted in particular ways in different local and regional contexts. Policies and practices of coastal management and nature conservation are informed by place-based meanings, sector-specific rationalities, and diverse ways of knowing and experiencing the coast, the landscape and nature. Previous studies have detailed the benefits of including local, traditional knowledge and cultural values within environmental management processes, whether these are concerned with coastal protection, climate adaptation, or nature conservation. Such studies have called for greater integration of lay and expert knowledge and greater attention to social and cultural values, through public participation and social scientific analysis.

The point of departure for this project was a different one. Rather than adopting or reproducing a sharp distinction between professional / expert scientific and lay / traditional place-based knowledge, this research empirically demonstrated the extent to which current policies and practices of environmental management are informed by and articulate underlying ideas of space, place, landscape, and nature which practitioners may not be fully aware of. The evolution of ideas, concepts, and material practices within individual institutional arenas are highly path-dependent, influenced to a large degree by past actions and tacit knowledge derived informed by social memory.

This project identified markedly different practices and institutional trajectories within Wadden Sea management in Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. The extent of these contrasts is remarkable and perhaps unexpected given a forty-year history of transboundary collaboration at both scientific and policy levels and the designation of the Wadden Sea as a World Heritage Site. A key focus of this research lay on spatial concepts and practices. Distinct concepts and boundary-drawing practices inform how landscape and nature-culture relations are understood at the Wadden Sea, and how the management of this coastal landscape is framed and organised. The research demonstrated a substantial relationship between essentialist categorical distinctions between natural and cultural landscapes and mono-sectoral approaches to both protected area management and coastal protection. Similarly, it was found that a more open and flexible approach to the drawing of geographical boundaries and inclusive, participatory management practices can foster a pluralist dialogue on nature-culture relations, encompassing both sustainable use and protection perspectives.

The research has implications for the design, analysis, and interpretation of future strategies for nature conservation, climate adaptation, and integrated management at the coast. In particular, it draws attention to the need for a greater understanding of potentials for path-shaping institutional change, emergent of specific place-based contexts, and the need to consider how underlying imaginaries of the landscape inform and become themselves reshaped and reworked through such processes. Rather than reproducing a binary distinction between professional and lay knowledge, the research calls for greater recognition of the extent to which environmental policy and practice is grounded in local specificities and ways of working with the coast and the landscape. Environmental challenges such as biodiversity, climate change, and sea-level rise are increasingly recognised as occurring at a global scale. They nevertheless require, regionally-specific place-based approaches, attentive to the socio-cultural meanings and values inscribed in land- and seascapes.

The project represents a continuation of my previous exploratory work at the Wadden Sea (reported here & here) and more broadly on cultural geographies of the coast. At a conceptual level, there are also strong continuities with my previous research on metageographies and to a lesser degree, soft spaces, in spatial planning.

Publications from this project:

Peer review:

  1. Walsh, C. (2021) Transcending Land-Sea Dichotomies through Strategic Spatial Planning, Regional Studies, 55, (5), 818-830, https://doi.org/10.1080/00343404.2020.1766671.
  2. Walsh, C. (2020) Landscape Imaginaries and the Protection of Dynamic Nature at the Wadden Sea, Rural Landscapes: Society, Environment, History, 7 (1), 1-20. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16993/rl.55 (open access).
  3. Walsh, C. (2019) Integration of Expertise or Collaborative Practice? Coastal Management and Climate Adaptation at the Wadden Sea, Ocean and Coastal Management, 167, 78-86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2018.10.004
  4. Walsh, C. & Kannen, A. (2019) Spatial Planning at Sea: Shifting Planning Practices at the North Sea Coast of Germany, Raumforschung und Raumordnung: Spatial Research and Planning, 77, (2) 147-164. https://doi.org/10.2478/rara-2019-0020 (open access).
  5. Walsh, C. (2018) Metageographies of Coastal Management: Negotiating Spaces of Nature and Culture at the Wadden Sea, Area, 50, (2), 177-185. https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12404
  6. Walsh, C. (in press) Protected Area Management in a Post-Natural World: Negotiated Governance at the Danish Wadden Sea, Maritime Studies, accepted for publication. (open access).

Editor review:

  1. Walsh, C. (2021) Zwischen ‚Ruhe‘ und ‚Unberührtheit‘: Landschaftsbilder am Wattenmeer im internationalen Vergleich in Walsh, C., Kangler, G. Schaffert, M. (eds.) Landschaftsbilder und Landschaftsverständnisse in Politik und Praxis, Wiesbaden: Springer VS, DOI: 10.1007/978-3-658-30959-6, 33-58.
  2. Walsh, C. (2020) Conference Report: Spatial Strategies at the Land-Sea Interface: Rethinking Maritime Spatial Planning – University of Hamburg, 11-13th September 2019, Town Planning Review91, (3), 343-348. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3828/tpr.2020.19.
  3. Ratter, B.M.W, & Walsh, C. (2019) Küstenlandschaften, in Kühne, O., Weber, F., Berr, K. & Jenal, C. (eds.) Handbuch Landschaft, Springer VS. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-25746-0, 699-710.
  4. Walsh, C. & Döring, M. (2018) (eds.) Cultural Geographies of Coastal Change, Area, 50, (2), 146-204. (Guest-edited Special Section) https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12434

I have also compiled a Wadden Sea bibliography here.

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