Summary of findings


Attractive landscapes provide pleasure and benefit to people and the aim of this theme has been to examine why some landscapes appeal and others do not. It has examined the contribution on landscape preferences of land use, land cover and land form, the presence of water, the qualities of naturalness and diversity, the contribution of color and sound and several other influences.

The following summarizes the main findings.

Land use

  • Natural and agricultural land uses invariably are preferred to urban, industrial or commercial uses;
  • Old ‘heritage’ buildings and structures can enhance the landscape;
  • Traditional farmers tend to prefer neat, tidy farms, which suggests good farm management while organic farmers care more for ecological responsibility and less for appearance;
  • The appearance of monocultures is less preferred than species-rich diverse meadows;
  • New developments can have a negative effect on the landscape;
  • Trees and hedgerows in farms enhance the landscape.

Land form

  • Landscape preferences increase with the height, steepness, rockiness and scale of land forms.

Land cover

  • The presence of trees enhances landscape quality;
  • Neither too many or too few trees are optimal, the best is a moderate density with partial enclosure, not full enclosure;
  • Forests are similarly preferred if not too dense but with openings;
  • Conifers may be viewed negatively in countries where they have been introduced but are viewed positively where they are indigenous;
  • Broad-leaved deciduous trees are preferred over conifers;
  • Trees convey significant physiological and psychological benefits;
  • Forests with slashed, downed trees, thinning and especially clearfelling are very disliked.


  • Water has a profound and positive effect on landscape preferences, probably the greatest of all attributes;
  • Its contribution to landscape quality is enhanced by its visual significance, length of edge and area, reflections, waves, cleanliness, naturalness and color;
  • Pollution, water color, litter and debris all detract from its positive influence.


  • While the natural appearance of coast and sea, rivers and lakes, mountains and hills, trees and forest enhance landscape quality, deserts, swamps and scrubland tend to diminish it;
  • The presence of humans either directly or through their actions and developments such as clear felling, grazing, pollution of water, dams and structures all reduce naturalness and landscape quality;
  • What is natural can be illusory, for example, pastoral landscapes of trees on grazed land, and parklands;
  • Perceived naturalness and ecological naturalness have parallels but are not identical.

Visual diversity

  • Along with naturalness, diversity (or variety or complexity) in the landscape positively enhance landscape quality;
  • Contributing attributes include land form, land cover, water and color.


  • Colors can enhance landscape quality, and the particular hues may reflect cultural mores and local environments.

Cloud cover

  • Heavy cloud cover reduces landscape quality, particularly of natural and rural areas;
  • A few clouds can enhance landscape quality.


  • Natural sounds, especially water, enhance landscape quality but loud aircraft and traffic noises diminish it.


  • Limited studies indicate that the presence of wildlife has a minor but positive effect on landscape quality.