Aesthetic value, together with recreation, are key ecosystem services which encourage people to preserve nature and restore degraded ecosystems (Gobster et al. 2007, Daniel et al. 2013, Prior 2016). Many people share positive emotions with scenic landscapes, often resulting in a sense of place attachment (Cottet et al. 2010). As the field of ecosystem services grows, the ability to map and assess CES has experienced a surge in research and importance (Milcu et al. 2013). An element that has proved to be particularly important for the landscape aesthetic value is the visual presence of water (cf. Steinitz 1990, Bishop and Hulse 1994, MEA 2005, Real et al. 2000, Herbst et. al. 2009, Carvalho-Ribeiro, 2016). State of the art methods for river landscape aesthetic values such as Dramstad et al. (2006), Schirpke et al. (2013) and Infield et al. (2015) partly take into the account the specific values of the visual presence of water. For example, the method proposed by Schirpke et al. (2013) uses the simple presence of water in the landscape but not more nuances and complex effects of different kinds of water views and characteristics on landscape quality.
The aim of this contribution is to assess and value the aesthetic quality of river landscapes. In this context, the present work answers to the following questions: 1) Which factors determine the aesthetic quality of river landscapes? 2) How is the landscape aesthetic quality spatially distributed across a given river landscape? And 3) To what degree can the spatial assessment results be validated through citizen surveys of actual use and preferences?
To meet this aim, a literature review is conducted concerning key indicators influencing the aesthetic quality of river landscapes. Indicators and landscape metrics for a user-independent spatial assessment of the aesthetic quality of river landscapes are developed (based on Hermes et al. under review.), consisting of three main parameters: landscape naturalness, diversity and uniqueness. A Geographic Information System is used to for the spatial modelling of the selected indicators. Case study was the Lahn River landscape in the state of Hessen, Germany. An survey of local citizens investigated how people perceive the aesthetic of the landscape.
Several correlations were found between aesthetic quality and river features on places with a higher sense of naturalness and landscape diversity. The validation exercise gave important insights on the applicability of user independent assessment. We point out riverine features as important indicators to the perceived naturalness and to value the aesthetic quality of landscapes in a local scale. The assessment of aesthetic quality of river landscapes is a key to reveal the relationship of the people with rivers and it cooperates to compound strategies on how communities can better benefit from riverine ecosystem services.
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