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76. January-March 2023
Quarterly Bulletin of the Landscape Observatory of Catalonia

The importance of social indicators in landscape monitoring

Gilles Rudaz
Policy advisor of Swiss Federal Office for the Environment. Biodiversity and Landscape Division. Landscape Policy Section

Landscape monitoring is a useful tool for policy makers, as it provides information on the state of the landscape and its evolution. Such a task could be based on Article 6c of the Council of Europe Landscape Convention (ELC), which states that “each Party undertakes to analyse the characteristics [of their landscapes] and the forces and pressures transforming them" and "to take note of changes".

Landscape monitoring usually reports on land cover dynamics. While these indicators are essential, they only provide a partial picture of landscape issues. Indeed, in accordance with the ELC definition of landscape, which points out that landscape is not only materiality but also perceptions, any landscape monitoring must be based on physical properties as well as the perceived and interpreted landscape. Thus, in parallel to the production of indicators that capture the physical evolution of the landscape, it is also important to produce indicators that capture the perceptions of the landscape (Kienast et al. 2019).

Switzerland has an ambitious national landscape monitoring program "LABES" that mobilizes both types of indicators. This program is the result of a successful collaboration between an administration (Federal Office for the Environment FOEN) and a research institute (Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL), which provides the expertise.

The social indicators are collected through representative surveys. Two national surveys have been conducted: one in 2011 and one in 2020. The questions asked to the population are about the perceived quality of the landscape in their municipalities of residence. This choice echoes the notion of "everyday landscape" stated in the ELC. Based on solid theoretical foundations (Kienast et al. 2015), the indicators shed light on several aspects of perceptions, such as beauty, distinctiveness, fascination, authenticity or place attachment. Other indicators capture the use of the landscape, for e.g. recreation. The 2020 survey also introduced new indicators on how people perceive changes in the landscape.

Results show big differences in both physical aspects and perceptions between urban, suburban, and rural areas. Despite the continued – though slowed down - deterioration of many physical landscape aspects such as landscape fragmentation or urban sprawl, the 2011 and 2020 surveys each show that a large majority of people living in Switzerland consider the landscape of their municipalities of residence “rather beautiful” to “very beautiful”. The landscapes of rural municipalities are the most appreciated in both surveys.

One of the major challenges that the LABES Program is trying to address is the link between physical and social indicators. To this end an integrated model (Wartmann et al. 2021) examines the influence of demographic, perceptual and physical variables on landscape quality. First results of this ambitious endeavor show that landscape quality is indeed influenced by physical characteristics such as settlement type or type of land cover, but equally if not even stronger by person-related individual characteristics such as tradition or mental well-being.

The next LABES report will be published in early 2023

Further readings

Kienast, F.; Wartmann, F.; Zaugg, A.; Hunziker, M. (2019). A review of integrated approaches for landscape monitoring. Report, Council of Europe.

Kienast, F.; Frick, J.; van Strien, M. J.; Hunziker, M. (2015). “The Swiss Landscape Monitoring Program–A comprehensive indicator set to measure landscape change”, Ecological modelling, n. 295, p. 136-150

Wartmann, F.M.; Stride, C.B.; Kienast, F.; Hunziker, M. (2021). “Relating landscape ecological metrics with public survey data on perceived landscape quality and place attachment”, Landscape Ecology, n. 36, p. 2367-2393. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-021-01290-y

Websites of the Programme



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