Between the 11th and 14th November 2008, the International Environment Institute of the University of Malta hosted a seminar on the subject of cultural landscapes of the Maltese Islands. The event, which was held under the auspices of the Maltese National Commission for UNESCO and organized with the collaboration of the Ministry for Gozo and the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, brought together over seventy participants from various backgrounds and professions. Local and foreign speakers from academia, private sector consultancies and policy-making institutions introduced participants to various dimensions of the subject matter during the opening day of lectures. After an introduction to the concept of cultural landscapes, talks were delivered on a variety of specific aspects, including the historical evolution of Maltese cultural landscapes, the role of Maltese landscapes as a tourism product, the potential of landscape ecology for rehabilitating degraded landscapes, and agro-environmental landscape management. Other speakers discussed the links between landscape and sustainable development, as well as the specific techniques involved in landscape impact assessment, and the policy requirements established by the European Landscape Convention.
During subsequent days, delegates participated actively in two separate workshops held, respectively, in Malta and Gozo, which focused on the techniques available to landscape practitioners, in particular with respect to stakeholder participation, place attachment and the elicitation of landscape values, and landscape impact assessment. The final day of the seminar focused on consolidating participants’ views through a focused discussion on landscape management in the Maltese Islands.
Key conclusions included an emphasis on the need to maintain not only individual features within a landscape but also overall landscape character, as well as the need to safeguard landscapes but for aesthetic reasons and to ensure a healthy and attractive tourism product. Excessive urbanization was repeatedly highlighted as a factor detracting from both these aspects, with several participants highlighting the disproportion between rates of population growth and rates of urbanization, as well as the questionable aesthetic merits of several new developments. Rigorous planning controls were advocated in order to ensure that development does not jeopardize the quality of the broad landscape.
Malta's position with regard to the European Landscape Convention was also debated, given the fact that although Malta was one of the first countries to sign the convention in 2000, it has not yet ratified it. Although significant progress has been made towards fulfilling the requirements of the Convention, particularly through the landscape assessment study issued by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority in 2004, there are still shortcomings with respect to some aspects of the Convention. Persistent challenges include effective and extensive consideration of the role of stakeholder perception in management, as well as the broadening of the scope of landscape management to include seascapes and degraded landscapes. Moreover, Malta stands to benefit from more extensive European cooperation for implementation of the Convention requirements. Seminar participants also highlighted the need for enhanced awareness-raising of landscape as a key component of national heritage, as well as the need for more inclusive landscape planning, and enhanced capacity-building for landscape practitioners.
Proceedings of the training seminar, which was funded through UNESCO’s Participation Programme, will be published by the Institute of Earth Systems in 2010.