by Cormac Walsh
The Wadden Sea constitutes an inter-tidal coastal landscape, reaching from Den Helder in the Netherlands, along the German North Sea coast to Blavands Huk in southwestern Denmark. This coastal landscape has been shaped over a period of a thousand years or more by dyke-building, land reclamation and drainage practices as well as periodic storm flood events producing a material and symbolically powerful boundary between the land and the sea. Today the inter-tidal landscape in front of the dykes is recognised as a unique, ecologically rich and diverse ecosystem of outstanding natural value with the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site. The status of the Wadden Sea as a natural landscape is nevertheless contested, particularly among the coastal communities for whom this coastal landscape is their home-place or Heimat (Walsh 2017).
The tidal landscape of the Wadden Sea coast has been argued to present a ‘mental provocation’, challenging the image of a clear and secure line of separation between land and sea, constitutive for modern scientific and administrative understandings of the ‘coast’ (Fischer, L. 2011). The Wadden Sea presents a challenge to this – literally – linear understanding of the coast in two senses: firstly the fluctuation and fluidity of the barrier between land and sea is prominently visible through the extensive diurnal tidal range, characteristic of this low-lying coast. Secondly, the historical record documents substantial shift in the physical location of the coastline as the consequence of catastrophic storm events, processes of erosion and sedimentation as well as practices of land reclamation. Since the construction of the first dykes in the twelfth century, the boundary between the land and the sea has been progressively pushed westward through extensive dyke-building and land reclamation (Krauß 2005). The history of the coastal landscape is also marked by catastrophic storm-flood events, which resulted in extensive loss of life, land and livelihoods. A storm-flood, recorded to have occurred on the 16th of January 1362 led to the loss of Rungholt in Northern Friesland, an important regional trading centre of time. Similarly engrained in the historical memory of the region is a storm flood event in 1634, which claimed almost 10,000 lives and the island of Strand (Quedens 2010). In Eastern Friesland, the village of Itzendorf was lost to the ‘Christmas Flood’ of 1717. In more recent times, a storm surge in February 1962 brought extensive damage along the North Sea coast and tested the existing system of dykes to their limits and beyond in a number of cases.
Map of Eastern Friesland showing the lost village of Itzendorf, northwest of the town of Norden, by Ubbo Emmius (dated 1595).
by Cormac Walsh
In late 2017 / early 2018 two Special Issues of international journals (Global and Planetary Change and Humanities) were published which together constitute the Humanities for the Environment Report 2018 (HfE 2018). The HfE 2018 Report provides key examples of how “humanities research reveals and influences human capacity to perceive and cope with environmental change” and seeks to change perceptions of the Environmental Humanities (Holm & Brennan 2018, p. 1). Both Special Issues emanated from the European Observatory of the broader worldwide Humanities for the Environment initiative. In this context, the term humanities is defined very broadly to include the social sciences. The editors and authors focus very deliberately on the actual and potential role of the humanities and social sciences in relation to contemporary environmental challenges. The first Special Issue, edited by Poul Holm and Charles Travis, seeks to engage with the earth science readership of Global and Planetary Change. In what follows, I focus, quite selectively, on key insights from the Humanities Special Issue and in particular the introductory text (Holm & Brennan 2018) and the article of Billing et al (2017) on sectoral, policy and academic visions for the marine environment. Specifically, I focus on two insights concerning societal adaptation to change and the concept of ‘world-views’. Continue reading
Walsh, C. Metageographies of coastal management: negotiating spaces of nature and culture at the Wadden Sea, Area, doi: 10.1111/area.12404
This paper forms part of a forthcoming Special Section for Area guest edited by Martin Döring and myself. Most of the papers stemmed from the research workshop: “Managing Coastal Change and Climate Vulnerability: Questions of Place, Space and Landscape” (Hamburg Ocotber 2015). The paper is draws on case study research at the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea coast, centred around the Wadden Sea 2100 climate adaption strategy adopted the state government of Schleswig-Holstein in 2015. Continue reading
I will convene a session with Dr. Ruth Brennan (Environmental Humanities, Trinity College Dublin) at the 2018 Conference of Irish Geographers, Maynooth, Ireland (1012 May). The session hopes to bring together human geography and environmental humanities perspectives on the coast.
On 19th September 2016 I presented a paper at a AESOP Symposium on Transboundary Spaces, Policy Diffusion and Planning Cultures, hosted by the Technical University of Kaiserslautern.
My paper focussed on transboundary spaces of environmental governance and the potential application of spatial planning approaches within this field. I deliberately sought to challenge and provoke spatial planning researchers to think outside the box of the traditional spatial planning field to engage with the emergence of transboundary spaces within the environmental governance field. In this sense, a double unbounding of spatial planning is called for: moving beyond nation-state boundaries, and moving beyond the traditional domain of the planning profession – urban and regional development. Continue reading