Landscape Preferences and cultural ecosystem services in European agricultural landscapes: a meta-analysis of case studies

Authors and Affiliations: 

Boris van Zantena,b, Peter Verburga,b, Mark Koetsea,b, Pieter van Beukeringa,b

a Institute for environmental studies (IVM), VU University Amsterdam

b Amsterdam Global Change Institute (AGCI), VU University Amsterdam


European agricultural landscapes provide many different ecosystem services. Although land management in many agricultural landscapes is mainly focused on the maximization of provisioning services, agricultural landscapes also provide cultural ecosystem services (CES) to society (Zhang et al. 2007; de Groot et al. 2010; Power 2010). The capacity of a landscape to provide CES, which are also described as intangible services, can be estimated based on stated preferences by landscape users. This paper presents a meta-analysis of case studies (n = 345 observations in n = 59 studies) that address preferences for agricultural landscapes in Europe. In order to grasp the effects of different processes of environmental change in agricultural landscapes (e.g. intensification, abandonment, scale enlargement) on flows and values of CES, the main objective of this study was to assess which landscape characteristics are dominant and highly valued in preference studies, and how spatial variations of landscape preferences are related to demographic and biophysical contextual variables. Integrating and summarizing knowledge from different scientific disciplines and case studies with different scales of analysis enhances the user-friendliness of knowledge for policy makers and might uncover generic or spatial trends and patterns in CES flows and values across Europe (Rudel 2008).

Landscape preference studies originate from a wide variety of scientific disciplines, and therefore, comparing landscape preferences across case studies is methodologically challenging. As a result of the multidisciplinary background of the primary studies in the sample, the studies show a considerable heterogeneity in terms of methodology and theoretical frameworks. To enable a basic level of comparability, landscape characteristics or attributes that were addressed in the primary studies were categorized into a landscape attribute typology. Subsequently, the landscape preference scores of the observations were normalized in three different ways to test robustness of the results. A number of hypotheses – that describe possible relations between demographic user characteristics and their landscape preferences - were prepared based on relations that were found in the primary studies.         

The preliminary results indicate that for some characteristics of European agricultural landscapes, all user groups state relatively high preferences, such as green linear elements (e.g. hedges), mosaic land cover, historic buildings, and presence of water or livestock in the landscape. For other characteristics, such as dominance of forest or natural land cover (which was in many case studies the result of agricultural abandonment), and dominance of agricultural land cover, different preferences between user groups were observed. Landscape preferences for dominance of forest or natural land cover differed significantly throughout the case studies, between local and regional residents on the one side, and national representative samples and urban residents on the other side.


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