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Publication: Ekológia
Publication foreign language title: Ecology
Author: Belcáková, Ingrid
Date published: January 1, 2012
Language: English
PMID: 67987
ISSN: 1335342X
Journal code: EKBR


Landscape/landscape-ecological planning usually represents a spatially relevant planning and management tool that can be understood as a basis of sustainable landscape development. Several landscape planning instruments in Europe are being applied based on different historical development context, planning and management traditions, background approaches and decision-making processes. They mostly differ in focus and contents. Many of them has ratified European Landscape Convention that defines landscape planning as "strong forward looking action to enhance, restore or create landscapes".

Landscape planning is frequently closely related to optimal and efficient distribution (allocation) of various land use based on landscape ecology conditions. Such spatial organisation of landscape results in a proposal for most suitable localisation of required human activities within a given territory and, also, in a proposal of necessary measures ensuring the ecologically correct operations of those activities in a given space. But in others, landscape-ecological planning is mainly focused on landscape character and landscape scenery or predominantly on cultural heritage and nature protection.

Landscape planning is nowadays undergoing change due to new requirements. Its previous main task of controlling spatial uses and the development of nature and the landscape has extended. Implementation of several European requirements (e.g. Natura 2000 network, the Water Framework Directive (WFD), the Floods Directive, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) can be made considerably easier and can be extensively supported with the help of landscape planning instruments and methods.

Regarding the sustainability as the new development concept the coordination of development proposals in order to reach or at least to come close to sustainable development is an obvious challenge. In this respect environmental assessment systems (EA further) can play an important mutual role.

The co-ordination of landscape planning and EA is understood as the inevitable condition for acceptable development and an important opportunity for enforcing approaches leading to sustainable development in the decision making process.

This can be achieved by several instruments when integrating into environmental assessment processes (Belíáková, 2001; Izakovicová et al., 2006). Application of the individual landscape planning instruments and methods in both - environmental impact assessment at project level and strategic environmental assessment at strategic documents level - can provide for a good database.

This paper is focused on pointing out the "added value" and potential benefits of linking EA processes with landscape planning instruments with a special accent to landscape ecology methods and techniques that can take place. In addition, it provides a summary of the experience in this field so far. This knowledge implies also conclusions and recommendations.

After introduction there is the theoretical part with the explanation of the relationship between EA and landscape planning, key issues of concern, what do they have in common, what are the potential benefits and overlaps of this link and how their combination contributes to an improved decision making towards sustainable development.

A special attention is given to landscape-ecological planning methods and techniques to be applied in environmental assessment procedures. Furthermore, it gives a summary of practical experience in this field based on available reference as well as on a number of published case studies and on personal experience. They are followed by the conclusions and proposals for future developments and future research.


Environmental assessment is the environmental management instrument which considers and evaluates environmental effects of decisions that are taken into account before these decisions are made. It can be undertaken for individual projects (Environmental Impact Assessment - EIA) and for policies, plans and programmes (Strategic Environmental Assessment - SEA).

EA can deliver environmental improveness and raise environmental awareness having a potential to reduce the negative and enhance positive environmental impacts associated with the implementation of a certain projects as well as relevant policies, plans and programmes (Jones et al., 2005).

Landscape planning instruments exist in a number of countries. In most systems these are normally baseline-led instruments that aim at outlining, evaluating and assessing the existing and anticipated status of the landscape, and frequently also of the bio-physical environment for a certain planning area. Frequently, anticipated conflicts and impacts connected with future potential land use are also identified. Furthermore, landscape planning normally deals with the establishment of compensation measures for identified impacts of projects, policies, plans and programmes (Schmidt et al., 2004).

The main strength of majority of landscape planning instruments is the capability to provide for some comprehensive environmental baseline data for both EIA and SEA, despite of some overlaps.

The connection and/or co-ordination of landscape planning and EA is understood as the inevitable condition for acceptable development and an important opportunity for enforcing approaches leading to sustainable development in the decision making process.

Sustainability is the common objective for both landscape planning being the planning tool and also for EA being a preventive (assessment) tool. It is also assumed that landscape planning and EA have complementary objectives, that both are instrumental with their aims to achieve sustainable development (Belcáková, 2001; Schmidt et al., 2004).

EA can contribute to an improvement of a decision-making process since it is a comprehensive, systematic and transparent assessment of environmental, social and economic aspects and problem implications. The arising conflicts between landscape protection and sectoral interest requirements in planning (mostly in land-use planning) can not be solved within the assessment process. These conflicts require political solutions that are transformed into decisions about a certain planning alternative. In this decision-making process, EA can guarantee neither rational decision nor an appropriate consideration of environmental requirements. Its tasks are to contribute to such decision by its transparency and comprehensiveness. In a democratic society it is hardly possible to neglect or ignore the systematically gathered, well documented and objectively evaluated information on predicted environmental impacts of developments.

Thus, EA has, in relation to a a sectoral, land use or landscape planning, the function of influencing and mitigating predicted adversities. Its task is to contribute to such planning which is from environmental point of view not only bearable but also optimal, while at the same time it searches for different alternatives when considering environmental, social and economic impacts. These alternatives/impacts are evaluated by appointed value scales, their impacts are related to the best alternative and the possible risks revealed.

It is necessary to emphasise the added value of linking EA and landscape planning as a facilitator for sustainable decision-making. But we still have to look for the application of appropriate procedural, institutional and methodological framework and for the utilisation of relevant landscape/ landscape ecology criteria and indicators in EA - what are still issues under the discussion.

And, also, it is widely recognised that landscape planning and EA are prerequisites for achieving acceptable forms of development and that the combination of the two processes can greatly assist decision-makers in working towards sustainable development There is, however, a continuing debate over the precise role and purpose of each activity.

The issue of flexibility, rationality and integration approaches are the main opportunities of effective EA in relation with landscape planning.


Possible contribution of the different landscape planning instruments to EA in Europe

Several authors remarked that landscape planning instruments/landscape ecology instruments exist in a number of countries (e.g. Austria, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland ) serving as baseline-led instruments that aim at outlining, evaluating and assessing the existing and anticipated status of the landscape, and frequently also of the bio-physical environment for a certain planning area (Herberg, 2000; Joao, 2004; Sheate et al., 2004). In these countries, instruments are designed differently, for example in terms of their objectives, legal status and scope of application.

The extent to which landscape planning requirements are applied in environmental assessment are significantly different between the EU countries. The differences are visible on the various aspects of landscape considerations in the assessment, i.e. between the requirements for environmental assessment. It means that efficient application of EA is always tailored to needs for better decision-making.

There is a big EA development now, especially after EWSEA Directives transposition and ELC implementation, what can result in better practice in this field.

Landscape is one of the environmental characteristics that is specifically identified in the above mentioned EC Directives focusing on environmental assessment. Others include human health, biodiversity, fauna, flora, soil, water, air and cultural heritage.

Landscape along with other environmental topics are often used to form the basis of EA objectives. EA objectives and related indicators provide a measure against which the effects of the project or policies, plans and programmes can be assessed.

In EU member states, based on the EC Directives it is now a legal requirement to consider the interactions between all environmental factors. Table 1 illustrates a possible contribution of landscape planning to EA elements in selected European countries.

There are many overlaps regarding the contents of an EIA/SEA environment report and regional and local landscape plans, particularly regarding the collection of environmental baseline data, the outline of environmental objectives and the assessment of the likely significant effects of the proposed plan on the environment.

On the other hand, landscape planning instruments can function as a comprehensive information source for SEA, potentially helping to save time and resources and reducing the efforts connected with producing an SEA. The greatest potential of landscape planning instruments lies in the collection and evaluation of environmental baseline data, as well as the setting up of environmental objectives. Furthermore, the methods used within landscape planning can also be used within SEA. Landscape planning also contributes to the development of mitigation measures.

Table 1 illustrates that landscape planning instruments can contribute to varying extents to a number of EA elements. It indicates that each instrument has different strengths and weaknesses.

Landscape planning methods and their utilisation in the environmental assessment processes

Early years of EA application saw the development of numerous methods designed to ensure that various stages of the EA process were carried out in a comprehensive and systematic way. In the context of project EA, for example, checklists and matrices were developed for pinpointing potential direct impacts. Networks were found to help consider indirect impacts. EA methods should allow to organise information and be beneficial for practitioners with limited experience. The most frequently used EA methods are Usted in Table 2. Whilst the use of assessment methods and techniques would normally be left to the discretion of practitioners, they may also be prescribed in regulation or guidelines. EA methods and techniques will differ, according to the sector and tier of application. SEA of a regional land use plan, for example, will require the application of different methods and techniques as an EIA for a road.

The assessment of cummulative effects is an aspect of EA that requires particular attention. A range of methods are available, from the more analytical matrices, to the planning oriented multicriteria analysis (Smit, Spalding, 1996; Sadler, Verheem, 1996). The majority of existing methods considers impacts only upon one aspect of the environment, for example a single species. The nature of assessment at strategic level, however, means that it is more appropriate for methods to focus upon area wide effects rather than upon details of the proposals. Generally speaking, the assessment of cumulative and synergistic effects requires a comparatively detailed analysis of space. In this context, for example, the ecological comprehensive regional development model introduced by Westman (1985).

The most commonly used landscape planning/landscape ecology methods and techniques for impact analyses and assessment are listed in Table 3.

Landscape planning methods are all useful for environmental assessment procedures, especially for baseline data collection informing on the current state of biodiversity, nature and environment or identification of aims and objectives and evaluation of potential conflicts. They can work as a beneficial mechanism to describe, analyse and compare environmental effects. One of frequently landscape planning method used in EA is a so called "ecological risk analysis" where environmental impacts are assessed for a number of factors and interrelations between them. Factors should be identified, described and evaluated.

In addition, landscape ecology provides methods and tools for addressing effects on landscape scale, such as effects of habitat loss and fragmentation, for example ecological modelling and other GIS based tools (Piscová, et al., 201 1; Mortberg et al., 2007).

Furthermore, overlay maps are commonly used for the preparation of plans and, also, they can be used for the assessment of environmental factors in order to identify environmental conflicts (see Fig. 1). In order to resolve conflicts, GIS based scenarios for site alternatives are developed, e.g. regarding residential developments.

Landscape indicators that are based on pressure-state-response framework has been quite often used within the framework of the so called Landscape Heritage Assessment (LHA) and Landscape Characterisation Assessment (LCA), especially in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Indicators need to be targeted on measurable attributes. In this context, it is possible to define landscape characteristics that are measurable in a qualitative if not quantitative way. Landscape is taken to include both countryside and townscapes. Indicators need to provide a good indicator of change in character, have resonance (capture public attention), be capable of measure and use meaningful data. The setting of objectives, targets and indicators should take place as part of the scoping stage of EIA/SEA before baseline surveys are completed.

Table 4 gives an example of relevant baseline information and the types of indicators that may be used for local transport plans.

Conclusion and recommendations

Following the analysis of landscape planning instruments in selected European countries, it is suggested that landscape planning can make a significant and beneficial contribution to EA.

The main strength of all landscape planning instruments is the capability to provide for some comprehensive environmental baseline data for both EIA and SEA. Furthermore, all instruments can contribute extensively to impact analysis and evaluation, the assessment of alternatives, identification of compensation measures, public participation and monitoring.

A range of landscape planning and/or landscape ecology methods are readily available for impact prediction and evaluation. These range from methods and techniques that are applied frequently over those that are use moderately to those that are limited according to specific landscape planning context.

During recent years of EA development, several EA systems/approaches and several EA interpretations have been established depending on different context and political issues, procedural and methodological factors.

In most cases the implementation of EA requirements are specified within the frame of particular sectoral or comprehensive planning legislative frameworks. Formal requirements are variable - from ministerial decisions to official regulations at national, regional and local levels. The importance of those three levels differs from country to country and often depends on the degree of centralisation/decentralisation of landscape planning process.

The experience gained so far indicate still open unresolved issues in the following areas:

* limits in the existing planning practise that could slow down the effective integration of EA approach into this practise,

* maintaining the application of legally guaranteed tools, mainly at the level of national policies,

*. possible additional costs in the planning process and time delay resulting from EA application,

* enhancement of the scope of landscape planning in order to improve the support of EA,

* promotion of a better integration and co-ordination of strategic action, landscape planning and EA,

« testing the practical application of contents and methods of landscape planning within EA in form of pilot projects,

« awareness raising of the strength of landscape planning in order to overcome the missing political will and to promote formalised landscape planning approaches.

It is obvious that both - landscape planning and EA procedures were built on the same principles of better decision making. At the same time they represent many variations in methods and in the individual steps of the assessment process. These differences are mostly linked to a concrete application of environmental assessment within the entire planning process, to individual phases of the assessment within the planning process as well as to different conditions for EA implementation.

Translated by the author

English corrected by R. Marshall


The paper is supported by Interreg IVC project "Euroscapes", No. 0835R2 on green management plans for European urban and peri-urban landscapes.


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Author affiliation:


Faculty of Architecture of the Slovak University of Technology, Nam. Slobody 19, 812 45 Bratislava, Slovak Republic; e-mail:

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