Adaptive Heritage: Creative thinking or abandoning our values?


Our world is always changing. Some of those changes, such as climate change or depletion of natural resources, are coming fast, and could have far reaching impacts on nature and culture for generations to come.


Prof Jim Perry of The University of Minnesota describes his work in Adaptive Heritage, and discusses how citizens and governments alike can act now to ensure a future for those fast-vanishing environments.


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Image credit: Canadastock/Shutterstock





00:00:04 Will Mountford: Hello, I’m Will. Welcome to ResearchPod. 

Our world is one of constant change, in nature, in constructed society, and especially where those two overlap. In that overlap, there are those who are working to preserve and protect the natural world from the threat of industry, climate change or abandonment. How successful those interventions will be in the long term is still to be seen. But the impact of their change on current culture and future generations concerns us all. 

Today, I’m speaking with Doctor Jim Perry of the University of Minnesota about his work in Adaptive Heritage and how citizens and governments alike can act now to ensure a future for those fast-vanishing environments. 

Jim, good morning and hello. 


00:00:53 Jim Perry: Hi Will. Thank you for welcoming here, it’s nice to be with you. 

I am a professor at the University of Minnesota. I have been here for 39 years on the faculty, a little more than that. 

I teach a wide range of things like environmental decision-making, wildlife care, and handling. I teach field classes in Belize, Peru, and Chile. 

My position is a combination of teaching and research, and for the last 15 years or so, my research has focused on heritage, most of it on natural heritage and climate change. So, the effects of climate change on natural heritage, what that means, and the core idea I’m trying to address there is: in what ways does society have choices here? If climate change is going to affect the heritage site and we have no choices, let’s move on. If there are things we can do, let’s identify what those choices are and then let society decide if we want to invest that way. 


00:01:47 Will Mountford: Yes. And we came across your work from a guest editorship. If you could remind me of the journals that you’re currently doing the special issue with, and how that collaboration came about? 


00:01:57 Jim Perry: The journal is an MDP journal called Climate. And I was a guest editor for them for an issue. They came back and said let’s do that again. And I said, well sure, but I don’t quite know what the topic is we would cover in this. No idea. So, I thought about that for a while and made up a term called Adaptive Heritage, and I tried to think about what I thought that term would mean, and how I would approach it. So, we did. We wrote the abstract. We invited 500 people to submit papers to that journal, that issue. Most of them ignored me, but there are some manuscripts coming in, and I had to write the cornerstone for that issue. And I worked on that alone for many months and I was just stuck at 75%. I just couldn’t get the ideas out. 

This person wrote to me out of the blue from Australia and said I’d like you to join me in being guest editor of a special issue of a journal called Sustainability about heritage kind of stuff. 

And I said, “No, I don’t think so. I think that the market is saturated. I don’t think that there’s an opportunity there, but at least everyone will talk to you. Let’s talk about it and see what we think might evolve.” So, we had a zoom call and he said, “I’m Ian Gordon, I used to be a professor at Australian National University. Now I work on climate change adaptation for Australia,” and he talked about the kind of things he’s done, what his interests are and it was really clear that he’s a brilliant colleague, a wonderful man. 

And I said, “Well, how about if you co-author this paper with me and the special issue now, we’ll postpone the one for Sustainability later, and make it a follow-on so it adds depth later.” 

He agreed to do that. Oh, it was magnificent. He took that draft where I was stuck, helped me clean it up and finish it, and it came out really well through his writing skills and his thought process and so forth. So, we did that in a beautiful way.  

Through that process, I found several authors, like maybe six around the world, people that I don’t know at all, who had contributed quite significantly to the ideas in that first paper. 

So just after that paper came out, I was invited to present a paper at the Brazilian Society of Human Ecology. I thought well, okay, we could do that, but there are really quite a lot of ideas in here that are not all mine. 

So, I contacted those other authors and said, “You’ve never heard of me, but I cited your work. Would you like to join me in writing this paper for the Brazilian Society of Human Ecology?” And they did.  

So, that was presented there, and then a follow-up one at the Brazilian Society for Water Resources, all of which, in my view, served to take these ideas from the initial special issue, frame them in a larger context, complement them with these ideas from these other authors, and produce one series of works, both of written publication from Climate and the recorded presentations from Brazil, into some package that says this is what we think Adaptive Heritage is, where it goes, how it’s working, and so forth. 


00:04:55 Will Mountford: Before we get to the question on the concepts of Adaptive Heritage, if I could ask maybe one slightly inflammatory question to, you know, skip right to the end – is it too late to save the world? 


00:05:09 Jim Perry: Well, no. Because we haven’t defined the word “save”. It’s too late to decide we’re going to achieve some of the temperature escalation numbers that people have broadcast. We seem, as humans to have a goal that says we insist on having increased population density, we insist on having increased per capita consumption. We don’t like the results of that, so we must find alternative energy sources, and alternative sources of practice. 

We don’t seem to be willing to reduce consumption, so we, I believe, have to find ways now to manage ourselves and our landscapes differently, and I think we can do that quite effectively. 

A key issue with that will be this idea of “what do you mean by manage?”. A core issue of Adaptive Heritage that I want to reach is that we cannot say “this is the way this wonderful place was in 1956. It will be like this forever.” We have to accept that landscape evolves, societal views evolve, and we should expect different things in the future. In that sense, no, it’s not too late to save humanity or save the earth. It will just be different than it has been in 1956 or 2022. 

00:06:30 Will Mountford: You make a very good point about the importance of stating terms and sharing a definition. So, when it comes to Adaptive Heritage, what heritage are we talking about and how adaptive can approaches be? 

00:06:43 Jim Perry: Heritage, by most definitions, is an expression of the legacy we wish to leave to future generations. 

In most of the work I do, it addresses natural heritage. The distinctions are that cultural heritage would be something like Big Ben or the Mona Lisa or some artificial… some human-created kind of product. A natural heritage will be a thing like Machu Picchu or the Amazon or a deep landscape somewhere. And in most applications, like with UNESCO and the World Heritage Commission, there are situations in which a place has attributes of both; it’s called mixed, a mixed Natural and Heritage site. 

So, broadly speaking, I’m talking about natural heritage and I’m talking about places that are recognised by national and/or international governments to say this meets certain criteria for natural heritage membership, and these represent the natural places we wish to leave for future generations. 

And they are, by our current definition, the best of the best. The places we want to say, “These characterise the best attributes of biodiversity, or landscape, evolution, or something”. This is what we want to say in the future. And they can be internationally recognised by UNESCO or something like that, United Nations Agency, or national – like National Parks. 


00:08:07 Will Mountford: Yes, there were some categories in your research that were new to me, things like RAMSAR, if that’s the correct pronunciation for that, and some of the biosphere reserves. So, to look at some of those, are there any that are the most aspirational or the hardest to get any accreditation for? If there is any, what is the hierarchy of sorting between those? 


00:08:33 Jim Perry: I would say there’s a hierarchy of sorting, but I think most people would disagree with that, so, I’ll tell you what I believe in it. The designation World Heritage is the most restrictive. There are about 250 natural and mixed World Heritage sites, and the mixed ones have natural attributions as well. There are about 250 of those in the world. And these are places where UNESCO, with its partner IUCN, has said these are landscapes that we believe exemplify these specific, relatively rare characteristics. 

RAMSAR are specifically wetlands, and they are wetlands around the world that are intentionally selected to engage humans, water resources, and landscapes, in an integrated way to conserve landscapes for the future. There are about 2,500 RAMSAR sites in the world, representing about 250,000 square kilometres. 

A third category is the International Biosphere Reserve programme. There are 750 biosphere reserves around the nations, and these are places which allow integrated management. They’re not as restrictive as World Heritage either by designation or by practice, but they are areas where they exemplify certain attributes and we wish to preserve them as biosphere reserves. One of the important distinctions about these is that all of these sites are owned by nations. None of these sites are owned by any international governments. 

United Nations, UNESCO specifically, the organisation that runs World Heritage, is the listing body that judges things and says we agree, as UNESCO, that this site qualifies as RAMSAR or World Heritage and then can guide or influence the management of it, but the actual management decisions and the ownership remain with the individual country involved. 


00:10:14 Will Mountford: Well, I think that covers the scope of heritage. So, moving on then to adaptation. You mentioned climate change already is one of the main things to adapt to at the moment. Are there any other factors that maybe aren’t at the front of people’s minds when you think about changes in either the long- or near-term future? 


00:10:33 Jim Perry: Yeah, it’s quite a few, and it’s very important that we retain awareness of these non-climatic factors. 

So, every landscape on Earth is subject to climate change, in some way. Climates are changing globally, but that’s very heterogenous, very different, in patches around the world. So, any particular World Heritage site may be at more or less risk, may be with greater or lesser intensity, to climate change. Around the edge of this area that we call a World Heritage site, there is landscape, and that whole unit of space that is the World Heritage site itself, and the surrounding landscape, achieved its current state through landscape evolution. So, there’s geology, soil changes, movement of plants and animals, and movement of humans. All these things have led to its current state. Currently, in this landscape around this particular heritage site that we are mythologically addressing here, there are things like invasive species. Species that move from one part of the planet to another find a new habitat, rarely have competitors or predators in the new landscape, and then go crazy, they just invade very fast. 


00:11:39 Jim Perry: So, as we change landscapes for agriculture, for example, we facilitate the movement of species. These species move into this landscape adjacent to the heritage site and then invade the heritage sites. So invasive species are a very common, significant problem.  

And oftentimes for us as humans, each individual human has a spatial reference for where we find familiar, we’ve grown up, and we hear about some organism familiar to us being a problem somewhere else, and it sounds odd to us. So, for example, I would say natural conditions here in the northern US, we have things like rabbits and beavers.  They’re typical, everywhere, all my life there’ve been rabbits and beaver in the landscape. 

In the tip of South America, rabbits and beavers are causing huge problems because they’re an invasive species down there that are not needed for the landscape, and they are decimating forest and riverine margins through that area. 


00:12:31 Jim Perry: So, invasive species is a big issue affecting these heritage sites. Second, we have human uses of the landscape such as agricultural incursion. So, we have agricultural patches along the edges of these heritage areas, people are trying to make a living, they’re trying to expand their farms to feed their children, so they gradually move into the heritage site to find more space to grow crops. Another case is where we have poaching by people, where the heritage site has natural communities of large animals. For example, people around the edge want to hunt, so they move into the heritage site to hunt. It’s not legal, but it’s an attractive resource in terms of collecting information. 

Another critical issue that I think is important here is that we designate these sites using a series of criteria. And the United Nations listing body, the World Heritage Commission, for example, develops criteria to say these criteria will represent this kind of World Heritage, or whatever it is. And yet those criteria are a product of society. Society, at any current time, has a particular set of values and a particular set of values that represent space in society. So, the societal values held by a group of people in northern Australia are different to the ones held by people in northern Minnesota, generally speaking. 


00:13:51 Jim Perry: And so, this listing body has to decide what criteria are appropriate for this place, because there are generic criteria across the world. 

To some degree, those are, or need to be, influenced by local settings. So, I believe there’s an evolution of societal value that influences our interpretation of landscape evolution, agriculture, incursion, invasive species, and climate change. So, the targets we’re trying to reach move as we begin to think about them differently. 


00:14:18 Will Mountford: Yes, this was something that came up through researching the special editorial issue on the “wicked problem” that’s facing a lot of heritage and adaptation, and how the different facets of all of that kind of link back to the problems that you’ve identified, but also that they can seemingly magnify each other. And if you don’t deal with one, say, heritage erosion issue, in time, then it’ll contribute to the escalation of other issues down the line. So, if you could maybe just… if we could zoom in on some of those. The exact threats that they’re facing and some of the timescales that we’re working through here as well. 


00:14:54 Jim Perry: “Wicked” is a term that emerged in the 1970s in business literature, and the people who proposed it said, “these are problems we see businesses facing”. There are seven attributes that say these are the attributes that would determine if a problem is wicked. 

The term itself, wicked, has been widely used in environmental literature, and other settings, and it’s pretty controversial in two ways. One way is that some people interpret the word “wicked” to have a religious connotation and therefore object to it because they say “well a religious connotation applies to only certain belief systems, so we can’t use it.” 

In other cases, the other controversy about it, I believe, is that we look at management, we look at goals for a particular site, we look at our desired values, desired future conditions, and we place these wicked attributes on top of that situation. Well, you know, that results in an inability to go anywhere. “We’re all done, we can’t do anything!” And so, it’s a depressing atmosphere. I don’t believe that’s true, but I think we should recognise the weaknesses of the term as we go forward. 


00:16:09 Jim Perry: So, I’ll try to tell you the seven criteria that allow a problem to be defined as wicked, and some application of it in our setting here with natural heritage. 

The first is that the values driving decisions vary among stakeholders over time (the idea of different attributes being important to people in Australia compared to northern Minnesota). 

So, our cultural values define the things we want to use as criteria, and yet those cultural values are temporally specific. They are different than they were in 1820 or 1920. So that means we have a moving target as we move forward through time.  

Second, we can’t understand the problem well until we have a potential solution at hand. So, we look at a problem, identify its attributes, identify that, oh, now that we understand it enough, we can see what this potential solution might be, and yet, by the time we have identified that potential solution, the situation itself has changed to a degree that that potential solution is no longer applicable, so it’s again a moving target kind of an idea. 


00:17:00 Jim Perry: Third, we are forced to act on incomplete information because due to the evolution of societal values and the evolution of landscapes, the conditions are changing as we move along. If we delay action, the problem gets worse. And yet, as scholars, as scientists, our propensity is to collect data, analyse the data, develop an understanding and then pose solutions. By the time we pose a solution, the problem is different and the solution is no longer applicable. 

Fourth, society looks to us (and by us, I mean UNESCO or IUCN, or individual departments like National Park Service or scholars of Heritage) as individuals and classes of people to say “we want you to help us understand what choices we have. So, therefore, give us the right answer, tell us what to do and we’ll decide whether or not we believe we should do that”. But, in fact, these systems are dynamic and there is no specific solution we can pose. So, society gets frustrated, saying “You’re the scholar, you’re the solution. You’re supposed to be the manager of this site. Tell us how to fix it.” Well, there isn’t a fix, and that becomes a problem. 

00:18:15 Jim Perry: Fifth, every action we take on the ground is individual because of the conditions I’ve described. That means that we cannot implement a solution, test its effectiveness, take that learning and go to a new site because each site is unique. So, we can’t learn well from one and go to the next, which is a traditional practice in science. We carry out experiments, learn things, and move forward to the next application. We can’t do that here because the situations are unique. 

Six, the sixth issue here is that each one of these sites by our selection is unique. Every one of these sites is independent on Earth and that’s why they represent natural World Heritage or RAMSAR or other. When we try some solution here, it’s a trial-and-error situation, and it’s pretty risky because if we make a mistake, we might lose a site that is unique on Earth and unique to humankind. And so, it’s kind of scary to say “we’re going to take a risk, and if we risk it, we’ve made a big mistake here.” 

And yet, number seven, despite all those attributes, we don’t know of any better approach. We have to look at this and say this is full of risk, full of uncertainty, and yet we are using the best science, using the best scholars, we use the best information and the best managerial people. We have to take action. This is the best we can do, so we have to move forward with these posed problems. 


00:19:40 Will Mountford: Facing all of those at once, without even being on the ground and seeing the damage face-to-face, it sounds like almost a paralysing amount of stress. To say that there are all of these issues, and no matter what we do it’s going to be the best we can do, but we don’t know if it is necessarily going to be enough or the most appropriate action because we’ve only got the one chance to save any one of these unique sites… so, how do we begin to pass all of those problems and come up with some kind of cohesive or unified response? 


00:20:11 Jim Perry: I think that’s an excellent question because it’s pretty important. In fact, it’s critical. It’s necessary that if we’re going to save these sites, so to speak, if we’re going to conserve these areas in some way for future generations, we have to take action or we can just let them go. I mean, there are two ways we can approach this that help. One is a broad idea that has been in the literature for a long time. That’s the idea of a socioecological system and the idea of looking at a landscape. In that landscape, there are biophysical attributes like soils and geology. Plants, animals, and in that site and around that site, there are humans and human communities that have agricultural practices, infrastructure, and energy uses. And we can view these sites as socioecological systems in a way that says we look at attributes of the site and view those as objects and flows. A flow would be the movement of energy from one unit to another, for example, a movement of animals across a part of a landscape to breed or a migration. And then to try to understand how the objects, like patches on the ground or populations of animals, relate to each other. So, reviewing these objects and flows as relationships. 


00:21:28 Jim Perry: On top of that situation, there is either a biophysical or marginally human situation, we would view those as stakeholders in the landscape. The stakeholders always include the individual people involved, those people might be the ones who live on the edge of a landscape, or the ones who manage a landscape or visit a landscape, but also include the managerial people, like the people who manage this site, such as UNESCO, IUCN or the National Park Service, people who have the responsibility to guide the future of these sites. So, build collaboration among these stakeholders and then use a series of iterative decisions. So, we pose questions, ask questions about that, try solutions, measure the results, and come back and repeat that process often. So, this idea of a socioecological system is broad, non-specific, and yet is guidance that I believe sets us up for this idea that we call Adaptive Heritage. I think Adaptive Heritage is an iterative, collaborative approach to decision-making that fits in the context of this SES or socioecological system. 


00:22:38 Will Mountford: And there was one of the talks that you’ve given that set up the tenets to build creative solutions, which felt very much like a response to the seven facets of wicked problems. So, if we could take a whistlestop tour through some of those ways in which the groundwork can be laid – to not just spell out here are the solutions to the problems that we have – but here is how we start developing the people and the solutions, and the response that we have, to face all of these problems in their own context. 


00:23:08 Jim Perry: Sure, the concept of Adaptive Heritage, as you have addressed, is the idea that these heritage sites exist in landscapes. The landscapes achieve their current position through landscape evolution and there are humans involved around the edges of these landscapes, humans involved in participating in these landscapes in some way like tourism and so forth. And so, we believe that a series of six tenets, six management practices, will help management people in any of these situations manage adaptively or manage forward to address these situations. 

I would say that there are six tenets to managing creatively in these ways. Number one is to manage adaptively. The idea there would be that we cannot predict the future, or actually, better said as, “We can predict the future, we often do predict the future, we are just often wrong.” So, we cannot predict the future with much accuracy. So, we must understand where we think we are going, where society lives are going, and where the landscape is evolving. Take actions to protect the attributes we want to protect, recognise that some of those will not be effective, measure that, revise it and try again. So, it’s an iterative process of managing adaptively. 


00:24:21 Jim Perry: An example of that on the ground, Shiretoko, which is the Natural World Heritage site in Japan that uses what’s called co-management and adaptive visioning. So, they work with individuals from the park itself, as well as surrounding stakeholders to say: “Conditions are changing. What do we need to know, to manage together people in the park and outside the park, to manage together as we go forward, to manage adaptively?” 

A second attribute or tenant that we believe is key here is transparency and accountability. So, to implement transparency and accountability, we would identify stakeholders broadly, so stakeholders can be international, people who have influence here, or local people who live on the edge of our particular site where it is. 

We, as managers of the site, develop some management plan that specifies future action and then tell people specifically what that is. These are the actions we intend to take; this is the result we hope to see as a result of our actions, and we cannot assure we will be successful. So, we agree with you as stakeholders, this is what we’re going to try. We will try it, we will measure it, and then we’ll come back and tell you how it worked out. So, we will be held accountable for what we’ve done and held transparent to say, we will tell you what’s going on. 

An example of that on the ground is the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where the management of the site use a public-private partnership to say, “This is what we believe the decisions are that need to be taken. We will do that and we want you involved to help us be aware that we’re doing this, we’re moving forward. We may not be correct. Let’s work on this together.” 

The third attribute we believe here is to use innovative monitoring evaluation systems, that is, systems that are both social science and biophysical science, assessing these adaptive ideas. So, we’ve said, for example, these are the characteristics of a site that make it qualify as heritage. We see conditions like climate change and the incursion of invasive species affecting that. We’re going to take these actions to try to move toward a desired future. If we take these actions, these are the attributes we think we can measure, that will show we are or are not successful. They might be measurements of stakeholder satisfaction made by measures of animal populations or plant populations or erosion, some series of things that we can say. We are using monitoring evaluation to assess the degree to which this makes sense.  


00:26:48 Jim Perry: An example of that is East Rennell, which is an island in the western Pacific, and the people here are constantly addressing issues of deforestation and erosion and therefore marine health. So, the staff use innovative monitoring tools to assess marine health, deforestation rates, and social dynamics, all woven together, to see we have biophysical and human attributes measured simultaneously and then assess the degree to which we’re achieving our goals and tell everybody about it. 

The fourth attribute or tenet that we’ve posed here, is innovative governance. That would say to me that we take… we weave into this address, into this approach to our management, governance approaches that go beyond the site itself. So, an international body like UNESCO would say, “We have decided that this particular site in your country qualifies as natural heritage, therefore it’s a designated World Heritage Site.” The country then says we will manage, we agree. We like the idea. We will manage consistent with those values to make sure we retain them. 


00:27:57 Jim Perry: However, that site and that management decision constrains a lot of management around the edge, a lot of behaviour around the edges. Therefore, innovative governance would say, “Weave together the guidance you got from UNESCO, the decisions and goals that the National Park people would have for that site and local stakeholders, weave them all together in an interactive body to say how would we collectively decide where we want to go, what actions we need to take, what risk we perceive this site faces, and what actions we’re willing to take in the face of each risk. In some cases, we will have to say this is the risk we face, these are the actions we could take to address that risk, but they’re impractical. That’s just not worth the cost. It would be better for society to lose those attributes than to take that action.” 

And that’s not… it’s unattractive, but not an impossible action. It just needs to be done transparently. So, the innovative governance idea would be to, say, work together with local communities. 

I think a really good example of that on the ground is the Australian Wet Tropics, which is a landscape that has been managed by humans for more than 4000 years. It’s been a natural World Heritage site for maybe fifty. So, it’s viewed now as a tropical forest, lots of rainfall and a particular suite of vegetation that make it qualify as this. And yet that suite of vegetation is a product of 4000 years of human management of fire in the landscape. So, rather than saying it’s a natural heritage site, which means unchanged, historically, and unchanging into the future, whether it requires constant management over the past 4,000 years and into the future, in the same way, it changes government. So, managers of the site need to work with the local individuals to say, “What have you done? How can we understand what you’ve done to reach this site? How do we understand what everybody wants out of this? How do we move forward collectively?” 


00:29:55 Jim Perry: Fifth, we would suggest that management needs to move beyond the Western lens. The Western lens is a phrase we’ve made up. Well, I shouldn’t say we’ve made it up, it’s in the literature that we’re applying here. And it suggests that, to a large degree, the individuals studying and managing heritage sites are people who have university educations, and that university education in most cases has a Western focus to it. It’s an analytical, response kind of thing where we would say this is the science that goes into that. This is a relationship among plants, animals, abiotic features; we understand those. We can use that analytical, linear approach to say these actions in the future are likely to lead to these results. Let’s decide if it’s what we want to do. And in fact, we know that there are around the world thousands, hundreds of thousands of cultures that have practised this idea, developed this idea, called traditional ecological knowledge. Indigenous People on the ground know that landscape well, have practised management in and lived in that landscape for a long time, and there are things that govern and guide the future, which is not consistent with this Western lens. 


00:31:04 Jim Perry: That does not mean we throw out a Western approach and use TEK, traditional ecological knowledge. It means that we weave the two together, trying to get stakeholders to say, “What would traditional practices do here? How would Western science approach this? How do we weave together our ideas, take an adaptive approach to the future? Use monitoring and evaluation to say, “How did that work out and tell everybody what we’ve done?” 

An example of that on this beyond the Western lens idea in practice is Goreme, Turkey, in which… in a value called Intangible Heritage, which is relatively new in the heritage literature here, where it is emerging in places in the world, and it says there are heritage values that are pretty darn difficult for us to specifically identify, to quantify, to measure, but they’re valuable spiritual value, aesthetics, things that are pretty darn difficult to reach. And in Goreme, intangible values strongly influence management actions, so this idea of intangible value is actually woven into the decision-making plan. 


00:32:06 Jim Perry: Number six, the way we would approach this is to manage each site as living heritage, the idea that there’s landscape evolution, human values, resources, and ideas changing as we move along. I think it’s important, this living heritage idea, to recognise that we interpret heritage on the ground as an evolution, as a moving target, as a growing process. And that’s both biophysical of the landscape itself and socioecological or sociodynamic. So, for example, in a biophysical sense, an idea of this dynamic evolution of living heritage is the Dorset coast in East Devon of the UK, where the attributes of the site that make it Heritage are its paleontological history. It has these exposed cliffs of exposed fossils, and the sea continually erodes that landscape. New fossils are exposed daily, and the value of the site itself is this – continually new moving ideas. So, it’s a living situation. 


00:33:08 Jim Perry: Another example on the ground using socio dynamic variables is the Great Barrier Reef. Where the managers are incorporating stakeholders, to say: we have the Great Barrier Reef along the coast, we also have large industry along the coast, on the inland side, those industrial actors are influencing the water, which influences the reef. How do we look at this large area, the reef and the onshore area, as a woven together landscape and ask about people’s collective values, asking about potential actions? And then say, how do we view this collectively as a way of saying, “We are managing together, we’re taking action that we believe represents everybody’s best values here”, and we’re explicitly saying “There will be an impact from industry on this reef site – the reef site specifically, – the values and the way we manage the reef specifically will impede some of the growth of industry. Each is impeding the other and we have to recognise that to have co-management as we go forward. 


00:34:14 Will Mountford: Now, with some of these sites being as famous, as attractive as they are, and the whole aspect of Heritage Tourism, visiting them to contribute to their preservation or in some way to their maintenance – maybe even to their saving – that’s one that appeals to a lot of people. Heritage Tourism is big business at this point. So, from your perspective, to review a lot of these sites and a lot of that history, how effective is Heritage Tourism in addressing some of these concerns, and is there any double-edged sword aspect? 


00:34:46 Jim Perry: I think the double-edged sword is an excellent analogy, here, because Heritage Tourism is a very powerful economic influence, and a lot of the ways that individual people on the ground interpret Heritage Tourism is that the world is changing. These sites are at risk. It’s pretty important that I visit that site while it’s still available – I need to get there before it’s gone. 

A striking example of that is Machu Picchu, which is one of the most spiritual sites on earth. And the tourism density in Machu Picchu is escalating rapidly. So, the Government of Peru announced that it would increase visitation and now allow 4,500 people per day to visit the site. Only two months ago, they escalated from a level of 2,500 people a day to 4,500 people a day, still saying “We think we can do this pretty carefully. We think we’re going to be okay. We don’t believe that this number of people will cause erosion and degrade the site. And we kind of hope we’re right here because if we’re wrong, we made a big mistake.”  

Of course, other people are saying, “Wait a minute, I have one chance to go to Peru. I have one chance to see Machu Picchu. I need to go there. I’m not going to pass this up. I need to go to this place.” So, this idea of “see it before it goes”. 


00:36:14 Jim Perry: So the Heritage Tourism is so economically strong, such a big influence, it can be a very positive influence on site management itself. So, the dollar brought in by eco-tourism, Heritage Tourism and Green Tourism can be useful in helping sites achieve their goal, achieve conservation, contribute to society, and so forth. 

However, I think there’s a double-edged sword. The other side of the sword is that to some degree we have to be restrictive. If we’ve gone up all the way up to 4500 people per day at Machu Picchu, there are still people who will not be allowed to enter because we’ve reached our cap. 

In lots of cases with eco-tourism, which is somewhat similar to Heritage Tourism (they’re different ideas but both trying to limit the number of people involved), we would say things like we will offer you as a tourist low-impact conditions, reduced tourism density, low energy, carbon neutral, many attributes like that, to say you will get a rare experience. You will get an experience that really offers you something unique in your history and something that is pretty rare on Earth. Of course, we are a business. We need to be economically sustainable. Therefore, this will cost more than that two-star hotel down the road, which are giving a different experience. 


00:37:34 Jim Perry: Well, society around the world, everywhere is becoming more… is paying more and more attention to the idea of inclusivity. 

We need to recognise diversity and recognise that we are trying to be explicitly inclusive of a range of people. It’s not very inclusive if we tell people we have a unique site, it’s really wonderful, but we will only welcome you here as long as you have a lot of money. That’s pretty exclusive. And I think we have a major problem that we don’t yet understand how to be inclusive and yet limit the number of people approaching, our carbon emissions, our energy costs; I think there’s a conflict there that we need to learn how to manage so it makes Heritage Tourism, and its peers like Green Tourism and so forth, controversial and interesting, and a field that is growing and looking for new solutions. 


00:38:27 Will Mountford: Well, looking at all of the solutions that you’ve set out as ways to develop sensitive and appropriate contextual, I suppose, adaptation and preserving heritage – or at least doing the best that we can with the material and the people available – if this is something that is taken up more widely outside of some of the examples that you set out, like the Dorset coast, like the wetlands, in terms of the scale of that impact, how far-reaching could it be, not just geographically, obviously, but also historically? How much good could be done, or to look at things from a different perspective, how much is in jeopardy without that? 


00:39:03 Jim Perry: To give you an idea of spatial scale around the world, now there are 4,000 internationally designated sites and that includes natural heritage, RAMSAR and biosphere reserves. 

There are another 4,000 sites around the world that are nationally designated, like national parks. So, there are 8,000 patches of landscapes, some of which are very large, like the Great Barrier Reef, and some which are very small, like East Rennel. 

But these 8,000 sites that potentially could benefit from or consider these Adaptive Heritage places. SO, I don’t have an estimate now of numbers of square kilometres or percent of the Earth that’s relevant, but one hole, so to speak, in what I’ve addressed so far is, there is an idea called Marine Protected Areas, and they are areas offshore that have certain attributes, like national parks. 

None of what I’ve done addressed so far has commented on marine protected areas, and there are many and they’re huge. And so, it’s sort of a hole in my logic that I didn’t think of until ten seconds ago, and so I guess it’s probably best to leave that alone. But it could be a significant area of future growth, and we can go back and bring up comments about that, if you wish.  

And I think you also asked if some subset of these 8000 sites would consider this, how would that happen? How would we approach that? Is that correct? 


00:40:26 Will Mountford: Please go right ahead. Yeah. 


00:40:28 Jim Perry: The current management structure is that these areas, national parks or international designated sites, are owned and managed by a nation and they have national staff who take care of this, like National Park managers or reserve site managers with heritage site managers. 

International agencies like UNESCO have operational guidelines that say to maintain your status as a natural World Heritage site, these are the guidelines we feel that you should follow. 

IUCN is the International Union for Conservation of Nature. That’s a professional body that guides UNESCO and says as scientists we believe you should make these things part of the operational guidelines. 

We are not proposing that the operational guidelines be revised, not threatened – not challenging those – we don’t think they should change. Rather, we believe there’s another opportunity here for people on the ground in these sites to manage through this Adaptive Heritage approach and speak to each other as scholars and/or managers, in ways that communicate about the site itself and the application of the sites, applications of the tenets. 


00:41:37 Jim Perry: So, our proposal is a communication system, and I would phrase the communication system as what I would call “bragging rights”. That would mean that there would be a newsletter sort of thing that says, “I as a manager have a staff who operate this particular site in these ways and we know that we have criteria that we’re trying to meet.” 

I’ve given you examples of the six tenets that we believe constitute Adaptive Heritage. I’ve also given you examples where each of those applies on the ground. A thing to recognise about those, however, is from what we can understand every one of those tenets is applied on the ground in some way today. There is no place that we know of that applies all six on the ground today. So, we believe none of these are new or unique. But the collection of all six of these is not on the ground anywhere today.  


00:42:41 Jim Perry: So back now to the idea about applying Adaptive Heritage on the ground, this newsletter would be something that would be distributed widely among the public and among World Heritage managers and staff to say, “This is a site where we manage in these ways, we talked about these six tenets, these are the ones of the six we specifically are practising here at this site, and this is how well we are doing with that.” 

So, we are demonstrating to the world that we’re bragging about the fact that we are implementing one or more of the six. The way we propose that is to have a communication system in which each of these newsletters sorts of things profiles one or two sites to say, “Here’s an example of something, say the Australian Wet Tropics, which is an example of where this particular attribute is really well managed.” 


00:43:30 Jim Perry: Prior to publication of that story, we write to other World Heritage sites and say, “Is there anything you would like to offer?” So, one is a selected communication to say here’s a profile of a place that has done really well. Parallel with that, an opportunity for others to say, “Oh well, we also are doing so and so”, so a chance for the development of a community among people interested in Natural Heritage sites world around the world. 


00:44:04 Will Mountford: And to look the future in the eye to stare into the face of doom, these are treasured sites worth saving, and people should do as much as they can to preserve their value to the community and to history – and to planetary culture as a whole. If that fails, then what is it? Game over? 


00:44:25 Jim Perry: Landscapes evolve. Human societies evolve, cultures evolve. There will be a future biophysical condition of every one of these sites. As long as the Earth exists, these sites will be patches on the ground. We may not like those conditions. We may decide that the future conditions of a site do not meet the criteria we’ve established. We may decide that the criteria that a listing agency uses to establish eligibility need to evolve because human societies have evolved. That may cause a site to lose its designation of the criteria. The site itself will continue to exist. But the attribution, the degree to which it meets criteria, may not. 

00:45:05 Jim Perry: That causes a bit of conflict. An example is a recent situation in the news, where a particular site said these are our attributes, these are the things that are happening. And you know, we are having trouble with certain attributes meeting the criteria for our designation. The World Heritage Commission said we have 3 levels of concern here. They can say you meet the criteria; you’re doing well, continue to manage well or we’re concerned about current conditions. They seem to be not meeting the criteria. “Well, we’re going to designate you as a site in danger and you should think about this and decide how serious this is to you. And third, if you continue to, if the site continues to exist in this way, it does not meet the criteria and therefore it will be removed.” 

And so, obviously, if you’re going to have criteria, you apply them and if it doesn’t work, you don’t meet the criterion. Well, the government of that particular site said, “Oh no, this cannot be done. 

If we become a site in danger, we will lose billions of dollars in tourism. And more than that, we are investing billions of dollars right now to solve the problem. 

Therefore, you cannot designate this as in danger.” 


00:46:21 Jim Perry: And it was in the news, a great controversy about it, people asked me my opinion about it. And from my perspective, the criteria are only useful if we apply them as they are written and applied at the time. 

So, we assess a site. We measure the criteria and measure the site conditions against the criterion. If they don’t meet, we say you are a site in danger. I understand you’re working on it. I understand you don’t like the result. I hope things are better two years from now, but the fact is today, you’re in danger. 

That did not happen in this case. 

In the case that I just mentioned, the government was able to say, “The criterion you’re using is a little unclear, a little fuzzy. We need greater definition. We want to work with the listing agency to better clarify the criteria used and we will assess again against the newly clarified criteria to say if we are a site in danger. That gives us a chance also to address the problems in which ways we can.” So as sort of a buffer of action kind of things. 


00:47:21 Jim Perry: So, we don’t know in most cases why… that’s not true, there are many reasons why a site might reach this level of being in danger. It might be something like adjacent landscape conditions that cause the criterion to be violated, for example, poaching or agriculture incursion. Or it might be something large like climate change that is causing this to happen. So, from my perspective, if a site does not meet the limits, it is indeed a site in danger. We have to live with that. 

But we also need to be adaptive in the sense that we say, yes, I believe that it’s appropriate to look at the criteria carefully. 

So, in the case I mentioned, I think it’s appropriate for the listing agency and the government to say, “Let’s look more carefully at that criterion and make sure that’s what we really believe at the moment, that when we measured it you were in danger. That’s black and white. Sorry, but you are in danger right now. However, we will say using a fuzzy word like it’s ‘a site in danger under assessment’, or something like that because we’re going to try to make sure that we understand carefully what the criteria mean and verify that you indeed do not meet the criteria.” 


00:48:35 Jim Perry: So, a little bit of buffer window, but still in my view it’s black and white, yes, it is. 

There is a process like that one where societal values change, and the criteria themselves could change. That’s a process that is not part of Adaptive Heritage. It is not part of what we propose, it is something done by the enlisting agencies and they would move forward with what they believe to be the best approach. The only way we would suggest that Adaptive Heritage applies to those individuals in the commission making these decisions is to recognise that societal values evolve, the cultural values we established when World Heritage sites were established in 1972 are not ones that people would establish today. 


 00:49:16 Jim Perry: Recognise that cultural values evolve, societal values evolve, but we would not say that designation is part of Adaptive Heritage. Rather, Adaptive Heritage goes back to the landscape to say if you practise these tenets of Adaptive Heritage, we’re more likely to achieve compliance, more likely to understand that we have external influences on the site changing site conditions, and therefore, we either protect the site in the future or say it does not meet site conditions, we have a wonderful site and we’re happy to have a National Park, but it does not meet international designation. 


00:49:53 Will Mountford: Looking back over everything that we’ve talked about in the last half hour, hour, or so, out of all of the stakeholders in all of these sites, from policymakers at the governmental level down to individual tourists going on Heritage Tourism trips, whom do you think needs to take the most actionable thoughts away from this interview? Who needs to come away from this with an attitude not just for individual changes but the drive to bring about some properly systemic and thorough change to enable the creative tenets that you highlighted as a necessary step for Adaptive Heritage? 


00:50:30 Jim Perry: I see the audience for this work being most interested, most curious… most applicable at the level of management of a heritage site, people who have responsibility for actually guiding actions on the ground and assessing the degree to which they do or do not meet certain criteria. That said, I also think that international agencies who assess World Heritage sites or RAMSAR sites, or biosphere reserves and national sites, who assess and try to designate and guide the broad management within a nation of National Park kind of things, and members of the public who are interested in heritage conservation and interest in saying, “Heritage, by definition, is humankind’s legacy. This is all of us deciding explicitly and at great cost to choose sites for future generations. We want to participate in the decision making”. So, I believe that we’re talking collectively about the greatest places on Earth and that includes internationally designated… over 8,000 places. And the people most interested in this are the public who want to conserve this. The public who want to visit it. 


00:51:42 Jim Perry: The international designating agencies who will decide whether or not a site meets some criterion; policymakers who guide those international agencies; and then finally, the conservators, the actual people on the ground who make the decisions, and the ones I believe should be most interested – the ones who have the most to gain from this and the most ways to influence it are the ones on the ground who make the decisions on things like tourism density or animal movement or erosion control, infrastructure development, poaching or landscape incursion, all these influences affect the conditions we are trying to protect. And I, as the manager, individually have if not control, at least influence over these conditions, these decisions. I need to understand the six tenets of Adaptive Heritage and decide which of these apply in making my work more effective as we go forth. 


00:52:34 Will Mountford: And if they want to know more about you, your work, either the special issue or any upcoming events, talks, or publications that you might have in the near future, where can people find more about your work and more about Adaptive Heritage? 


00:52:46 Jim Perry: Much of this work began in a paper called ‘Climate Change in the World: Best Places’, which was published in a journal called Landscape and Urban Planning, and that paper looked at this collection of 125 Natural World Heritage sites and says which ones of these are most at risk for climate change. The paper took a global approach to say, across the whole world, which sites are most at risk. 

The logic of the paper was to say, “If you have the resources to guide management, where should you invest?” I learned later there is not a global pool of resources to be invested at will. More appropriately, each individual on the ground says “I want to know what my individual risk is and, therefore, as a manager understand climate change. What choices do I have?” 


00:53:35 Jim Perry: Therefore, a friend of mine, Charlie Falzone, and I wrote a paper for the World Heritage Commission called ‘Climate Change Adaptation for Natural Heritage Sites a Practical Guide’, and that guide is available from UNESCO. It’s called World Heritage Papers 37 and is available free from UNESCO. And it says on your site, these are the ways you might assess the degree of climate change risk, and the ways you might take action. Decide what actions are appropriate to take. 

Those two papers are relatively old, thinking more than five years old, so the most recent work is in a journal called Climate, which is an MDPI publication. It’s an open-access journal, which means it’s free to anybody, and the title of the paper is ‘Adaptive Heritage: Is This Creative Thinking or Sacrificing Our Values?’ And that a paper describes what we believe to be Adaptive Heritage, the six tenets, why they’re important and how we apply these on the ground. 

Finally, I speak about this quite often, historic and upcoming current speaking dates include Brazil, Paraguay, China, India, and the Solomon Islands. Some of these will be virtual, some of them in person, and there are many opportunities to speak virtually or in-person to anybody or any group interested in this issue and we can talk about it and grow together. 


00:54:52 Will Mountford: Is there anything that you like to say by way of conclusion or summary right at the end of things? 


00:54:57 Jim Perry: I believe that these sites, these 4000 sites that we’ve designated, as the world’s best-protected areas, the world’s best sites, the legacy we want to lead to future generations can benefit from more careful management. And by more careful, I mean, explicit attention to the idea that landscapes evolve, these patches are sites within a landscape. Human cultures evolve and through innovative management, the idea of Adaptive Heritage, we can actually make positive change in every one of these sites. Some will not survive, some will not meet our criteria, but many will evolve and will evolve in positive ways. We can influence that positive evolution to strengthen the legacy we leave for future generations. 

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