Making maps with people

Where do maps of the wild come from? How are they made? Who gets to decide what goes into them? And when maps are used by policy makers and other people in government to decide on whether, say, a wind farm should go here, or a species should be reintroduced there, or a national park centre should be situated over there, do these maps tell the whole story? Do they make it clear what most people who use these spaces think about the area and what or how they feel about particular wild spaces?

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Our research project (“Sensing Wild Spaces: Integrated Participatory Mapping for Understanding Community Relationships to Dynamic Mountain Landscapes” – or WILDSENS if you’re a fan of acronyms) is based on the simple idea that maps used in environmental decision making can be better and more representative if they could take into consideration the ideas, perceptions and emotions of the actors who use them, namely: people. Traditionally maps of landscape such as those of wilderness are made almost exclusively based on remote sensed satellite data and expert opinion. Including people in this mapping process and other higher resolution local in situ data (human perception and ecoacoustics) gives these maps a richer picture of these complex and dynamic landscapes.

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We are a group of three researchers from different disciplines (geography, anthropology and acoustic ecology) and different backgrounds (English, Scottish and American) who came together around a shared interest to think about (and perhaps do something about) the ways that maps are used to understand and make wild spaces. And our hope is that we might come up with some new methods to improve future research on and implementation of conservation processes and moves to protect the planet’s ecological systems.

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In our next blog post, we’ll write a bit about our trip to our first INTERACT research station – in Northern Sweden – some of the people we met and our initial foray out into to a National Park for some good ole participatory mapping work.

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