Corridor Talk

The project “Corridor Talk: Conservation Humanities and the Future of Europe’s National Parks” is funded jointly by the German Research Council (DFG) and the UK’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Europe’s national parks pose a unique challenge to conservation work: many of them are not just historically wild and contested places, but also sites of more recent geopolitical disputes. Understanding the role these parks play in local perceptions of place, identity, species movements, and human rights of access involves conservation as refracted through multiple languages and cultures: it requires, in short, a humanities-based as well as a scientific-managerial approach. Our project employs insights from a new field partly pioneered at Leeds, conservation humanities, to address a range of questions in three interrelated work packages:

Fieldwork & Research

Work package 1

This work package will consider the importance of the imagination in creating and maintaining the coherence of the transnational, physically unstable space of Wadden Sea National Park. The territorial boundaries crossed by the park are one form of boundary; the shifting border between land and sea constitutes another. The research team will explore how the bounded ecology of the Wadden Sea has recently been represented and perceived, and how these representations serve to reinforce or interrogate the management of the park. How do cultural artefacts inscribe value onto a space that is inaccessible to humans? How do texts and images relating to the park serve to foster the human imagination of its dynamic ecology, and in particular of its bird life? How is this imagination affected by the challenge of rising seawater levels, and what are the implications for cultural imaginaries of global environmental change?

Work package 2

Work package 2 will research how people move through wild spaces, and how they experience the wild species they encounter in these spaces. A focal point of the research will be the brown bear, a number of which have been reintroduced to the French Pyrenees in recent decades, in order to boost their dwindling population. Key informant interviews and participant observation as people move through bear-inhabited areas, will build a picture of how people understand bears and attempt to live in and move through their spaces along different paths within and beyond the Pyrenees National Park. Human and animal paths through the parks will be recorded using immersive audio-visual technology, and these recordings will be incorporated into a broader multispecies ethnography of humans and animals using the park. Such methods cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries, bringing together human geography, visual anthropology, psychology, and soundscape ecology.

Work package 3

The main issue to be addressed in this work package is the damage caused to natural ecosystems by invasive species. The focal species in this particular case is the bark beetle, periodic outbreaks of which have destroyed large areas of spruce forest in the transboundary region of Bavarian Forest and Šumava National Parks. Extensive practical work has already been done on ways of controlling beetle invasions: in this case study, the focus of the research will be on how bark beetle incursions in this cross-border area have historically been managed and imagined from both sides of the border, and with what consequences. An accompanying aim will be to look at bark beetle infestations in multispecies terms, as complex interactions between different ecological agents, with a broader view towards assessing histories of encroachment, incursion, and invasion in and across these two national parks.

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