Landscape services: Much more than “just” beautiful

Paintings have shaped our notions of the ideal landscape. Yet landscape does much more than “just” provide us with aesthetic pleasure.

Text: Lucienne Rey

Fläsch (GR)
Homes but no industrial zones: Fläsch in the canton of Graubünden.
© Markus Forte | Ex-Press | BAFU

The yearning for idyllic landscape is at least as old as the pictorial representations of ancient civilisations: murals painted in ancient Egyptian tomb chapels around 1300 BCE show hunting scenes in papyrus thickets and paradisiacal pleasure grounds – testimony to the close relationship between idealised landscape, the society’s religious values, people’s emotions and their aesthetic sensibilities.

Today, our view of landscape is more prosaic, but just as complex. For example, the Landscape Convention of the Council of Europe defines landscape holistically as “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action andinteraction of natural and/or human factors”.

As well as providing aesthetic appreciation, the landscape also improves people’s health, creates feelings of place attachment and so helps to forge a sense of identity, and boosts a region’s economic attractiveness. The fact that these four key landscape services are now widely recognised is due in no small part to the debate about ecosystem services that began in the 1990s. This debate was prompted by ideas from environmental economics, namely that natural functions – viewed by traditional economics as being available free of charge – should be given a price, this being the only way to incorporate them into the economic cycle as tradable commodities.

As a result, scientists began to classify the diverse benefits of ecosystems, culminating in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment launched in 2001. This study into the state of the environment, begun by the United Nations under Secretary-General Kofi Annan, saw the term “ecosystem services”become firmly embedded in the expert lexicon. The associated approach then made its way from the world of research into the Swiss strategies on biodiversity and landscape. “Landscape services are a further development of ecosystem services”, confirms Roger Keller, a geographer at the University of Zurich who researches landscape’s contribution to the development of the economy and society as well as to individual well-being.

However, attempts to express the diverse ser­vices rendered by ecosystems as a monetary value are controversial, and landscape services can barely be represented in monetary terms. Thus, while a forest’s function as a filter for clean drinking water can – in theory at least – be given a price tag by comparing it with the costs of the equivalent infrastructure, the four key landscape services are closely interrelated and have no substitutes. Consequently, greater awareness is needed of the value to society and individuals of these four landscape services which are explored in the following portraits.





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Last modification 02.09.2020

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