Climate adaptation in 'new world' cultural landscapes: The case of Bay of Fundy agricultural dykelands (Nova Scotia, Canada)

Land Use Policy, 2016 (51): 267-280
Kate Sherren, Logan Loik, James A. Debner
Unlike climate mitigation – which is dependent on carbon output – climate adaptation is all about water (Ramsar Convention of Wetlands, 2010). Wetlands are valuable assets in both areas. Wetland areas can act as buffers which limit the severity of impacts from irregular weather on the local landscape. With coastal areas being particularly vulnerable to climate change in the coming years, the destruction and loss of natural buffers such as coastal wetlands warrants attention at all levels of planning and decision-making. This research uses the Acadian dykelands of Nova Scotia, Canada, as a basis to explore the social and governance limits to coastal climate adaptation in ‘new world’ cultural agricultural landscapes, as well as inform local decision-making.
A large number of historic coastal wetlands in Nova Scotia were converted to dykelands for the purpose of agricultural production in the 1600s. Now, as agriculture wanes in the province, dykelands are also being enjoyed for recreation and tourism as in the case of the Grand Pré UNESCO World Heritage Site. In this way, Nova Scotia’s dykelands have been the context within which development has been planned and activities are arranged in many areas of the province. But in the face of climate change, a discussion has arisen around restoring these coastal wetlands back to their original state.
The findings of any adaptation research is likely to context-specific due to the high levels of complexity in any particular environment. However, the methods employed in this study are valuable for those working in cultural landscapes and developing long-term planning strategies for their sites. Online Q-methodology was used, where respondents sorted statements along a normal distribution about what type of management they prefer, and under what governance arrangements. The study included a total of 183 respondents across the province, a third of whom were direct stakeholders in the dykelands. According to the authors, a large -set Q method of this kind is likely the most useful tool when trying to characterizing emergent discourses demographically, and to understand their prevalence in society. Participants were given 34 statements, ranging across options such as maintenance of dykelands, managed realignment of wetlands, passive coastal wetland restoration (i.e. neglect leading to long-term degradation of dykelands), and active wetland restoration. These statements were collected from multiple sources to represent the various discourses occurring in the area. Respondents were asked to sort these statements from a -4 to +4 normal distribution ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree.
Overall, the dominant discourse was held by local females strongly in favor of dykeland maintenance and improvement, on the basis of their cultural, recreational, and farming values. Those in positions of management power tended toward wetland restoration, largely for reasons of efficiency in the practicality of maintaining the dykelands as they are. Other less-dominant discourses arose in the course of the study, particularly by those lesser-educated about the dykelands.
This study is valuable not only in helping managers of dykelands, but also other cultural landscapes at risk of climate change. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the opinions (and intensity of those opinions) held by stakeholders in a cultural landscape. The researchers also advance Q-methodology with innovative techniques intended to better balance discourse and statistical validity.
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