Land use

We have all been delighted by beautiful landscapes of the wine producing regions of the world, by sheaves of straw bundled across fields of cereals, by the open pastoral landscapes of large trees and pasture. These agricultural landscapes have an aesthetic appeal which, though lacking naturalness are among the most loved of artificial landscapes. They are also dynamic landscapes, changing color and crops with the seasons and with changing agricultural uses over longer periods of time.

Studies of land use by Dr Andrew Lothian

The author has examined the influence of land uses, particularly agricultural uses, on landscape preferences through several studies. His PhD thesis (Lothian, 2000) included an examination of the ratings of agricultural land uses and found that, on a 1 -10 scale they rated relatively low, 4.97, compared with 6.55 for scenes of natural landscapes. In hilly country, scenes of mixed agricultural uses (market gardens, orchards) averaged 5.67. Scenes of hills and pastures with clumps of trees rated slightly lower at 5.41. Among agricultural land uses, crops rated 4.28, pastures 5.38, mixed 5.67. Among cropping scenes, tall crops rated 5.4% higher than low crops (tall 4.49, low 4.26) suggesting a positive influence of apparent rural abundance. Growing crops are green in color but as they mature, they turn straw-yellow. The ratings of the green were 1.6% higher than the yellow crops (green 4.50, yellow 4.43). Vines in leaf were 7.7% higher than bare vines (leaf 5.06, bare 4.70). In hilly scenes, green pastures rated 5.9% higher than straw- colored pastures (green 5.72, straw 5.28). On average, green rated 5.5% higher than yellow among crops, vines and pastures.

In the Barossa Valley (Lothian, 2005a), a famous region of vines, crops and pastures backed by a range of hills, the overall mean rating was 5.30 with most scenes across the region in the 4.5 – 6.5 bracket, a range of only two units. Crops rated 4.98, vines 5.33 and pastoral land 5.73. The ratings were comparable with the earlier study.

Scoring the abundance of vines and trees in each scene produced an inverse relationship, the higher the score of vines the lower the score of trees and vice versa (Figure 1). The reason for this is that the vineyards are generally bare of trees but are often bordered by trees.  Figure 2 shows that with more vines, the rating of the scene actually falls. This is because the more vines there are, the fewer the trees, and it is the trees, not the vines, which generate scenic quality. This is a surprising finding but was found to reflect the reality of the region where industrial-scale vineyards had removed all trees.

Figs1 & 2
Lothian, 2005b


In 2013a, the author carried out a survey of South Australian agricultural landscapes with the aim of obtaining generic preferences. Table 1 and Figure 3 indicate the results for hilly terrain. The advantage of these is that they provide an indication of the likely rating of agricultural scenes based simply on the land forms and land cover. Because they have been derived from community preferences, they have validity not available in figures provided by expert assessments.

Fig 3
Lothian, 2013a                   Figure 3 Hills and trees ratings

In the survey of the Lake District in England (Lothian, 2013b), preferences were assessed for the various landscapes of this much-loved region, which attracts around 20 million visitors annually. Although it is a National Park, in England they are working landscapes containing farms, villages and towns, even mines, quarries, forests and industries. Table 1 shows the mean ratings for various landscapes in the Lake District, including land uses such as quarries and pine plantations. Agriculture occurs on the low fells, in valleys with and without lakes, and on the plains.

Table 1 Lake District ratings

Table 1                   Lothian, 2013b

LakelandThe survey included scenes with and without certain features. One set of two scenes was with and without sheep and interestingly the scenes with the sheep rated higher: on average, the scene with sheep rated 5.34, without sheep 4.83, a 10% difference

In the study of the Mt Lofty Ranges (Lothian, 2015), flat or undulating grazing land rated 5 and for steeper land rated 6. Average land cover, such as scattered trees on grazing land rated 5 rising to 6 for denser land cover. Flat cropping land rated 4. Land used for market gardens rated 5. Plantations of pines or native trees rated 4. Vines rated 5, similar to the Barossa Valley, and vineyards on fairly steep undulating land rated 6. Orchards rated 5. Brown summer pastures rate 0.9 below that of the green winter pastures, while the rating of green vines in summer or golden-yellow vines in autumn is almost identical.

Other studies of land use

Table 2 summarizes 17 studies of agricultural land uses in chronological order. A feature is the large number of countries in which such studies have been carried out.

Table 2 Studies of preferences for agricultural land uses (chronological order)

Table 2

Several of these studies are examined below in more detail.

Following an assessment of scenes of the area between Milan and the Ticino River, Italy, Angileri & Toccolini (1993) classified the landscape into five categories (Table 4) and produced a map showing that much of the area is of high visual quality. Although the land is largely used for cereal growing, the presence of canals, springs with accompanying trees, and lines of poplars and willows “help to interrupt the monotony of the single-crop landscape, enriching it with the contrast these make against the profile of the flat land.”

Table 4 Classification of Ticino Valley, Italy

Ticino ValleyAngileri & Toccolini, 1993

In a similar area, the Veneto Plain inland from Venice is an historically important agricultural landscape with nearly 4,000 old Venetian villas plus churches and many traditional farmhouses amidst meadows, vineyards and mulberry vines. Tiziano Tempesta (2010) found that among children, students and adults, landscapes with villas or farmhouses were the highest rated (providing they were well maintained). While children and adults appreciated scenes which included a church, churches had the opposite effect on university students. The study found that modern buildings and extensive vineyards reduced the landscape quality while hedgerows, woods and meadows enhanced it.

In western Norway, Einar Strumse (1994) found a strong preference for traditional agrarian landscapes rather than their modern counterparts (Figure 4). He noted that the Old Structures category seemed to reflect human influence in harmony with nature, leading him to suggest design guidelines for modern agrarian practices based, for example, on a balance between human influence and nature, and diversity of elements and species.

Figure 4 Ratings of perceptual categories of agrarian landscapes, Western Norway

Fig 4Strumse, 1994

In her study of the aesthetic perceptions of people in the US mid-west, Joan Nassauer (1989) found that the terms used by people to describe what made landscapes attractive were scenic quality, neatness, and stewardship (Table 3)

Table 3 Thematic descriptors and aesthetic terms used by Minnesota participants

Table 3Nassauer, 1989.

Nassauer et al, (2002) provided alternative future landscape scenarios for the year 2025, and their implications for agricultural policy.

In a study of Dutch landscapes, J.F. Coeterier (1996) found there were eight common attributes:

  • Unity of parts;
  • Use, which determines the landscape character;
  • Physical or abiotic component, particularly the soils and degree of wetness;
  • Biotic element or naturalness;
  • Development of the landscape in time – linearly (historical) and cyclically (seasonal);
  • The spatial organization of the landscape – spaciousness;
  • The way the land is managed;
  • Sensory elements: colors, sounds, smells, tastes, humidity, temperature, wind, light and shadow.

Coeterier admits that the eight attributes do indeed represent highly complex and overlapping fields of meaning. In each landscape, unity and use were noted first. He asserts that they determine the shape and form of the other attributes. However, for the other attributes, there is no fixed order valid for each landscape. Their significance depends on the type of landscape.

Welsh landscapeCA Welsh landscape

In his landscape study in Wales, Alister Scott (2002) found through household questionnaires and focus groups a strong predilection towards agriculture, both in terms of landscape aesthetics and in terms of its economic function in the landscape to produce food. He also found a real antipathy towards new or alien developments. He detected a significant dislike of conifers being planted, in particular, their straight-line geometry and darkness of conifers which were out of place in the farming landscape.

Marcel Hunziker et al, (2008) examined the responses of different groups – locals, tourists and the public to change in the Swiss landscape. They found that where the change maintained a function that it was regarded more positively than if the function was lost. While maintaining the status quo, intensification of land uses, or restoring traditional uses were regarded similarly by all three groups, but reafforestation proposals were rated much lower by the locals than by the wider Swiss public.

Sarner SeeCSarner See, near Lucerne, Switzerland

From their study of Swiss alpine landscapes, Petra Lindemann-Matthies et al, (2010) concluded that left to market forces, low-intensity, species-rich meadows would be lost and replaced with intensification and less diversification of farming with greater cropping; both effects would be at the cost of the aesthetic landscape. Ecological Compensation Areas (ECAs) enhance landscape quality as species-richness increases visual and ecological diversity.

In a survey of farmers in Scotland and Germany, Rob J.F. Burton (2012) examined the aesthetics of their farming practices and found the farmers were very conscious of the appearance of their practices in the community – the “tidy farm” including plowing in straight and parallel lines rather than wobbly, of even depth for best seed growth, and plowing in all the straw so that none marred the appearance of the field. Mistakes were evident through the rest of the year and caused the farmers much distress. Farmers could read how well their neighboring farmers operated their seeding equipment: setting the correct seed dispersal rate, setting the correct drill depth, sowing the seed evenly over the field, or being alert to problems of clogging in the seed dispersers. All leave characteristic signs on the landscape. A dense crop indicated the farmer knew his land and his business, conversely patches of bare ground indicated a lack of skill and knowledge. Color patches in the crop could indicate lack of nutrients and lack of farming skill.

Mid NorthCPlowing in straight lines, a cereal field in South Australia

Burton concluded: For farmers, landscapes do not simply reflect established or historical aesthetic preferences. Rather, as landscapes play an important role in transferring flows of cultural and social capital between individuals and generations, the cultural meaning of being a farmer is heavily embedded in the landscape itself.

The contrast of neat and tidy traditional farming with the messiness of contemporary organic farming in New Zealand was highlighted in a paper by Shelley Egoz et al (2001) entitled Tastes in tension: form, function and meaning. Organic farms are not tidy and cultivated, though they are environmentally friendly. While some regard the organic farms as being indicative of laziness and neglect, others view them as responsible and environmentally healthy. 

In the Galilee region of Israel, Orly Rechtman (2013) found a varied contribution of visual characteristics of cultivated farmland (Figure 5). Texture in the land and crops enhances visual quality and overall, combined fine and coarse textures are best. Regular shape and large fields are preferred over irregular shape and small/medium fields.

Fig 5Rechtman, 2013.   Figure 5 Rating of visual characteristics of cultivated farmland in Israel

Mt HermonCNorthern Hula Valley, Israel and Mt Hermon

Land use summary

Most of the studies were of agricultural land uses but where urban, industrial or commercial uses were involved, they invariably rated considerably lower than natural or agricultural land uses. Angileri & Toccolini (1993) found in an Italian flat landscape, that urban fringe landscapes of mixed urban, industrial and commercial uses, with a few agricultural plots, rated a “poor” landscape but its quality improved with the presence of fields of crops, copses of woods, rows of poplars and the presence of old traditional buildings. Further east on the Veneto Plain, Tempesta (2010) found a strong preference for the many old Venetian villas amidst meadows, vineyards, hedgerows and woods. Arriaza et al, (2004) in Spain and Strumse (1994) in Norway made similar findings where “old structures” rated highly and are seen to reflect a balance between human influence and nature.

Several studies identified the importance of neat, tidy appearance of farmland, which is regarded as a surrogate of good farm management. Nassauer (1989) found that neatness together with good stewardship were identified as features that made landscapes attractive. Similarly, Burton (2012) found that farmers in Scotland and Germany prided themselves in the care they took in plowing in straight and parallel lines, plowing in straw, planting at even depth, guarding against bare patches, and aiming for even colored crops; all indicators of sound farming practices and a “tidy farm” mentality. Combinations of crop and land textures, regular field shapes and large fields were found to be preferred in a study of Israeli farmland by Rechtman (2013). However, organic farms, which aim to be ecologically responsible, tend to appear messy,  (Egoz et al, 2001).

Several studies identified the negative effects that new developments have on agricultural landscapes. In Wales, Scott (2012) and in Switzerland, Hunziker et al, (2008) found that changes that maintained the status quo were acceptable but new developments such as urban sprawl or conifer plantations were regarded negatively. In Switzerland, Lindemann-Matthies et al, (2010) conclude that left to market forces, the attractive species-rich meadows would be lost and replaced by less attractive intensive monocultures.

Many studies have found that trees – individual, scattered and in copses – and hedgerows amidst farmland enhances the landscape (Lothian, 2000, 2005, 2013; Cook & Cable, 1995; Pérez, 2002; Lindemann-Matthies et al, 2010; Arnberger & Eder, 2011; Sherren et al, 2011).