Led by Prof. Hirokazu Abe and Dr. Noriko Otsuka from the University of Osaka, the academics have been undertaking ground-breaking research on the work of the Mersey Forest for more than fifteen years. This year they made Northwich's heritage the main focus of their visit, exploring how the town's industrial heritage benefits local tourism and the economy. They also took part in a 'Healthy Soils' seminar and look set to return to the UK next February for a major conference.
The researchers aim to learn lessons from the experience of post-industrial areas in the north west to help in regenerating similar areas in Japan.
The team of academics visited Marbury Country Park, part of Northwich Woodlands, Anderton Boat Lift and the award-winning Lion Salt Works Museum at Marston, Northwich.
The academics were escorted around the museum by Kate Harland, Senior Learning and Operations Officer from Cheshire West and Chester Council who explained the history of the works – the country's last open-pan salt making site. Thanks to a £5m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and funding from Chester West and Chester Council, the Museum was restored and was re-opened in June 2015.
Dr. Noriko Otsuka said "It is wonderful to be visiting The Mersey Forest again, and continue our research collaboration with colleagues. The international significance of Cheshire's salt industry and how it has shaped the landscape, local people and economy is a story to be told across the world. Over the past three years we have seen how the Saltscape project has helped to tell that story."
The team also took part in a 'Healthy Soils' seminar with The Mersey Forest and Reaseheath College, presenting on the experience of regenerating post-coalmining cities in Japan.
Funding is being sought to hold a 'Seeds of Hope' conference in Cheshire next Spring to bring together Japanese and UK partners to explore how agricultural communities try to recover from major episodes, such as BSE and the catastrophe of Fukushima.
Clare Olver, from the Mersey Forest Team said "Over the years we've really benefited from this exchange of ideas around brownfield land between our team and our Japanese partners. This conference will take that work one step further. We will hear stories of hope where communities can rebuild businesses and learn lessons for the future."