European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results

Historic Landscape and Soil Sustainability

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - HiLSS (Historic Landscape and Soil Sustainability)

Reporting period: 2020-10-01 to 2022-09-30

The HiLSS Project is a multidisciplinary investigation into the complex relationships between sustainability and landscape heritage, with a specific focus on long-term soil loss and degradation. This innovative research initiative combines archaeology, Historical Landscape Characterisation (HLC), geosciences, and computer-based geospatial analysis (GIS) and modelling (RUSLE) to develop spatial models that inform the creation of sustainable conservation strategies for rural landscape heritage. The project has chosen to concentrate on two mountainous regions in Europe, namely the Tuscan-Emilian Apennines in Italy and Northern-mid Galicia in Spain, both of which have similar historical and cultural features but are located in different climatic zones. The HiLSS project introduces an inventive methodology that combines both the historic/cultural values and the environmental values of land-use to develop a model for sustainable conservation. This approach differs from previous HLC studies that have evaluated land-use solely from a cultural heritage perspective and RUSLE studies that have only used it as a proxy for the land-cover of an area and its impact on soil erosion. By examining different agricultural land-use HLC types in GIS-RUSLE modelling, the project can determine the effect on soil loss for each type and develop more environmentally sustainable management practices for each type. The HiLSS project represents a transformative model for interdisciplinary research by proposing a new way to integrate cultural and natural values into landscape management plans. Traditionally, environmental sustainability and historic landscape conservation are treated as separate fields, but the HiLSS project demonstrates the potential for a more comprehensive approach that recognizes the interplay between cultural and natural values. Through its innovative methodology, the project provides valuable insights for policymakers, conservationists, and land managers seeking to balance the competing demands of sustainable development and heritage conservation.
*Computer-based data collection & modelling*
The first project stage (Data Collection) consisted of using GIS to support a preliminary retrogressive analysis of the two case studies. The GIS-HLC dataset was developed by combining modern and historic cartography with remotely-sensed imagery made available by regional authorities. These sources enabled the creation of a multi-temporal map of historic landscape changes in the two regions of interest. Data processing comprised the second stage of the HiLSS project. Firstly, the GIS-HLC dataset was explored with two spatial statistical tools: Local Indicators for Categorical Data (LICD) and Point Pattern Analysis (PPA). Secondly, the project focussed on assessing the impact of historic landscape change on soil erosion and degradation with the RUSLE equation.

*Fieldwork analysis*
Based on the results of the GIS-HLC mapping process, the most promising sites were identified in both regions of interest.
The first field campaign (October 2021) focussed on the Italian case study, Vetto d'Enza (Emilia Romagna region, Italy). Here the results of OSL-PD provide secure construction dates in the Middle Ages (10th - 14th century CE) for most of the historic boundaries examined in the area, with evidence for further development and subdivision of the systems in the Early Modern period (15th - 18th century CE). Moreover, the OSL profiles from the stone-walled terraces also demonstrate how effectively such features have contributed to soil conservation over extended periods. The second field campaign (May 2022) was carried out in the second case study ( Samos, Galicia - Spain). OSL-PD preliminary results indicate that the 17th century AD was a key era in the transformation of the monastery’s immediate surroundings, with the construction of large and complex terrace systems on both sides of the valley.

*Results Dissemination*
Improving communication between stakeholders using an effective dissemination strategy was a key aspect of the project. Relevant stakeholders were divided in two main groups: academic researchers and non-academic public. To ensure effective actions in each study areas, the stakeholders in each case-study was assessed to develop an effective and targeted communication strategy. The principal method for scientific dissemination was through peer-reviewed journals and conferences. At the end of the fieldwork campaigns, two open dialogue workshops were organized in each study area to discuss how the results can support landscape management and planning. Each workshop was organised in partnership with regional partners (Italian Alpine Club and Centro de Investigación Interuniversitario das Paisaxes Atlánticas Culturales) with the aim of engaging local communities with sustainability and historic landscapes. Furthermore, the project's blog was developed in collaboration with International Traditional Knowledge Institute (ITKI) a UNESCO initiative to promote sustainable solutions using traditional knowledge through interactive engagements. The project HiLSS has enlisted the ITKI's Creative Knowledge Platform (CKP), a tracing story-telling software for cultural promotion. Finally, the HiLSS's Twitter profile was constantly updated during the project's phases.
The importance of socio-economic values attached to ‘natural’ and ‘cultural’ landscape heritage has received much attention even beyond the heritage sector, justifying the definition of strategies necessary to ensure the management of landscapes. Furthermore, international treaties and policies indicate that it is fundamental to develop sustainable plans to guide and harmonise changes in response to social needs, economic activities, and environmental processes. In the last ten years, both EU and regional policies have encouraged re-population in rural mountain areas by providing economic incentives to newcomers who choose to relocate from cities. The aim of such a policy is to limit the process of de-population, thereby avoiding the loss of cultural identity in rural regions while lowering population pressure in urban areas. In response to such policies, the project’s interdisciplinary approach can be employed to inform the design of management plans which mitigate land degradation whilst preserving the landscape character and cultural identity of an area. Furthermore, the application of spatial statistical analysis is crucial to explore the spatial patterns of landscape elements, providing insights into which parts of the historic landscape retain the greatest time-depth and which parts reflect the more recent radical change, enabling an understanding which goes beyond the basic spatial relationships between landscape components. Moreover, modelling landscape archaeological data in a soil loss estimation equation enables deeper reflection on how historic strategies for soil management might relate to current environmental and climate conditions.
Fieldwork in Vetto (Emilia Romagna, Italy) - 3D model of Trench n.1
Fieldwork in Vetto (Emilia Romagna, Italy) - General overview of the site
Fieldwork in Samos (Galicia, Spain) - Trench n.1
Fieldwork in Samos (Galicia, Spain) - OSL Sampling
Open - Dialogue workshop at the Italian Alpine Club (CAI) in Reggio Emilia.