Consuming Landscapes?

Picture of a roadside stall in the Adelaide Hills

Roadside stall in the Picadilly Valley, South Australia

The rural hinterlands of Australia’s metropolitan areas and regional cities, known as peri-urban regions, are well-known as sites of expanding habitat loss and a high incidence of threatened species.

Peri-urban regions also face other significant issues:

  • water resource management challenges for drinking water and environmental flows,
  • high levels of bushfire risk and hazard,
  • and an uncertain future for agriculture and food production. 

At the same time, these landscapes are subject to rapid population growth and development pressures, some of it consistent with government plans and strategies, but much of it not. This convergence of circumstances and contested expectations makes peri-urban regions a key arena for sustainability concerns in Australia. It also puts a premium on sound environmental planning and governance, especially in strategic undertakings such as the next iteration of the Greater Adelaide Regional Plan (Discussion Paper, released August 2023 by the State Planning Commission).

Against this background, Environment Institute’s Associate Professor Douglas Bardsley and colleagues have been developing a new initiative — the Adelaide Peri-urban Project (APP) — to examine opportunities for research collaborations that can support and inform planning for sustainable rural landscapes in Adelaide’s peri-urban region. In August 2023, the APP convened a workshop for Local Government and regional stakeholders that invited participants from land use planning, natural resource management, regional development, emergency services and industry to share their priority concerns and research needs on this topic.  The report of the workshop — What future for rural landscapes in the Greater Adelaide Region? — documents a general frustration with the availability of data and information for decision-making and wide-spread concerns about the way the South Australian planning system currently values and treats the region’s natural asset base.

    Photo of produce shop in Mount Compass, SA

    Farm Produce shop at Mount Compass, South Australia

    The workshop followed an 18-month collaboration with senior planners from Adelaide Hills, Alexandrina, Barossa and Mount Barker Councils, whose responsibilities include implementation of South Australia’s Planning and Design Code and design of the new Regional Plan.  As a pilot for a possible wider research project, the partnership has examined recent trends in farm value-adding and rural business diversification activity in those four Local Government Areas.  This topic provided a good test of the planning system’s ability to simultaneously provide opportunities for sustainable business growth and economic development, while mitigating emerging risks to biodiversity, natural resources, environmental hazards and food security.  In November, the APP released the Stage 1 report of its Consuming Landscapes? project, which reviews recent development application data and presents a regional-scale analysis of trends in this activity. 

    Picture of winery cellar door in McLaren Vale, SA

    Winery cellar-door, restaurant and function centre in McLaren Vale, South Australia

    Key amongst the report’s observations is evidence that farm businesses and other rural landholders are adopting business models that encourage visitors into peri-urban Adelaide to ‘consume’ the landscape in various ways. This trend is consistent with our other research in the region documenting the rise of rural multi-functionality and the exploitation of rural landscapes for their amenity. However, in a region subject to special legislation for the preservation of rural character, and a statutory Environment and Food Production Area, it signals a growing tension between the public desire to protect rural landscapes and the financial viability of farm businesses largely responsible for managing those landscapes. 

    In 2024, the APP is proposing a second stage of the Consuming Landscapes? project that will address this tension directly by engaging stakeholders and reviewing the impact of current policy governing the topic.  APP are also looking at opportunities to engage further with researchers, practitioners and stakeholders on this and other peri-urban-themed topics. If you are interested in engaging please contact Peter Houston and Doug Bardsley via

    Picture of a farm roadside shop at Hahndorf, SA

    Farm Produce shop at Hahndorf, South Australia

    1. Pearson R.E., Bardsley D.K. and Pütz M. (2024) Regenerative tourism in Australian wine regions. Tourism Geographies.
    2. Song B., Robinson G.M. and Bardsley D.K. (2022) Hobby and Part-time Farmers in a Multifunctional Landscape: Environmentalism, Lifestyles, and Amenity. Geographical Research 60:480-497.
    Tagged in sustainability, Research Wins, Faculty of Sciences Engineering and Technology
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