Whose Place Is This Anyway? a Tale of a Hill, a Heath and Some Big Weeds

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:15
Location: Hörsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Julia BENNETT, Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom
This is a story of community protest, natural landscape and ancient history. The setting is Bickerton Hill in the county of Cheshire, UK. Based on the premise that landscape and the story of the landscape, its history, are key elements of a national and local identity, the paper observes a community protesting against accepted cultural tropes around landscape and conservation. Taking an ethnographic approach, this research examines contested perceptions of an area of countryside used mainly by walkers but with the national and European designation of a ‘site of special scientific interest’ (SSSI). Visits to the site over the course of 12 years, extensive use of photographs taken during this time and an investigation into the history of this conflict over the management of nature, show that there is a disjuncture between policy-oriented ‘official’ interpretations of the site as a SSSI needing conservation and local people’s sense of belonging to the place as it has evolved through benign neglect. There are particular discourses of nature and conservation that allude to an often unquestioned moral superiority of the conservationists. By fixing on a particular point in the past, conservation tries to stop time and in doing so often infers, in a nostalgic way, that something was implicitly better in the past. But the images of the past here are not recognised by all stakeholders and there is a gap between acknowledgement of the place’s past use and how it is used in the present. Conceiving the site as a Deleuzian rhizome and using an actor network theory (ANT) based approach to the analysis, this paper looks at the power inherent in the conservationist discourses surrounding such sites and questions the moral superiority of ‘conservation’ in the UK and across Europe today.