History of landscape studies

Britain Click here
United States Click here
Australia Click here
International Action Click here
Conclusions Click here
References Click here

While scenic beauty is world-wide, three countries have been chosen in which to examine the development of national interest in scenic beauty: Britain, United States and Australia. A summary of international initiatives is also included together with references.


Britain has a long and proud history of appreciating the beauty of its landscapes. British writers, poets, painters, photographers and the ordinary tourist have a love of their landscapes and have learned to appreciate and protect them (Whyte, 2015).


The earliest books on landscape were written by geologists, explaining the geological reasons for the landscape’s appearance. These include: Geikie, A., 1901. The Scenery of Scotland Viewed in Connection with its Physical Geology. MacMillan; Lord Avebury, 1906, The Scenery of England and the Causes to Which it is Due. MacMillan; Stamp, L.D., 1946. Britain’s Structure and Scenery, Collins.

Geographers took it upon themselves to “regard the Earth as Mother-Earth, and the beauty of her features as within the purview of geography.” Curiously some argued:

“The natural beauty is inexhaustible. And it is not only inexhaustible: it positively increases and multiplies the more we see of it and the more of us see it. So it has a good claim to be considered the most valuable characteristic of the Earth” (Younghusband, 1920).

In 1926, the Council for the Protection of Rural England was formed to safeguard the productivity and beauty of the countryside and to protect it from urban intrusion. The organization is now named the Campaign to Protect Rural England (cpre.org.uk).

A geographer, Dr. Vaughan Cornish wrote descriptively about rural scenery in the 1930’s:

“The combination of the English village, with the setting of field and hedgerow and coppice, is an Arcadian scene unrivalled elsewhere in Great Britain and unsurpassed in any part of the world” (Cornish, 1934).

Cornish’s books on landscape included: The Poetic Impression of Natural Scenery, 1931, The Scenery of England, 1932, Scenery and the Sense of Sight, 1935, The Preservation of our Scenery, 1937, The Scenery of Sidmouth, 1940, and The Beauties of Scenery, a Geographical Survey, 1943.

The inter-war period was very significant for shaping the English national identity, in particular, linking it with the rural landscape (Brace, 2003). Books describing English rural life, landscapes and villages were exceedingly popular during this time, selling in their hundreds of thousands (Figure 1). The books “naturalized a version of rural England in which timelessness and continuity were powerful recurring motifs” (Brace, 2003).

Figure 1 Charles Bradley Ford’s The Landscape of England, B.T. Batsford, 1933

The Addison Committee on National Parks (1931) was established in 1929 to assess “if it is desirable and feasible to establish” National Parks in Great Britain. In 1931 following hearing from witnesses and taking evidence, it reported favorably about their establishment, their purpose including “to improve the means of access for pedestrians to areas of natural beauty.” Unfortunately, the Great Depression and World War II intervened to prevent progress. However, the Town and Country Planning Act 1932 gave local councils power to preserve scenic amenity. 

In 1942, the Scott Report on rural land use recommended the establishment of national parks for the enjoyment of the whole nation. The Committee reported that “the land of Britain should be both useful and beautiful and that the two aims are in no sense incompatible … it must be farmed if it is to retain these features which give it distinctive charm and character” (Selman & Swanwick, 2010). The inquiry resulted in the 1944 White Paper, The Control of Land Use, which proposed national parks as part of a comprehensive post-war plan. Landscape surveys of the coast and of the countryside were also completed during the war.

The focus on landscape beauty during the wartime is striking, perhaps reflecting a deep psychological comfort associated with the character and perceived beauty of their country during the trauma and hardship of war. It also derived from the interest in the English countryside during the earlier pre-war period.

In 1945, the Dower Report defined national parks as “an extensive area of beautiful and relatively wild country, in which, for the nation’s benefit and by appropriate National decision and action, the characteristic landscape beauty is strictly preserved…” Dower also proposed protection for areas of high landscape quality.

While Dower’s emphasis was on “relatively wild areas of moor land and rough grazing” (Mosley, 1975), the Hobhouse Report (1947), which followed, saw national parks as being larger and also covering areas of the countryside which had been changed by human use. In 1949, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was proclaimed, the purpose of which included “the preservation of the natural beauty of the area.”

Between 1951 and 1957, ten large tracts of private land were designated as national parks. The designation of national parks was based on their perceived natural beauty and recreational potential. Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) were also designated, generally smaller, less suitable for outdoor recreation, and lacking extensive areas of open countryside. The national parks were mainly highland landscapes, whereas AONBs covered farmed lowland landscapes.

By 2016, the 15 national parks totalled 8,748 sq miles (22,658 sq km), or 9.9% of the United Kingdom (none in Northern Ireland), and the 46 AONBs totalled 9,000 sq miles (23,301 sq km) or 18% of United Kingdom (none in Scotland). The parks and AONBs include about one-third of the coastline of England, Wales and Scotland (Figure 2).


The system of national parks over private land and the designation of AONBs is a uniquely British solution to the competing desire to protect high-quality environments with the need to provide food and fiber for a large population. The early emphasis on landscape paralleled the experience in other countries. Scenic preservation, along with provision for public enjoyment of the parks, were the major initial reasons for the creation of national parks; concern for the protection of flora and fauna was a later factor.

Scotland also has 40 National Scenic Areas covering 5,322 sq miles (13,783 sq km) or 17.5% of Scotland. These cover beautiful scenery and include prominent landforms, coast, lochs, rivers, woodlands and moorlands.

Meanwhile in 1947, the Town and Country Planning Act provided for the designation by councils of Areas of Great Landscape Value within council development plans.

Selman & Swanwick (2010) traced the evolution of landscape terms from natural beauty (Addison, 1931), rural areas of remarkable landscape beauty (Abercrombie, 1930s), landscape character and landscape pattern (Scott, 1942), characteristic landscape beauty (Dower, 1945), high landscape quality (Hobhouse, 1947), high scenic value (Min of T&CP, 1949) and back to natural beauty of the 1949 National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act. Surprisingly, natural beauty was never defined by legislation. In 1985, the Countryside Commission equated “outstanding natural beauty” with “outstanding landscape quality.”

Post 1950

The first real attempt to move beyond mere descriptions of the British landscape and to analyze it more rigorously began with the work of David Lowenthal of the American Geographical Society and Hugh Prince from University College, London. In two seminal papers, The English Landscape (1964) and English Landscape Tastes (1965) they described the content of the English landscape and English landscape preferences.

They identified variety, openness and atmosphere as key visual qualities of the English landscape and referred to it as “altogether so tamed, trimmed, and humanized as to give the impression of a vast ornamental farm, as if the whole of it had been designed for visual pleasure.” Components which epitomized the English landscape were the bucolic (pastoral), the picturesque, the deciduous, the tidy (i.e. order and neatness), façadism, antiquarianism (rejection of the present, the sensuous and the functional; having historical associations), and Alexander Pope’s genius loci – the spirit of the place.

In the late 1960s, new quantitative approaches were developed by Fines (1968) in a survey of the East Sussex landscape (Figure 3), Linton (1968) of Scotland, and by Hebblethwaite of the East Hampshire AONB (Hampshire C.C. et al, 1968).

Near HastingsEast Sussex landscape, near Battle

Fines, 1968. Note: exponential scale 0 – 32.
Figure 3 County of East Sussex, Fines’ Landscape Evaluation Map

Although criticized by Brancher (1969) as moving “from ordinality to cardinality”, nevertheless Fines tried to do something not previously attempted. Fines wrote of the importance of defining the value the landscape in terms of urban and rural planning:

“In this age of the population and leisure explosions, Britain’s landscape has become one of her most valuable – and most vulnerable – assets; yet there exists no recognized method of evaluating this asset; probably because the assessment of the quality of landscape, as opposed to its physiographic type, must inevitably be subjective. But if subjective judgement is inadmissible, then the planner is culpable whenever he delineates an area of great landscape value or refuses planning permission on grounds of ‘visual amenity.’”

Similarly, Linton commenced his paper: “Scenery is a natural resource. Scenery that charms, thrills or inspires is a potential asset to the land in which it is found” (Linton, 1968). Both Fines and Linton regarded landscape quality as a national resource of vital importance to the country. More sophisticated and objective studies followed based on component measurement and statistical analysis, including the Coventry-Solihull-Warwickshire study (Study Team, 1971).

In 1975, Jay Appleton, a geographer at the University of Hull, published The Experience of Landscape, a wonderfully written liturgy of landscape, which espoused his famous prospect -refuge theory to explain why people found particular landscapes beautiful (see theme: Landscape Theory).

The Manchester study, a four-year research project undertaken by the Department of Town and County Planning at the University of Manchester (Robinson, et al, 1976) for the Countryside Commission was intended to recommend a standard approach for evaluating landscape quality for the Commission. The project examined techniques to evaluate the visual quality of landscapes and tested statistical techniques to assess visual quality. Because of its significance, it is summarized here.

Manchester Study

The Manchester study of landscape evaluation was carried out over four years (1970 – 74) by the Landscape Evaluation Project and directed by the University’s Department of Town and Country Planning. Seminars, consultancy reports and research studies were conducted. The Countryside Commission indicated its intention to prepare an advisory manual for planning authorities based on the report.

The report commenced with a discussion of landscape – as land use, topography, ecosystem, heritage and scenery. As a unifying concept, landscape embraced all of these and also served as an art form for artists. The report then traced the development of interest in landscape in Britain from the 1930s Addison report through to the 1970s ecological approach. It examined the purposes and directions of landscape evaluation research. The report differentiated landscape character assessment from landscape quality evaluation: “It is important not to confuse the analysis of landscape character which is descriptive, and analysis of quality which is evaluative” (2.21). It also examined the economic value of landscape.

The report examined aesthetic concepts, in particular, the nature of landscape beauty, and the influence of factors such as tastes, preferences and associations on one’s judgement about the landscape. It had a lengthy discussion of operational issues that affect evaluation: the concept of the view, classifying survey units (where it preferred grid squares), field assessments, and judgements of observers.

It critiqued existing methods focusing, in particular, on the choice and number of observers, and the choice of scoring scales. It discussed the selection of landscape components, and the invalid conversion of ordinal scale scores into cardinal numbers – which can be statistically analyzed but require a base and equal intervals between numbers. Ordinal numbers are purely rankings without a base or equal intervals. It regarded this issue as the major problem of existing methods, all of which were “subject in varying degrees to technical errors and conceptual weaknesses.” It, therefore, proposed to concentrate on improving field-based methods and the statistical techniques to avoid the problem of ordinal numbers.

Following a detailed examination of these issues, the Manchester Report recommended two alternative methods for landscape evaluation:

Method 1. Field-based evaluation method. Survey all 1 km grid square survey units in the area by between 4 and 30 observers using a common scoring system with the results being a mean and distribution for each survey unit. A control square of fixed landscape quality would be selected, and the quality of all other survey units compared with this to provide a common base for the landscape scores.

Method 2. Predictive evaluation method. Used factor analysis of the independent data (i.e. physical characteristics) to select components and regression analysis (to assess the influence of the independent variables on the dependent variable – the landscape quality score) to determine their weights based on a sample of survey units and, using the field method as in the first method, the weights can then be applied to the remaining survey units.

The report detailed the method of each and their application.

The reaction to the Manchester report by the Countryside Commission was underwhelming. According to the 1987 landscape guidance by the Commission, “Many techniques (especially the so-called statistical methods) fell into disrepute. Practitioners tended to despair of the subject and leave it to the academics.” Years later in 2002, Professor Carys Swanwick of the University of Sheffield identified the Manchester study as an exemplar of a “supposedly objective, scientific, often quantitative approach” which led “to a considerable degree of disillusionment with this type of work.” She went on, “This was largely because many believed it inappropriate to reduce something as complex, emotional and so intertwined with our culture, as landscape, to a series of numerical values and statistical formulae.”  Many practitioners probably found the complex statistical methods too overwhelming technically to fully comprehend.

Selman & Swanwick (2010) suggested that the detailed descriptions of landscapes that came to the fore in the 1980s were

“perhaps as a reaction against the emphasis on quantitative approaches during the 1970s. They also stated that the rejection of statistical approaches to landscape classification and evaluation led the Countryside Commission to the view that landscape character had to be ‘considered separately from the steps of evaluation or other forms of judgement.’”


Swanwick described the evolution of the approach (Table 1). She identified the Manchester-type study as landscape evaluation which identified “what made one area of landscape ‘better’ than another.”  She asserted that during the 1980s the emphasis shifted to landscape assessment, which described why one area was different or distinct from another area rather than their relative value. The change appeared to mark an admission of failure to develop a commonly agreed method for valuing landscape quality, substituting in its place, a mere description of its character. The following caution by the Manchester Report appears to have fallen on deaf ears: “It is important not to confuse the analysis of landscape character, which is descriptive, and analysis of quality, which is evaluative”.

Table 1 Key differences in the evolution of landscape assessment

Table 1Swanwick, 2002

Local landscape designations (LLDs) are widely used by councils to protect their landscapes, defined as “of at least county importance for reasons of their rarity, representativeness or variety” (Scott & Shannon, 2007). Areas of Great Landscape Value (AGLV) can be declared by councils under the T&CP Act, thereby restricting development in the area. Their name may be confused with Areas of Outstanding Natural Landscape (AONB).

In the 1980s, there was continuing debate about the meaning of the phrase, outstanding natural beauty in the National Parks Act. An inquiry into the North Pennine’s AONB in 1985 was presented with a statement from the Countryside Commission that the term in practice meant outstanding landscape quality as there were few areas in the country that were entirely natural (Selman & Swanwick, 2010). Paradoxically, it is difficult to define an outstanding landscape without some form of evaluation; a mere description of landscape character obviously would not suffice.

The factors to be considered in reaching a judgement, however, were entirely descriptive. They included: relative relief, landscape shape, natural quality (or wildness), semi-natural vegetation, dramatic contrasts, remoteness, unspoiled quality, continuity and extent, harmony of the works of man and nature, and vernacular architecture. Quite a list, but no assessment of landscape quality.

The North Pennines Inquiry found in favor of the term landscape quality in place of natural beauty, and stated that the quality of the landscape of the area is both natural and man-made. In accepting the findings, the Secretary of State said that “assessment of landscape quality necessarily involves a subjective assessment and that within the consensus of informed opinion allied with the trained eye, and commonsense, the matter is one of aesthetic taste” (Selman & Swanwick, 2010).

From the late 1980s onwards, the Countryside Commission and its successors addressed landscape assessment and published the following national guidance documents:

1987 Landscape Assessment, a Countryside Commission Approach. CCD 18;
1993 Landscape Assessment Guidance, CCP 423;
1999 Interim Landscape Character Assessment Guidance (Scotland);
2002 Landscape Character Assessment: Guidance for England and Scotland.

The Commission’s first guidance in 1987, Landscape Assessment: A Countryside Commission Approach, comprised a description of its physical characteristics and what distinguished the landscape from other landscapes, but not an assessment of its aesthetic value. The Commission adopted the Inquiry’s terminology in describing it as “a broad, multi-dimensional approach based on aesthetic taste operating within the context of informed opinion, the trained eye and common sense.” Figure 4 summarizes the method.

Figure 4

Countryside Commission     Figure 4 Landscape Assessment, 1987 

In 1993, the Commission updated and expanded the advice into Landscape Assessment Guidance. The new guidance distinguished landscape types (e.g. chalk downs) from landscape areas (e.g. South Downs) which was a useful distinction. The guidance allowed for work at different scales with national or regional assessments providing the framework for more detailed assessments, again a useful contribution. It made explicit the criteria for designating landscapes, for example, for AONB status. By including non-visual factors such as history and wildlife; however, the guidance expanded landscape from a solely visual phenomenon.

In 2002, the Countryside Agency revised its guidance on landscape character assessment. Landscape character was defined as ‘‘a distinct, recognizable and consistent pattern of elements that make one landscape different from another, rather than better or worse’’ (Swanwick, 2002), thus clearly differentiating it from qualitative evaluation.

Previously, landscape was the visual appearance of the land, now it was a relationship between people and place; the interaction between the “natural (geology, soils, climate, flora and fauna) and cultural (historical and current impact of land use, settlement, enclosure and other human interventions).” It appears to becoming more and more like an environmental description rather than a landscape assessment. Figure 5 summarizes the 2002 method for defining landscape character. This is clearly far more sophisticated than the 1987 method.

Figure 5

Countryside Agency  Figure 5 Landscape Character Assessment Methodology, 2002

The 2002 guidance continued the division between landscape character assessment – the description of its physical character – from judgements about its landscape value. Another shift was that judgements about its landscape value were based on perception which varied from person to person. Its evaluation required local communities’ participation rather than expert assessments. Landscape was about people and place rather than scenic quality.

The 2002 guidance defined landscape quality, not in value terms, but as the condition or physical state and intactness of the landscape, thus relegating it to mere description of the extent of landscape degradation rather than its aesthetic merit. Landscape integrity would have been a more accurate and less confusing term.

It used the term, landscape value, as referring to the “relative value or importance that stakeholders attach to different landscapes and their reasons for valuing them.” The reasons can include:

  • Landscape value – condition of the landscape;
  • Scenic quality – visual appeal of the landscape;
  • Rarity – presence of rare features or elements;
  • Representativeness – particular character, features or elements considered worthy of representing;
  • Conservation interests – presence of features of particular wildlife, earth science or archaeological, historical and cultural interest;
  • Wildness – presence of wild character in the landscape;
  • Associations with particular people, artists, writers, or other media, or events in history.

A field survey is an integral part of the guidance, and this includes a subjective assessment of aesthetic and perceptual aspects. Table 2 lists aspects that could be covered but emphasizes that the list is not exhaustive and surveyors are free to introduce their own words. The list originated from the 1987 guidance labeled the Subjective Checklist but unfortunately omitted several from the 1987 document – rarity, security, stimulus and pleasure, and changed variety to diversity. 

Table 2 Aesthetic aspects of landscape character

Table 2Countryside Commission, 2002

The checklist contained in Table 2 has the effect of rendering aesthetic judgement a cognitive analytical process rather than a product of affect, the likes and dislikes of the landscape.

The 2002 guidance stressed the need to specify how certain “landscape elements contribute to these aesthetic characteristics – for example, enclosure may result from the presence of woodlands or from landform, while unity in the landscape may come from the consistent use of building materials in features like walls and vernacular buildings.” Under the heading of perceptual aspects, it includes other subjective personal attributes, including the “perceptions of beauty or scenic attractiveness.”

In 2009, Natural England examined the services and qualities provided by landscapes through extensive interviews with the community (Research Box et al, 2009). Among its findings were:

  • People talked in a way that suggested a sense of ownership about the landscape;
  • Landscape provides places for peace and solitude, exercise and activity, escape, stress relief, and places for spending time with loved ones or for being alone;
  • Landscape provides physical sensation, such as sound (or silence) and “the wind in your hair;”
  • Landscape has a life-affirming quality;
  • People had a range of places from nearby to distant.

It surveyed 20 landscape features:

  • Water, in its various forms, greatly enhanced people’s landscape experience, often completing the beauty or tranquility of a place;
  • Moving, rushing water was exhilarating; still water being peaceful;
  • Woodlands were treasured places, quintessentially British;
  • The enclosed atmosphere of woods was “womb-like,” providing comforting and calming effects;
  • The coast was an iconic place for many people, especially younger ones;
  • Coast walks were important to many people at fundamental points in their lives, soul-searching by staring at the sea;
  • The best landscape experiences were predominantly “natural‟ ones – green and rural;
  • Villages with traditional building methods, old churches, or thatched roofs were considered part of the countryside experience, but modern housing estates and towns were not;
  • “naturalness‟ was a subjective term and both a well-trimmed hedgerow and a marshland habitat could be seen as natural.

This study confirmed that “all landscapes matter,” which reflected a central tenet of the European Landscape Convention.

Figure 6
Countryside Agency
Figure 6 Character of England map

In 1993, the Countryside Agency commenced a pilot program called the New Map of England, which aimed to identify, describe and analyze landscape types at a broad regional scale, and in 1996 produced the map. Figure 6 shows the latest iteration of the map (2014). It classified and described 159 character areas. Interestingly the word ‘landscape’ is diminished, it is termed the “Character of England map”, not the “Landscape Character of England map” although this is expressed in the explanatory text. In 2014, Natural England revised the National Character Area profiles to accord with the European Landscape Convention and other policies.

Britain: Conclusions

Great Britain has a long and distinguished history of regard for its landscapes as evidenced by its poets, writers, painters and photographers. During the Second World War, Britain drew strength from the appeal and constancy of its rural landscapes.

Through the twentieth century much was written to describe and delight in its landscapes and much action was taken, via the establishment of national parks, AONBs and through planning policies, to safeguard its landscapes from deleterious developments. From the late 1960s onwards, planners started to develop methods to measure and map the quality and features of the landscape. Quite sophisticated quantitative methods were developed and had they been further refined, there is much they could have achieved. However, it was not to be.

For reasons best known to itself, the Countryside Commission (and its successors) with the statutory responsibility for Britain’s landscapes, retreated from evaluating landscape value (or quality) to describing and classifying it by its landscape character. Fear of being accused of subjectivity may have been the underlying reason for the agency’s reticence. The new approach was devoid (as far as humanly possible) of subjective judgement. Curiously although the criteria for designating AONBs included scenic quality, no guidance was provided on how to evaluate this. Scenic quality was largely obscured through the additional considerations, all of which could be measured and mapped.

The meaning of the term landscape has shifted from referring to the beauty of the land to a relationship between people and the land and covered every conceivable natural and cultural aspect as well as all five human senses. This evades its qualitative values and instead provides a footing for the focus on landscape character, a neutral and objective field to explore compared with the subjective field of landscape quality. And as if to add insult to injury, landscape quality no longer refers to the qualitative value of the landscape but to its condition and whether it needs repair! This is far removed from the community’s view of what landscape and landscape quality comprises.

In Britain, landscape has digressed far from its original meaning, spurred by an aversion to subjectively valuing landscape quality and by the demands to integrate landscape with other consideration. It is a sad state that Britain can no longer refer to the beauty of its landscapes but rather to a landscape in prime condition!


In contrast to Britain, the drive to establish national parks was driven largely by concerns about scenic preservation. The loss in 1913 of Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park for a dam to provide water for San Francisco spurred the preservationists to gain wider recognition of the scenic attractions of the national parks. Arguing against the utilitarians who wanted to use the water, timber and other resources of these “waste” areas, the scenic preservationists led by John Muir argued that scenery also brings dollars. In 1910, there were some 20 distinct organizations directly advocating scenic protection.

Alliances were struck between the park authorities and railroad companies to provide better access to the parks. In the 1870s, the Northern Pacific railroad company endorsed scenic protection, not for altruistic reasons but rather to promote tourism and patronage of their lines. The railways promoted the parks and built grand rustic hotels in them for their passengers to stay. In the post-World War 1 era, private automobiles gradually overtook the railroads as the preferred means of travel, expanding access to the parks. While the inter-war years saw the use of automobiles confined largely to the wealthier, following World War 2 the automobile moved from a luxury to a necessity.

An early activist for national parks was Dr. Horace McFarland, a businessman, who, in 1908, addressed a Conference of Governors called by President Theodore Roosevelt to address measures for the conservation of the nation’s natural resources. He urged the conservation of scenery, saying: “The scenic value of all the national domain yet remaining should be jealously guarded as a distinctly important natural resource, and not as a mere incidental increment” (Runte, 1979). 

Grand Canyon 5psCGrand Canyon, United States

In 1910, Allen Chamberlain, a New England advocate, wrote an article, “Scenery as a National Asset”; to quote: “Let it not be forgotten that Switzerland regards its scenery as a money-producing asset to the extent of some two hundred million dollars annually” (Runte, 1979). He and others argued that Americans should first see the beauties that America had to offer before spending their money overseas, thus combining patriotism, aesthetics and economics. Chamberlain’s figures were cited in the Senate in arguments for the Glacier National Park in 1910. In Congressional debate in 1915, Edward Taylor argued that Switzerland gained between $10,000 and $40,000 per square mile of scenery per year and that America stood to gain much more.

National Parks

In 1912, President William Taft recommended to Congress the establishment of a Bureau of National Parks for: “the proper management of those wondrous manifestations of nature, so startling and so beautiful that everyone recognizes the obligations of the Government to preserve them for the edification and recreation of the people.” In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson established the National Park Service within the Interior Department. Several national parks were established prior to the NPS including the first at Yellowstone in 1872, and later the Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.

The US National Parks are sometimes referred to as America’s Best Idea. The Act that established them in 1916 stated their purpose to be: “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations” words crafted by Frederick Law Olmsted Jnr (Carr, 2016). In identifying suitable areas, the Interior Secretary directed:

“You should seek to find scenery of supreme and distinctive quality or some natural feature so extraordinary or unique as to be of national interest and importance.”

Later policies directed the establishment of new parks should: “depend upon its own outstanding scenic, scientific, or historical quality and the resultant national interest in its preservation.”

The National Park system in 2016 covered 410 areas covering 130,500 miles2 (338,000 km2) (Figure 7). In addition to the 59 national parks, the system includes national monuments, military sites and battlefields, national cemeteries, historic sites, seashores, rivers and parkways.

US Nat Pkas

kids.britannica.com  Figure 7 United States National Parks System

The American landscape

Following his English model, Lowenthal (1968) identified the following characteristics of the American landscape:

  • Size – the sheer vastness of the land;
  • Wildness – relative to Europe this is particularly apparent to visitors;
  • Formlessness – “compared with Old World landscapes, those of America appear generally ragged, indefinite and confused; parts stand out at the expense of a unified whole”;
  • Insiders and outsiders – viewing the landscape, not as visitors but as inhabitants engaged in its development;
  • The present sacrificed to the glorious future – Francis Grund, a traveler in 1837, noted: “they do not love the land of their fathers, but they are sincerely attached to that which their children are destined to inherit”;
  • The present diminished by contrast with an idealized past – the Disneyland image of history;
  • Individual features emphasized at the expense of aggregates;
  • The nearby and the typical neglected for the remote and the spectacular – the prominence given to National Parks;
  • Scenic appreciation serious and self-conscious – landscapes improved and signposted.

In a whimsical paper “You’ll Love the Rockies,” an Englishman, J.A. Walter (1983), recounted his impressions of the American landscape, contrasting it with that of England and the Continent. He found the vast scale of the American landscape daunting, yet the high position of the sun actually served to flatten the landscape compared with the low sun in England that emphasized the smallest undulation. The forest trees of America he found boring and frustrating in that they block the view – yet Americans obviously loved them. In contrast to European landscapes that comprise a delicate balance of forest and village, mountain and meadow, he found American landscapes comprising vivid contrasts – rock spire and desert, ice-clad volcano and forest. The American landscape comprises large-scale examples of pure landscapes – all desert, all forest, all mountain ranges, each of enormous extent, in contrast to the incredible variety apparent in English and European landscapes in small areas.

Ugliness in America

In 1951, J.B. Jackson founded the periodical Landscape at the University of New Mexico, this journal playing a key role in influencing a new generation about landscape aesthetics. This period saw the spread of cities and expanded industrial production, often accompanied by widespread environmental degradation and aesthetic loss. It was a period which demanded concern about the nation’s landscape. Stewart Alsop (1962) wrote:

“Out of the frontier past has grown a subconscious consensus that there is something manly about messiness and ugliness, something sissified about whatever is handsome, or well ordered, or beautiful.”

Peter Blake’s God’s Own Junkyard: The Planned Deterioration of America’s Landscape (1964) was, according to the author, “written in fury” (Lowenthal, 1966). Similar books documented the wasteland of the American landscape. David Lowenthal (1966) joined other critics of the degradation of the American landscape:

“The pristine landscape of aboriginal America was a fitting home for the brave and the free. But the brave was exterminated, and freedom became license; far from appreciating the glorious wilderness, the pioneer tore it apart and replaced it with a sordid landscape designed solely for profit.”

Numerous books have chronicled the origins of American’s love-hate relationship with the environment, and the landscape in particular including: Christopher Tunnard & Boris Pushkarev, 1963. Man-made America: Chaos or Control? Stewart Udall, 1964. The Quiet Crisis, and Ian Nairn, 1965, The American Landscape: A Critical View.

Concern about environmental blight did not go completely unheeded. On 8 February, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson, partly at the urging of his wife, Lady-Bird Johnson, delivered to Congress a Message on Natural Beauty, a program to beautify America (Jackson, 1965) which commenced with the words:

“For centuries, Americans have drawn strength and inspiration from the beauty of our country. It would be a neglectful generation indeed, indifferent alike to the judgment of history and the command of principle, which failed to preserve and extend such a heritage for its descendants.”

The President spoke much about beauty:

“Beauty is not an easy thing to measure. It does not show up in the gross national product, in a weekly pay check, or in profit and loss statements. But these things are not ends in themselves. They are a road to satisfaction and pleasure and the good life. Beauty makes its own direct contribution to these final ends. Therefore, it is one of the most important components of our true national income, not to be left out simply because statisticians cannot calculate its worth.”

The President concluded:

“The beauty of our land is a natural resource. Its preservation is linked to the inner prosperity of the human spirit. The tradition of our past is equal to today’s threat to that beauty. Our land will be attractive tomorrow only if we organize for action and rebuild and reclaim the beauty we inherited. Our stewardship will be judged by the foresight with which we carry out these programs. We must rescue our cities and countryside from blight with the same purpose and vigor with which, in other areas, we moved to save the forests and the soil.”

Included in the message were ambitious proposals to beautify rural and urban landscapes, mined areas, rivers and the nation’s highways, to remove billboards and automobile junkyards along the highways and clean up pollution of air and water (presidency.ucsb.edu/ws).

J.B. Jackson was skeptical about the likelihood of anything permanent resulting from the program. He said that, in a country where “whatever is old is obsolete, and whatever is obsolete is discarded” the wonder of the American landscape is not that it contained such mess, but that it also contained so many attractive suburbs and towns (Jackson 1965). In May, 1965, the President convened the White House Conference on Natural Beauty (Beauty for America, 1965) to stir the nation to action.

Other Initiatives

The 1964 Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System which now protects 762 areas totalling 170,180 miles2 (440,770 km2) (2016) of Federally owned land across 44 states, 4.5% of the United States (Figure 8).

Fig 8Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute
Figure 8 US National Wilderness Preservation System

The purpose of the Wilderness Act was defined:

Sec. 2. (a) In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.

The Act famously defined wilderness as:

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.

The Act stated that wilderness areas may include “features of scenic value.”

In 1964, Congress authorized the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. This foreshadowed the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act 1968, which now protects the free-flowing condition of 208 rivers totaling 12,680 miles (20,453 km) in 2016.  Scenic river areas were defined as rivers that are free of impoundments, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads. However, there are more than 75,000 large dams, which have modified almost 17% of US rivers.

In addition, several states have designated sections of rivers as Scenic Rivers. These include Virginia, Louisiana, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. The purpose of the Virginia Scenic Rivers Program is to identify, designate and help protect rivers and streams that possess outstanding scenic, recreational, historic and natural characteristics of statewide significance for future generations. Nearly 1,000 miles of Virginian rivers have been designated.

http://byways.org       Figure 9 National Scenic Byways in the United States

Americans being wedded to cars, it is not surprising that it established the National Scenic Byways Program in 1991 based on the outstanding scenic, natural, historical, cultural, archaeological, and recreational qualities of its highways (Figure 9). Scenic is taken far beyond vistas to include neon landscapes, history, and native arts and culture. Byways are designated by the US Secretary of Transportation and cover 120 National Scenic Byways plus 31 All-American Roads, located in 46 States (2016). In addition, the US Forest Service has designated 137 National Forest Scenic Byways covering nearly 9,300 miles (15,000 km) of roads in National Forests.

Forest Service Scenery Management System

The US Forest Service manages 155 national forests totaling 485,000 square miles (780,000 sq km) in area or 8% of the United States, nearly four times the area of National Parks. National Forests can comprise as much as 40% of an individual state.

In response to public concern over clearcutting in the national forests, the Forest Service (1974) developed the Visual Management System based on work by R. Burton Litton Jr. of the University of California-Berkeley and Warren Bacon of the Pacific Northwest Region of the Forest Service. The approach emphasized:

“…introducing greater variation in corridor edges and in the shape, size, and distribution of clearcuts can help to emulate patterns found in the natural landscape…current landscape management emphasizes the visual, stylized design of an ideal nature…” (Gobster, 1996).

In 1995, the VMS was replaced by the Scenery Management System. The main differences with the new guidance were a greater role for constituents throughout the process, and its integration with ecosystem management and with other biological, physical, social and cultural resources. The system continues to be applied by the Forest Service.

The Scenery Management System was defined as an overall framework for the orderly inventory, analysis, and management of scenery.  The system applies to every acre of National Forests and National Grasslands administered by the Forest Service and to all Forest Service activities including timber harvesting, road building, stream, range, and wildlife improvements, special use developments, utility line construction, recreation developments, and fuels management. Figure 10 summarizes the Scenery Management System.

Figure 10Forest Service, 1995   Figure 10 US Forest Service Scenery Management System

The components of the Scenery Management System are as follows:

  • The basic mapping unit is the ecological unit and together with the land use is used to describe the landscape character, its identifiable character. This provides the basis for describing its scenic attractiveness within a particular landscape character.
  • Three classes of scenic attractiveness are used: A – distinctive, B – typical, and C – indistinctive, and within each of the landforms, the land cover, water and cultural features reflecting varying visual perception attributes of variety, unity, vividness, intactness, coherence, mystery, uniqueness, harmony, balance, and pattern. They are described in terms of the formalist characteristics of line, form, color, texture and composition. The attractiveness classes are mapped.
  • Scenic integrity is considered in terms of the degree of intactness and visual disruption and judged from very high through to unacceptably low;
  • Landscape visibility is judged in regard to the public visibility of scenes and their sensitivity to distance;
  • The significance of aesthetics to the public is expressed as levels of concern, high, medium or low importance;
  • The sensitivity of scenes based on distance are classified as foreground (up to ½ mile), middle-ground (up to 4 miles) and background (from 4 miles to the horizon);
  • A Scenic Class rating is assigned from 1 to 7, which indicate the scenic importance of each landscape area.

The constituent information component allows for the inclusion of perception-based assessment of visual landscape quality. This provides a check of the results of the assessment.

Daniel (2001) described the Scenery Management System as a comprehensive management system, the success of which relies very substantially on the skill and judgement of the landscape architect conducting the assessment. The system is an example of the Formal Aesthetic Model which analyzes landscapes on the basis of their formal qualities. Its longevity, solid research base and the operational environment in which it is applied ensures that the system is among the most sophisticated tools for analyzing and managing landscapes.

In recent years, the Scenery Management System has aimed to integrate scenic aesthetics with ecosystem management principles as a step towards an ecological aesthetic approach (Sheppard, 2001).

Several key researchers of landscape aesthetics have worked in the Forest Service, including Ron Boster, Paul Gobster, Herbert Schroeder and Elwood Shafer. Gregory Buhyoff, another prominent researcher, is at the Forestry School in Virginia.

United states Conclusions

In contrast to Britain where a strong cultural drive from its writers, poets and artists created a love for landscape, the impetus in the United States was far more political and events driven, such as proposals to flood pristine valleys or log stands of trees or propelled by outstanding persons such as John Muir who generated love for the wilderness. It also derived from the strong outdoors culture of the nation as it evolved from being largely agricultural to being city based. By the turn of the twentieth century, the frontier had been tamed and the forests felled, and there was a growing appreciation of the outstanding aesthetic values of landscapes such as Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. While scenic beauty undoubtedly was the major initial reason for the reservation of such areas, cultural and historic components and, later, ecological and biological factors were also considered.

There has been no attempt, as in Britain, to evaluate even the landscape character of the United States, much less its landscape quality. Whereas much of the contemporary psychophysically-based research into human preferences for landscapes has been conducted in the United States, almost entirely by academics, the findings do not appear to have been used in the applied sense to the measurement and mapping of landscape quality in that country. This is probably due to the division of powers and responsibilities between the Federal and State Governments. The Forest Service’s Scenery Management System, however, based on a different approach, is exemplary.

Today, Americans still feel that the creation of their many National Parks was their Best Idea.


Much of this section is also covered in the following theme: Australian landscape studies

Early landscape attitudes

The appreciation of the Australian landscape was slow to develop. Initially settled largely with convicts from England and, later by people from various European countries, including some escaping religious persecution (e.g. Germans in Barossa Valley and Hahndorf in South Australia), the antipodean landscape was viewed with eyes used to the temperate climate and soft folds of the English or European lowlands. The survival imperative drove the exploitation until well into the twentieth century. The prevailing ethos was “if it moves, shoot it; if it doesn’t, cut it down; and if it’s lying still, dig it up!”

Although early artists in Australia have been accused of transplanting English notions of the sublime, picturesque and Romantic to the Australian landscape (e.g. Flower, 1975), McLaughlin (1999) analyzed many early paintings and engravings of the Sydney region and found that although they often included features such as Aborigines or striking trees, palms and ferns in the foreground, they were generally accurate in their portrayal of the species and even portrayed the effect of fire on trees. She noted that the arrival of two established artists, Conrad Martens in 1835 and John Skinner Prout in 1840 introduced the picturesque and the Romantic “far more strongly in Australian landscape painting.” Some early artists, including Thomas Watling and William Westall, complained about the poor aesthetic quality of the Australian landscape as a subject for painting.

Flinders 10117 PSCWilliam Westall, 1801. View from the south side of King George’s Sound

Explorers, however, had a different view. From the earliest days of Australia’s exploration and settlement, comments about the beauty of the landscape were included in the otherwise dry objective explorers’ reports (see Explorer’s landscape view). After leaving the desolate Stony Desert and nearing the River Darling, Captain Charles Sturt (1849) wrote:

“We passed through some very pretty scenery in the proximity of the lagoon where it was lightly wooded, with an abundance of grass; and I could not help reflecting with how much more buoyant and pleasurable feelings we should have explored such a country, when compared with the monotonous and sterile region we had wandered over.”

Sturt 59 Cooper's Creek CSturt, 1849                                        Charles Sturt, Coopers Creek

Ernest Giles, (1889) describing the remote country south of Lake Amadeus near Ayers Rock (Uluru), some of the most desolate in Australia:

“The country passed over between it and our encampment was exceedingly beautiful; hills being thrown up in red ridges of bare rock, with the native fig-tree growing among the rocks, festooning them into infinite groups of beauty, while the ground upon which we rode was a perfect carpet of verdure.”

Giles 203 Queen Victoria's Spring CGiles, 1889                                    Ernest Giles, Queen Victoria’s Spring

George French Angas (1847) wrote of the Mt Lofty Ranges:

“From the summits of the Bugle range, the eye wanders over crowded hills, thickly sprinkled with wood, in all the beauty and grandeur of their primeval state.”

However other writers were less enthusiastic:

“I believe the English are greatly deceived with the many flattering accounts respecting the beauty of the country and the fine salubrious air of South Australia” (Letters of Rachel Hemmings, 1854; quoted by Bird, 1989).

These few quotes, drawn from hundreds from the writings of explorers, colonists and settlers, indicate that although there were many features of the Australian landscape which were unfamiliar, and often the opposite of their experience, nevertheless, there was an appreciation of its scenic qualities. Certainly, there was a prevalence of comments of the picturesque (i.e. that which would look good in a picture) and the Romantic view, the prevailing aesthetic models of the era, couched within the underlying utilitarian concern for the potential productivity of the land.

A form of landscape that drew universal acclaim was the pastoral landscape, including James Cook’s description of the Illawarra region, “trees, quite free from underwood, appeared like plantations in a gentleman’s park,” Thomas Mitchell’s lauding of Fitzroy Downs of northern NSW: “the finest country I had ever seen in a primeval state. A Champaign region, spotted with wood…”, his Australian Felix of western Victoria with its stately trees and majestic mountains, and Ernest Giles’ description of Central Australia’s Rawlinson Ranges region: “The country down below, northwards, consisted of open, sandy, level, triodia ground, dotted with a few clumps of the desert oak, giving a most pleasing appearance to the eye.” It is hard to imagine a landscape more removed from the English pastoral scene.

Mitchell 9251 CPSMitchell, 1839                                             Thomas Mitchell, The Yarrayne

Anthony Trollope, an eminent writer from England, writing in 1873, had a counter view:

“The fault of all Australian scenery is its monotony. The eye after a while becomes fatigued with a landscape which at first charmed with its parklike aspects. One never gets out of the trees, unceasing trees …become a bore, and the traveler begins to remember with regret the open charms of some cultivated plain.”

Reinterpretation of Australia’s history has identified factors resulting in the early idealization of the landscape:

“Arcadian longings; a belief in the human task of civilizing and ordering the chaos of nature, economic necessity as well a moral responsibility; the nineteenth century’s interest in a scientific mode of observation; the need to establish a national identity differentiated from the country of origin; and romantic or neoclassical ideas and value-systems” (Bird, 1989).

Massive change to the original Australian landscape ensued, with the ringbarking (i.e. cutting through the bark around the base of the tree which ultimately killed the tree) and felling of the forest trees, drainage of swamps, pushing through of roads and railways, and the building of towns and cities. Grazing by introduced stock as well as by feral pests such as rabbits removed the shrub layer and native grasses. Under Aboriginal occupation, fire was used regularly to open the vegetation and drive out game. With European settlement, fires were controlled, allowing the vegetation to recover and thicken, but fires often devastated the land and its inhabitants.

Emergence of the Australian landscape

In the late 1880’s, a century after settlement, the Heidelberg School of painting near Melbourne, produced a distinctively Australian ‘feel’ to the landscapes. In the short space of a few years, the en plein air style of painting produced by artists such as Charles Conder, Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Walter Withers helped to transform the way in which Australians viewed their landscape.

Tom Roberts - A break away!CWikimedia Commons                              Tom Roberts, The Break away! 1891

The Sydney periodical, The Bulletin, founded in 1880, quickly established itself with a “character of outspokenness, incisiveness, and sardonic radicalism” (Heseltine, 1988). Paralleling the impact of the Heidelberg school of painting, The Bulletin published works by the growing band of Australian writers during the 1890s, including Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson. The bush ballad was a major form of writing at that time. The characteristic attitude of the period was “ardent patriotism, the equally ardent socialism, the belief in mateship, and the superiority of bush life to that of the coastal cities.”

The Australian art historian, Bernard Smith, has remarked that the idealization of rural labor was a global phenomenon of the late nineteenth century and although by then most Australians lived in the cities, they identified themselves “with the life and attitudes of the Australian rural worker.” The “frontier exercised an enormous influence upon the imagination of all Australians” (Smith, 1971).

the pioneer McCubbinWikimedia Commons                 Frederick McCubbin, The Pioneer, 1904

Through art and the written word, the landscape and bush thus became an Australian icon, representing the best or the ideal, cloaked by the rose-tinted glasses of patriotism. That this re-conception of Australia was largely accomplished in the decade 1885 – 1895, is remarkable.

This change in attitude is reflected in the statement by Sir John Longstaff, an eminent Australian portrait artist, who after living in England for some years said:

“Am I glad to be home again? I cannot tell you how glad. The Australian landscape has always seemed to me the most beautiful in the world as well as the most mysterious. When I first saw the brown, hot earth from the ship’s deck at Fremantle I cannot tell you the emotion it gave me – after all that confounded sappy English Green” (Smith, 1971).

Gippsland,_Sunday_night,_February_20th,_1898CPSSir John Longstaff, Gippsland, Sunday night, February 20th, 1898 (approaching bushfire)

With the beginning of the twentieth century, together with Federation of the nation in 1901, a new confidence became apparent. The national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, speaks of Australia’s landscapes: “Our land abounds in nature’s gifts, of beauty rich and rare.” The anthem was composed in 1878, was sung at the inauguration of Federation in 1901, and finally formally adopted in 1984.

National Parks

As in England and the United States, Australia initially established national parks to protect outstanding scenery and to provide areas for public enjoyment, with protection of flora and fauna a more recent motivation. The world’s second national park, Royal National Park, was established in Sydney in 1879, seven years after the first at Yellowstone in the United States. Unlike the English model, there are no nationally designated areas of outstanding beauty. However, many State and local government planning strategies provide for assessment of proposed developments that might degrade or impair the landscape (e.g. Haynes, 1975, O’Neil, 1975).

Australia’s total protected area as contained in the National Reserve System (National and State reserves) conserving landscapes and biodiversity number 13,389 areas covering 1,518,815 sq km (586,417 sq miles) or 19.5% of the Australian land mass (2020). Of this, National Parks at Commonwealth and State levels total 730 areas of 666,935 sq km (257,505 sq miles) or 4.6% of Australia. In addition, the system includes 76 large Indigenous Protected Areas which total 550,288 sq km (212,500 sq miles) (8.7% of Australia). There are also 316 marine protected areas total 3,276,764 sq km (1,265,165 sq miles), over twice the size of the terrestrial area. Figure 11 shows both the terrestrial and the marine protected areas.

Green areas are terrestrial protected areas, blue areas marine protected areas.
Figure 11 Australia’s National Reserve System 2020

Post World War II

In his book, The Face of Australia, Charles Laseron (1953) described the geological development of the landscape, noting that as ancient land, it was not spectacular and its scenic beauty was “expressive of a great age.” The final chapter of his book is titled Scenery – A National Heritage and proposed that “Australians are becoming more scenically conscious” and the need is to “preserve for future generations this heritage of beauty and scientific interest”. Based on love of the country,

“let us consider this natural wonderland of Australian (sic) as a sacred heritage, something to be preserved unsullied and intact for the benefit of generations to come.”

Laseron’s book was in the English tradition of using geology to explain scenery. David Corbett’s Geology and Scenery of South Australia (1987) is another example.

The post WW2 period saw the emergence of many strands of environmental concern. Concern about the built heritage led to the establishment of the National Trust in all States: New South Wales 1945, South Australia 1955, Victoria 1956, Western Australia 1959, Tasmania 1960, Queensland 1963. Concern about litter as a form of visual pollution resulted in the Keep Australia Beautiful organization to promote litter control. The Australian Conservation Foundation was established in 1966.

As in America, writers reacted against ugliness in Australia. Robin Boyd’s polemic, The Australian Ugliness (1960) commenced with the words: “The ugliness I mean is skin deep” (in contrast to the deep foundations of beauty in the human psyche) and went on to describe in biting detail the featurism and aesthetic depravity of Australia’s built environment. Commenting on its native trees, Boyd wrote:

“Modern Australians have no especially psychopathic fear of the gum or the wattle, but no two trees could have been designed to be less sympathetic to the qualities of tidiness and conformist indecision which are desired in the artificial background. The Australian bush was made in one of nature’s more relaxed, even casual, moods.”

He was particularly scathing of:

“scenic lookouts and beauty spots (which) are provided with desperately picturesque accoutrements of rustic stone and wood, and two brightly colored concrete boxes which may be found, on close examination, to be marked with top-hat and powder puff respectively.”

Robin Boyd the-australian-ugliness Cpanfilocastaldi.wordpress.com          Robin Boyd, The Australian Ugliness, 1960

Nevertheless, there developed a distinctive love for the Australian landscape, evident in the popularity of tourism and recreation to experience it however remotely. There is an abundance of beautifully illustrated books, calendars, DVDs and films of the landscape, the extensive use of the landscape as iconic symbols in advertising. Many conflicts have occurred when forestry, mining, highways and other forms of ‘desecration’ of the landscape have been proposed.Whitsundaysapp8.saymails.com               Advertisement using the Australian landscape

Landscape quality assessment

Until the 1970s, there had been no attempt to analyze the Australian landscape in an aesthetic or visual quality sense. Between 1972 and 1976, the National Trust in Victoria completed a list of 23 Classified and 26 Recorded landscapes. Concurrently, in 1975, the Australian Council of National Trusts decided that its State branches should undertake landscape classification on a standard basis. Led by the South Australian branch, three studies of landscapes were carried out between 1976 and 1982 (Kane, 1976; Dare, 1978; Revell, 1982). Despite, however, an immense amount of effort, largely by volunteers, to develop a method, the leader of the program, Maud McBriar, said, “…the ideal still eludes us” (Revell, 1982).

Regardless of the lack of a satisfactory method, in the late 1970s, State branches of the National Trust nominated aesthetic areas for the Register of the National Estate, a Government-sponsored national program. The Australian Heritage Commission decided to defer the registration of such areas pending the determination of a methodology for classifying landscape quality.

In 1979, the Commission engaged Professor Julius Gy Fabos from the United States to review the state of the art of landscape assessment, to examine the studies undertaken and to provide directions for future landscape assessment. Fabos worked with Anne McGregor of the University of Melbourne. They reviewed 24 Australian reports and 16 from overseas. Their report was critical of the National Trust nominations:

“All nominations by the National Trust we reviewed have apparently been assessed on an incremental basis, site by site, without analysis of those values in relation to significant landscapes of the same kind within Australia, or without any cross-comparison of different categories of places and of individual sites within those categories on a national basis. The data base for these assessments was usually poor.”

Of 24 Australian studies, only four attempted to develop or include a valuation procedure. Four studies bypassed valuation altogether. Many “scenery assessments attempted to support subjective judgement by referring to some sort of ecological principle(s).”

“Only half the Australian studies provided sufficient methodological information to enable the study to be replicated by others. Only one-third of the Australian studies adequately covered all significant factors or parameters. Most studies had low predictive capability.”

Over the ensuing decades, 85 landscape studies have been carried out in Australia, mainly in Victoria (30), NSW (20) and South Australia (16). These are summarized in: Australian studies matrix. The studies were for the following purposes:

  • Nomination of World Heritage Areas and Australian Heritage Lists;
  • Forestry Visual Management System (Victoria and Tasmania);
  • Regional Forest Agreement process in the 1990s;
  • Environmental management of the area;
  • Academic research.

Nearly half the studies were for environmental management purposes, a further 24% were academic research and 12% for forestry VMS. Of the studies, 55% were physical descriptions, 27% were preference based, and 13% were experiential.

The author has carried out a series of projects in South Australia to measure and map landscape quality covering:

  • South Australia as a whole (2000)
  • Amenity value of scattered trees (2004)
  • Coast of South Australia (2005)
  • Barossa and Light District (2005)
  • River Murray, Lakes and Coorong (2006)
  • Flinders Ranges (2009)
  • SA Generic Landscapes (2012)
  • Mt Lofty Ranges (2015)

The Community Preferences Method used in these studies is described here. To date, no other State has conducted such studies using community preferences.

National landscape

In 2003, the Australian Heritage Commission initiated the Inspirational Landscapes project to understand the qualities of outstanding natural landscapes that have inspired Australians, and thereby better assess their heritage value. Initially, 29 potential areas were identified, ranging in size from a small bay and a Botanic Garden to the vastness of Antarctica, the Murray Darling Basin, and the Simpson Desert.

Indicators for Inspirational Landscapes were that they:

  • Generate a powerful emotional response;
  • Contain significant cultural stories (histories);
  • Are uncommon or unusual;
  • Define images and creative expressions;
  • Inspire action;
  • Inspire contemplation, spiritual reflection or refreshment;
  • Inspire significant or defining national cultural practices;
  • Are sacred.

The indicators are being applied to guide the selection and assessment of inspirational landscapes. The project is the first national project to identify significant landscapes suitable for listing nationally. However, the criteria of Inspirational Landscapes lie outside the mainstream of features covered in landscape quality literature. The choice of the Inspirational Landscapes concept is somewhat curious and may prove to be rather narrow in terms of aesthetic response to landscapes. Alternatives could include: outstanding, symbolic, intrinsic, evocative, or simply high-quality landscapes.

The Australian Heritage Commission has avoided the quantitative survey approach to visual aesthetics, preferring the experiential approach and a rather ad hoc identification of significant areas.

In 2006, in a left-field initiative, Tourism Australia and Parks Australia partnered to designate superlative landscapes which provide distinctively Australian natural and cultural experiences as National Landscapes (Figure 12). The areas transcend State and regional boundaries and are major attractions for domestic and international visitors. The areas have or are proposed to have sustainable management arrangements, may provide iconic imagery and a capacity to cater for visitors without detrimental impact. The identification of areas appears to reflect the influence of the tourist industry to spread visitors as much as possible across Australia with sites in every State and Territory.

Australian National Landscapesenvironment.gov.au/topics/national-parks/national-landscapes
Figure 12 Australian National Landscapes

Under the World Heritage Convention, Criterion 7 covering scenic areas was applied to eight of the ten natural sites in Australia accepted for World Heritage designation. Their scenic qualities are described in their nominations as follows:

  • Fraser Island: Exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  • Great Barrier Reef: Provides some of the most spectacular scenery on earth and is of exceptional natural beauty;
  • Kakadu: Features of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
  • Purnululu (Bungle Bungles): Exceptional natural beauty;
  • Shark Bay: Features of exceptional natural beauty;
  • Tasmanian wilderness: Exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance and contains superlative natural phenomena;
  • Uluru – Kata Tjuta: A landscape of exceptional natural beauty and scenic grandeur;
  • Wet Tropics: Outstanding features of natural beauty and magnificent sweeping landscapes.

The use of superlative adjectives appears to be pre-requisite for World Heritage nominations! Oddly, the two sites which did not include Criterion 7 were the Blue Mountains, probably Australia’s pre-eminent scenic landscape, and the forests of northern New South Wales, also an area of high aesthetic significance. Although the nominations refer to exceptional natural beauty, no survey of Australian landscapes at a national level has been carried out to substantiate these claims.

Australia – Conclusions

Although vastly different in character from temperate English landscapes, many early explorers and writers appreciated the beauty of the Australian landscapes, particularly the pastoral-type landscapes. It took a century following settlement, however, before a distinctly Australian image of the landscape developed with the artists of the Heidelberg school and the bush balladeers.

Australia was quick to establish national parks and large areas of the country are now protected. In the 1970s, the National Trust led efforts to identify aesthetically outstanding landscapes, and although they failed to produce a workable method, many surveys of landscape ensued over the past three or four decades, the majority serving environmental management purposes. National efforts, however, have been spasmodic and poorly conceived. There has been no national assessment of outstanding landscapes, and such areas have not been included in the Register of the National Estate. This has not prevented the Commonwealth Government in nominating eight World Heritage Areas based on their “exceptional natural beauty.”


World Heritage

world heritageThe World Heritage Convention was adopted in 1972 and provided for the conservation of cultural and natural sites. Natural heritage included: “natural sites or precisely delineated natural areas of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty (emphasis added).

The selection criteria for sites under the Convention includes Criterion 7: to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance (emphasis added).

WC Prot AreasThe International Union for the Conservation of Nature has a long-established Protected Areas Program under the World Commission on Protected Areas. Six categories of protected areas are defined including national parks, wilderness areas, and natural monuments (IUCN, 2000).

Category 5 covers Protected Landscapes/Seascapes which are: “a protected area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant, ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value” (emphasis added).

Category 5 has particular application in Europe and protected its traditionally developed cultural landscapes.


Euro ls convThe European Landscape Convention (or Florence Convention), the first international convention applying to landscape, was adopted in 2000 and entered into force in 2004. The Convention covers all landscapes – natural through to urban, land as well as water, including marine, and degraded landscapes through to high quality land-scapes. It aims to protect, manage and plan landscapes as well as educate about them. It is hoped to make the landscape a mainstream political issue by putting it on the agenda of governments, planning authorities and the community.

While European landscapes have been agricultural for centuries, the intensification of food and fiber production, producing more on less land through the use of fertilizers, pesticides, machinery and fossil fuels is resulting in greater landscape and ecological impacts (Mander, Palang & Ihse, 2004). Added to this the re-structuring of agriculture in the EU and the radical socio-economic changes in eastern and central Europe have additional impacts on the landscape (Mander & Jongman, 1998).

The European Landscape Convention was initiated by the Council of Europe in 1994. Out of 47 possible signatory countries, 38 nations have ratified the Convention (2016), two have signed but not ratified, and seven have taken no action, including Austria, Germany and Russia. Denmark has excluded Greenland from the Convention.

The Convention is seen to play an important role in the well-being of Europeans, empowering them to have a say in the protection and management of their landscapes. Being trans-European, it is intended to safeguard landscapes across borders. The emphasis is on landscape management rather than control.

The preamble to the Convention speaks of landscape having an important role in social, cultural, environmental as well as economic fields, helping to create local cultures and a European identity. It contributes to the quality of life of individuals, whether comprising landscapes of outstanding beauty or everyday areas. European landscapes are regarded as a common resource requiring all to co-operate in their protection and management.

The definition of landscape in the Convention is “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors.” Although this ignores its quality, it does recognize its subjectivity and the changing nature of landscapes over time, and it unifies natural and cultural elements.

The objective for landscape quality involves “formulation of the aspirations” of the community regarding their landscapes and involves public authorities.

Nations that adopt the Convention are required to:

“to recognize landscapes in law as an essential component of people’s surroundings, an expression of the diversity of their shared cultural and natural heritage, and a foundation of their identity.”

Signatories are required to address landscape protection, management and planning, involve the public, and integrate landscape into planning policies as well as all relevant areas of public policy. Nations are to identify and assess their landscapes, analyze their characteristics and the pressures for change (Déjeant-Pons, 2006).

Commencing in 2009, a Landscape Award is conferred every two years to authorities or NGOs who have taken steps to protect, manage or plan landscapes which are of lasting worth and provide models for others.

The European Network of Regional and Local Authorities for the implementation of the European Landscape Convention (RECEP-ENELC) was established in 2006 to provide scientific, technical and political support to its members (recep-enelc.net/). The members are mainly from Spain and Italy.

Specifically, what has been achieved under the auspices of the Convention is difficult to assess. The websites are full of meetings, workshops, seminars and conferences among those involved but what all of these have achieved is somewhat hidden.

According to one writer, the Convention demands:

“from all governments that attention be given to the whole European landscape, urban and rural, terrestrial and marine, protected or degraded. This is a mighty ambition, allowing, quite properly, plenty of room for divergent interpretations” (Howard, 2004).

A legal expert stated optimistically:

“The Convention thus acts as a catalyst whereby these countries will be stimulated to rethink – through a process of coming together, gathering and meeting between differing interest groups, administrators and experts – what it is that is meant by landscape in their res publica (i.e. that which is known by and concerns everyone), and how this landscape can provide an overarching framework for both cultural and scientific policy. It is thus the practice of implementing the Convention that is important, not the letter of the Convention understood as if it were statutory law” (Olwig, 2007).


This theme has traced how a national interest in landscape beauty has developed in several countries, Britain, United States and Australia and what each country has done to manage, protect and enhance it. 

National interest was initially strongest in Britain, and it has taken more steps at a national level to recognize and protect scenic quality than the other countries. Their approach has been pragmatic and effective, through the dedication of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, though in recent decades, they have focused on the classification of landscape character and have steadfastly avoided addressing landscape quality. Given their long history of writing, painting and extolling the beauty of their island nation, their failure to measure and map it is an opportunity waiting.

By contrast, the United States, through their academics, knows more about how to measure landscape quality than any other nation (see Methods, and Findings of landscape quality research), but has failed to apply this knowledge at either a national or state level. Given their outstanding National Parks together with their recognition of Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic Byways and the Forest Service’s Scenery Management System, it is high time that the country comprehensively tackled its national landscape quality.

Australia has been a late comer in the landscape stakes, delaying recognition of its indigenous landscape until a century after settlement, but in more recent years failing at the national level to lead in its evaluation and protection.



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