Landscape scenic quality assessment techniques

Is the north east of England desloate?

Tory peer Lord Howell annoyed the north of England today with his comment on where fracking should take place. He does not want it near his home, in the south of England but believes that England has “large and uninhabited and desolate areas. Certainly in part of the North East where there’s plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody’s residence where we could conduct without any kind of threat to the rural environment.” People with “residences” in the NE were offended and he had to apologise. But he could have made a sensible point: ‘If fracking is to take place in the UK it should start in areas of low scenic quality and low population density’. Who could argue with him? But it would then be necessary to find out which areas ARE of low scenic quality and, I am sorry to say, the UK landscape architecture profession appears to be ducking this question.
(Image courtesy Bods)

4 thoughts on “Landscape scenic quality assessment techniques

  1. Christine

    Oh, so you are now having to deal with the issue of fracking in the UK too? There is a large environmental movement supported by the farming community to ‘close the gate’. In this instance they are attempting to protect land of high agricultural value. Perhaps there are a range of landscape values that need consideration beyond scenic quality and population density?

    For instance, in the landscape above, there are also issues of high heritage and historic value with the location of Hadrians Wall.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Yes re fracking in the UK – and yes re the wide range of landscape values which need to be assessed. But the focus in the UK, because there are published guidelines, is on Landscape Character Assessment: Guidance for England and Scotland, The Countryside Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage, 2002. It is good that this is done but there be assessments of impacts on all aspects of the landscape – including scenic quality and agricultural quality.
      It would not be surprising if the worldwide interest in fracking led to a sharp decline in energy prices and, in that case, UK fracking projects could come in as the lower end of financial viability. The US is doing well out of fracking at present because they have a lead in the technology – as they did for oil in the first half of the twentieth century.

  2. Christine

    I am pleased that in the first instance the guidelines take a place based approach to the landscape.

    One of the best and most memorable lectures attended as a student was a public lecture given by a american landscape architecture firm. They had zoned the entire US according to eco-systems and their capacity and suitability for different types of development uses.

    It could be assumed that what exists and what might be ideal from an ecological perspective might differ. And it would be interesting to know to what degree the current use of all land differed from its most ecologically ideal development or conservation use.

    It would seem that this type of basic mapping could be foundational to any assessment of appropriate landuse.

    It might make it possible to slowly move to more appropriate forms of development over time where there is a large difference between the existing and the ideal situation. Also it would give a better and more consistent reference point for practitioners when making project by project assessments when undertaking a visual character assessment of landscape.

    This would help in achieving an optimal balance when weighing up the social, economic and environmental costs of development decisions.

    The capacity of a site to be remediated and the likely adverse impacts on human and animal populations are also strong influencing factors.

    The blue mountains world heritage area would be an interesting case study for an environmental scientist interested in this issue. Historically it has been mined for coal. The site of the old mine is now used as a tourism venture.
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    I am going to have a closer read of the guidelines and hope to comment further!

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      There is a fundamental distinction between landscape description (using factual data) and landscape assessment and evaluation (using evaluative data). One might think that values can be derived from facts this can be the case. For scenic quality it is likely that a beach with warm blue unpolluted water and palm trees will have a high value – and that a muddy shore with industry and pollution will have a low value. One might expect a low score for South Manhattan – but the views from the Staten Island Ferry have been valued for a long time. The difficulties should not discourage evaluations. If we are going to value and conserve landscape views then we have to know where the good views are and where they are not. Re potential, it is more difficult. I like to think that everywhere has the possibility of being made beautiful.
      The Blue Mountains look great and your point about an old mine is important: lots old industrial sites are now valued.
      I do not know anyone who has visited Australia and been disappointed but have to admit that when I see tourist photos they rarely get me looking up ticket prices and climatic data. But the Blue Mountains photos are different: I would love to go on that railway! And I can do a scenic quality assessment from here: it’s great.


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