Identifying cues of stewardship in Scandinavian agricultural landscape

Authors and Affiliations: 

Åsa Ode Sang, Dept. of Landscape Architecture, Planning and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Mari Sundli Tveit, Dept. of Landscape Architecture and Spatial Planning, Norwegian University of Life Sciences


For agricultural landscapes the presence of stewardship has been identified as an important contributor to the formation of preference. Tveit et al. (2006, p. 238) provide the following definition of stewardship “…as the presence of order and care, contributing to a perceived accordance to an ‘ideal’ situation. Stewardship reflects human care for the landscape through active and careful management.” In 1995 Joan Nassauer presented the aesthetic theory of care where she stressed the importance of having cues of care in order to frame novel and often messy ecosystems. She recognised that these cues vary across landscapes as well as culture, but an underlying principle is that these cues express care of the landscape. There have also been studies suggesting that stewardship is a stronger contributor to preference for lay people then the general public (Ode Sang & Tveit, 2013).

In order to explore what landscape features are important for people’s assessment of stewardship in Scandinavian cultural landscape an experiment was set up using eye-tracking. This allows us to register what people view when making a decision.  For the study 31 photographs were shown for 20 respondents. The respondents were asked to rate, on a 7-grade Likert scale, for each photograph “How well cared for do you experience the landscape to be”. 

Each photograph was divided up in different potential cues of care that was based on a review of previous studies. Cues used were shrubs, walls, trees, patches of rough, dry or short grass and patches of bare soil. The fixations from the eye-tracking was statistically analysed with regards to these areas of potential cues of care.  The analysis shows that the respondents were task driven and focused mainly on the vegetation which was expected. Areas of potential cues that were viewed in a higher extent than the area they covered would suggest included Patchiness of grass, shrubs and walls, though their importance varies between experts and novices, with the experts generally having a longer total fixation length in these compared to the novices.

While the eye tracking allows us to identify features that are important for decision it does not on its own allow us to identify to what extent these are viewed as contributing or detracting from the perception of stewardship.

The techniques used in this study present a complementary method to the traditional preference surveys  for identifying important perceptional cues in the landscape.  It shows how novel technique from cognitive science could aid in the development of social indicators for analyzing aspects important for human wellbeing. The cues identified in photographs on the ground could through various techniques also be extracted from aerial photographs, and hence allows us to up-scale the results on a level more relevant for the monitoring of landscape.



Nassauer, J. 1995. Messy Ecosystems, Orderly Frames. Landscape Journal 14, 161-170.

Ode Sang, Å., Tveit, M.S, 2013. Perception of stewardship in Norwegian agricultural landscapes. Land Use Policy
 31, 557-564

Tveit, M.S, Ode, Å., Fry, G. 2006. Key concepts in a framework for analysing landscape visual character. Landscape Research 31, 229-255.