Traditional irrigated grassland at Het Lankheet (Source: KIEN, 2021).
Intangible Heritage to Strengthen Local Water Management


  • Jet Bakels Dutch Research Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage (KIEN)
  • Chantal Bisschop Centre for Agrarian History (CAG)




Can intangible cultural heritage (ICH) help to reduce biodiversity loss and and water shortages related to climate change? Can it contribute to managing water shortages and surpluses on a local level? This article argues that some useful forms of intangible, “living” heritage offer valuable knowledge and practices that can serve as adaptive strategies in a changing environment. Binding practitioners to a specific place and to each other and connecting past and future generations, ICH can bring local knowledge and experience into the work field. The examples introduced here include grassland irrigation, water milling and hedge-laying: all used in the past, replaced by new inventions (e.g. fertilizers, new techniques for grinding grains and barbed wire taking the place of hedges respectively), and reintroduced because of their potential role in water management and ability to help create a climate-robust landscape. The valuable insights and practices of “citizen scientists” using these traditional techniques are too often overlooked by policy makers and academics.

How to Cite

Bakels, J., & Bisschop, C. (2023). Intangible Heritage to Strengthen Local Water Management. Blue Papers, 2(2).





challenges, concepts and new approaches

Author Biographies

Jet Bakels, Dutch Research Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage (KIEN)

Dr. Jet Bakels is an anthropologist, specializing in intangible cultural heritage related to sustainability. She wrote her PhD thesis on the role and meaning of the tiger in Indonesia (“Het Verbond met de Tijger” (The Pact with the Tiger), Leiden University, CNWS: 2000). She has worked for various museum institutions and scientific organizations as a researcher on the cultural view of nature and wild and domesticated animals. Currently, she is working as a scientific researcher for the Dutch Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage (Kenniscentrum Immaterieel Erfgoed Nederland/KIEN;, where she is investigating the value (and undervaluing) of local knowledge and practices, and the way in which ICH can contribute to developing a sustainable relationship with our natural heritage and help combat the results of climate change.

Chantal Bisschop, Centre for Agrarian History (CAG)

Dr. Chantal Bisschop (1984) studied history at the University of Leuven (Belgium) and the Université François Rabelais in Tours (France). In 2012 she obtained a doctoral degree at the Interfaculty Centre for Agrarian History, University of Leuven, with a PhD thesis on “When Agriculture and Rurality No Longer Coincide: The Rural Guilds, Flanders, 1950–1990.” Chantal has been a staff member at the Centre for Agrarian History (CAG; since 2012. She is concentrating on researching and safeguarding the intangible cultural heritage of agriculture, food and rural life in a profound and renewed way. She is helping heritage communities with recognizing, identifying and transmitting intangible heritage. She is designing tailor-made safeguarding trajectories with the themes of animal traditions, culinary cultures and agricultural practices, with special attention to sustainability.


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