Place-making in waterscapes: wetlands as palimpsest spaces of recreation

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This paper argues that acknowledging the wide diversity of current recreational practices on English wetlands enables governance practitioners and site managers to appreciate the full extent of contemporary human engagements with these watery ecosystems. These insights can assist those tasked with managing wetland resources to develop more inclusive and sustainable development plans to support a wide range of actors whose connections to wetland spaces are important for their health, well-being and sense of self. Enabling sustainable future uses of wetlands will involve recognising and engaging with differential articulations of place-making within these diverse waterscapes which themselves are in a constant state of transition. This calls our attention to the dynamic nature of wetlands, and the ways in which place-making in these spaces shifts and adapts to the changing topography and biota within these waterscapes; each encounter with the space is slightly reconfigured and recast every time. Wetlands’ liminality also extends to the diverse and often esoteric uses of these ecosystems for recreation in its most encompassing sense; as leisure spaces, places of renewal and as locations of place-making practices. Drawing upon Barbara Bender’s exploration of landscape as phenomenological palimpsest, this paper utilises empirical interview data drawn from a recent research project, ‘WetlandLIFE’, to explore how far contemporary human uses of wetlands engage with processes of restoration and reanimation. Making use of the different leisure narratives of the research participants across five English wetland sites, the paper explores the ways in which ‘place’ is differentially interpreted, enabled and enacted in these saturated spaces. These practises and performances can be functional, prosaic engagements with wetlands; painting, walking, photographing, sitting, reflecting. They can also be anarchic, counter-cultural and ‘delinquent’; wild-camping, raving, poaching, partying. The wide spectrum of behaviours and attitudes catalogued reveal the contested use and value of these waterscapes in contemporary contexts
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages28
JournalThe Geographical Journal
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Bedford Borough Council is an advertised sponsor of MCP, though not a funder. Of the three MCP users interviewed, the birder presumed it was funded through municipal taxation. When MCP shifted from voluntary car parking donations to fixed tariffs in June 2018 footfall to MCP fell by 50% over the following two months (personal comms, 2018) and social media postings indicated that the general perception was that this was a stealth tax by the council:

Publisher Copyright:
The information, practices and views in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). © 2022 The Author. The Geographical Journal published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers).


  • English
  • Wetlands
  • semi-structured interviews
  • recreation
  • sustainable futures
  • place-making


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