Castle set against beautiful landscape backdrop


Cultural Landscapes (Theme Lead: Dr Penny Bradshaw)

This theme brings together areas of research which engage with the 'combined works of nature and humankind' (UNESCO) and which explore interpretations of, and creative responses to, the complex and dynamic relationship between human inhabitants and their natural environment, with a particular focus on how this relationship has evolved and continues to evolve in the 21stC.  The theme encompasses responses to the landscape - including anthropocentric environmental concerns - in literature/the arts and the impact of these creative responses on subsequent perceptions of the landscape, as well as more intangible processes and experiences such as a sense of place, creative inspiration, or the impact of landscape interactions on mental health and well-being.

Valuing social and cultural capital in UK Hill Farming Communities 

Owen Morgan, PhD 2024

The UK hill farming community produces an array of natural and cultural resources including biodiversity, flood protection, and the cultural landscape of the uplands. However, these resources are under threat from current changes to the agricultural sector. Contemporary research indicates that culture is key to the sustainability of these communities.  

Owen’s study explored the socio-cultural aspects of hill farming, with the intention of better understanding the value it brings to both the community and wider society. This research involved a participatory study, working with members of the hill farming community as cultural experts.Owen anticipates this work providing a resource which better informs policymaking and makes a case for the valuable contribution of hill farming culture.

Owen's thesis is pending publication. 

Lead Supervisor:  Professor Lois Mansfield

Contact the researcher: email Owen Morgan

The researcher leaning on a pen containing sheep, people and mountains behind.
A footpath and damaged footbridge over a brook surrounded by autumn leaves.

Bradley Brook: The benefits of Photography and Nature on Wellbeing 

Bradley Brook is a project exploring the impact of engaging with nature through photography. Bradley Brook is the culmination of 3 years of practice-led research examining the themes of interacting with nature, mental health and wellbeing, and revisitation through photography. The resulting work was exhibited as a solo show at Prestwich Arts Festival and Internationally at Tulipe Mobile in France.

The work also inspired the creation and the delivery of a pilot 'green prescribing' workshop in partnership with The Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Nature and Wellbeing Team. Built around the '5 ways to wellbeing', each session enables participants to take a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, to spend time in a natural setting, meeting new people whilst learning and sharing new skills in photography and natural history. The outcomes are documented through a wellbeing questionnaire using the Warwick-Edinburgh scale. The ambition is to create a workshop template that can be rolled out nationally as a green prescribing offering. 

Funders: UKRI

Partners: Lancashire Wildlife Trust

Researcher: Tristan Poyser 

Image credit: Bradley Brook, Tristan Poyser.

GeoWeek 2022 Symposium: Communication Measures to Bridge 4.543 billion years 

Project Lead: Professor Robert Williams; Research Assistant: Laura Harrison.  

The University of Cumbria Institute of Arts & Arts Research Initiative (ARI) became ‘host’ in partnership with Tullie House Museum for the national event GeoWeek. Held at the Brampton Road Campus and Brantwood, the event included writing workshops, two exhibitions, film screenings and the free two-day symposium exploring themes of cultural engagement with the geologic through the interpretations of contemporary artists and cultural practitioners. Central to the event were contributions from Institute of Arts postgraduate research degree candidates.  

The events presented responses to the geologic imaginary, considered through the lens of contemporary cultural interventions and critical reflections of artists, writers and practitioners. There were 16 presentations including keynotes from artist/filmmaker Bryan McGovern Wilson calling in from the La Brea Tarpits in Los Angeles who screened a specially commissioned film, Communication Measures to Bridge 4.543 Billion Years; and Glasgow based artist Ilana Halperin who presented a talk entitled My Conglomerate Family

Photo: Bull-pot of the Witches, Cumbria. Photo Credit: David Gledhill ©Robert Williams 2022

Figure at the entrance to a cave
The researcher with an umbrella outside a University of Cumbria building.

Measuring Loss of Heritage Assets: Monitoring Cumbrian Heritage Sites  

Ellie Evans, Doctoral Researcher

In 2021, the Department for Culture, Media & Sport published a document outlining the necessity to monitor the loss of heritage assets in England. With that need in mind, this project is centred around using photogrammetry to record the physical state of heritage sites and monuments repeatedly over a six-month period, whilst also recording visitor numbers and their routes around the chosen sites. The recording of these two factors should allow conclusions to be made about visitor impact at heritage sites, vulnerable points at the site and the rate of deterioration, therefore measuring the loss of heritage assets.  

This project aims to:  

  • Design and critically evaluate a method to monitor outdoor heritage sites, monuments and visitors in Cumbria.
  • Produce a cost-effective tool-kit for heritage organisations to use.  

Lead Supervisor:  Professor Lois Mansfield

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Natural Connections at Ambleside Campus

Dr Penny Bradshaw (Associate Professor of English Literature) and Professor Chris Loynes (Professor of Human Nature Relations) ran a full day event at University of Cumbria's Ambleside campus for Natural Connections, a free research and development programme for invited organisations. It is managed by freelance consultant Catherine Mailhac. The project was awarded funding through Arts Council England’s National Lottery Project Grants. 

The day involved a series of activities designed to unpack the programme’s underpinning concept: ‘Natural Connections’. Dr Bradshaw led a morning workshop themed around: ‘Close Looking and seeing with fresh eyes', in which participants engaged in a series of close-looking activities inspired by ideas and drawings by John Ruskin.  Professor Loynes led an afternoon workshop outside themed around collective engagement with and response to a natural object. 

Partners: The programme is led by Brantwood on behalf of the Cumbria Museum Directors Group, alongside host partners: University of Cumbria; Grizedale Forest; and Wordsworth Trust 

Funder: Museum Development North-West 

Contact: Dr Penny Bradshaw  


Close looking activity - a feather, a drawing, pencil in hand.
The researcher contemplating a Lakeland landscape

The Significance of Walking in Jane Austen’s Romantic Era English landscapes 

Nada Saadaoui, Doctoral Researcher

This research aims to explore Jane Austen’s depiction of walking in Romantic era English landscapes from the late 18th century to the early 19th century, focusing on the significance of the exercise in her life and work in relation to the philosophies and ideologies of the period.  

The project is structured by a focus on the geographical spaces in which walking occurs within both the letters of Jane Austen and her novels, including walking out of doors, indoors, in parks, gardens, shrubberies, watering places, seaside resorts, towns, countryside and wilderness. It will consider various modes of walking, costumes and a gendered reading of the politics of pedestrianism in the Romantic era. 

Supervisors:  Dr Penny Bradshaw (Lead Supervisor) and Dr Paul Ferguson

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New commissioned poems published here

Three Poems by Reshma Ruia.

In spring 2022, poets from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were invited to apply for a paid poetry commission set up by the University of Cumbria’s Literature team. The commission formed part of a UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) funded project to explore the potential role of literature in inspiring and encouraging more diverse engagement with rural landscapes. Working in partnership with our colleagues at Rydal Mount, we were able to offer the successful candidate a residency at this historic house, providing an opportunity for creative immersion within Wordsworth’s own landscapes.

Dr Reshma Ruia, poet, writer, and cofounder of The Whole Kahani, a collective of British fiction writers of South Asian origin, was selected to undertake the unique poetry commission set up by the University of Cumbria and themed around the idea of ‘belonging’ within natural landscapes.  She took up the residency at Rydal Mount in May 2022.

Dr Ruia commented that:

“Britain is now a vibrant multicultural society that celebrates inclusivity and diversity. Whilst this is very apparent in the urban landscape of the cities, I feel there is a distinct lack of this same inclusivity in rural Britain. We need more Asian and black writers and poets to interact with the countryside, be less hesitant or wary and feel less like interlopers. This should not just be the preserve of established literary canon or male writers. We can bring our own freshness of vision and our imagination. Just as societies need an injection of new blood and vision to be revived, I believe our landscapes also need to be reinvigorated and re-examined through a new set of eyes.”  

This commission contributes to the development of the Lake District as an evolving Cultural Landscape. Literature has played a crucial role in shaping how think about this region, influencing the formation of the National Park in 1951 and informing visitor responses in complex ways. While Wordsworth himself described the Lake District as “a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and an interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”, recent public reviews and reports show that many groups feel disconnected from National Parks and other rural landscapes.  This new writing reminds us of poetry’s potential to generate new ideas about these places and our relationship with them. 

Dr Ruia produced three new poems in response to our commission and her residency at Rydal Mount. We are delighted to be able to publish this work for the first time here.

Read the Three Poems by Reshma Ruia

Image shows Dr Reshma Ruia in Wordsworth's Rydal Mount drawing room.

Dr Reshma Ruia in Wordsworth's Rydal Mount drawing room.
Window view with stained glass insert from The Treasury at Brantwood.

Geology and Identity in Cumbrian Literature: A GeoWeek workshop

'At bottom the Lake District is a piece of rock. It is the rock which makes the land and the land which makes the people' Norman Nicholson, Portrait of the Lakes (1963).

In May 2022 Dr Penny Bradshaw, theme lead for Cultural Landscapes, led a 2-hour workshop at Brantwood exploring the importance of geology within the cultural imagination of Cumbrian writers, particularly in relation to questions of identity. Moving from Wordsworth to Ruskin, and then onto Nicholson and more recent writers, the session reflected on the ways in which Cumbrian writers explore the idea that the identity of the Cumbrian people is fundamentally shaped by the geological underpinnings of the region they inhabit.  

This workshop was part of GeoWeek2022 activities. It was one of a series of events running throughout Cumbria which celebrated Cumbria's 500-million-year-old geological history, by exploring how geology has influenced us and our heritage.  

Contact: Dr Penny Bradshaw, Associate Professor of English Literature: 

Valuing the Cultural Farmed Landscape

Emeritus Professor Lois Mansfield

The project is designed to demonstrate the diverse cultural heritage of Lake District farms in terms of tangible structures and intangible processes. It provides ideas for farmers and communities to consider in terms of diversification in line with the new Government agenda of public goods.  

This booklet specifically explains the value of farmed cultural landscapes for nature recovery and climate action and ideas for farmers to adopt.  

See also, this short film 'What did farming ever do for us?' by Rob Granger Photography. 

Other outputs will include a community project and a voiced-over powerpoint presentation. 

Funded by: Lake District Farming in Protected Landscape Programme 


Shepherds' meet, marquee, Herdwick sheep
Japanese temple in forest

Place-based cultural capital for marginal farming areas

A case study of Japan critically evaluated how policy makers, programme managers and farmers are developing ways to use cultural capital to support the continuation of farming in marginal uplands areas of Japan. 

Funder: Winston Churchill Memorial Trust

Partners: Ministries of Agriculture and Environment, Chidoya, Tokyo, Japan

Researcher: Professor Lois Mansfield

Research Framework for Lake District National Park

A year-long project to design a research framework for the development of the National Park Partnerships plan (2020 to 2025) with respect to their strategic objectives.  This work will also  support the LDNPA’s State of the Park report and the World Heritage Site attributes related to outstanding Universal Value.

Partners: the Lake District National Park Partnership (22 stakeholder organisations)

Funders: Lake District National Park Partnership

Research Consultant: Professor Lois Mansfield

Sunset at Bowness
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