People who live in rural parts of rural parts of Switzerland perceive their place of residence as a more beautiful and authentic landscape than people who live in peri-urban areas. This is one of the latest results achieved by the Federal Office for the Environment's Landscape Monitoring Switzerland programme (LABES), which identifies indicators used to measure changes in landscapes and monitors their perception by the people living there. The Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL provided the scientific support for the development of this innovative approach to landscape monitoring.
What are the qualities of the Swiss landscape? How do people assess the state of the landscape? These are the kinds of questions being taken up by the Landscape Monitoring Switzerland programme (LABES) launched by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) in 2008. The programme uses 34 indicators to describe the state of the landscape and changes in it. The innovative aspect is that some indicators also show how the people living in a landscape perceive it.
The second LABES interim report published on 12 December 2013 (see box below) reveals the results for 12 new indicators, based among other things on a representative nationwide survey conducted by the Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL. Local residents were, for example, asked how they perceived the landscape in their municipality in terms of its beauty, to determine what was special or fascinating about it and to assess the quality of the landscape in their immediate surroundings.
Landscape quality deemed best in rural areas
On average, residents across Switzerland tend to regard their local landscape as beautiful, unique and a source of fascination. However, there were also some clear differences in the results, with the inhabitants of rural areas giving substantially more positive assessments than residents living in densely populated areas. One striking finding was that the quality of core cityscapes is considered in a more positive light than the quality of peri-urban landscapes, which scored lowest in people's estimations. So here the rapid changes in landscapes seen over the past few decades seem to have left their mark in local residents' assessment of their surroundings.
Another finding emerging from the latest LABES findings is that light emissions in Switzerland are continuing to rise, having increased by 70% between 1994 and 2009. Fewer areas are dark at night, and on the Swiss plateau and in the Jura mountains there is nowhere that is entirely dark at night.
Another new indicator is "infrastructure-free areas." Only a quarter of landscapes throughout Switzerland are still free of human-made structures like houses or infrastructure. Most such places are in the Alps. In the Jura mountains the figure is a mere 2% or thereabouts and on the Swiss plateau it is less than 0.5%.
For the first time we also have some indication of the accessibility of creeks, rivers, and lakes in Switzerland. The proportion of freely accessible lakesides and riverbanks varies from region to region, but everywhere over 80% of them are readily accessible. On the Swiss plateau more than 30% of freely accessible river banks are within 20 metres of a hiking trail.
Pioneering work in landscape monitoring
Landscapes are a decisive factor determining the perceived quality of life of communities and the attractiveness of recreational spaces and tourist destinations. This makes innovative landscape monitoring imperative, both for describing changes in the landscape and for assessing how they are perceived by the local population. As a result, in future we will be able to say not only how a landscape has changed, but also whether the perception of these changes is constant throughout time or varies with society's change of values. To this end, the FOEN will incorporate landscape monitoring in its regular reports on the state of the environment, giving Switzerland a landscape monitoring tool unique in Europe.
The above story is based on materials provided by Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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