The landscape as a setting for recreation

While it is possible to take part in many activities in an artificial or unattractive environment—for example, climbing on an indoor artificial rock face, or fishing from the bank of a canal in a derelict industrial area—for most people the setting in which the recreation takes place is a very important part of the whole experience. In many instances it is the landscape that they have come to see, and often the facilities needed are only those that enable them to obtain the most enjoyment from a scenic view.

A landscape embracing habitats, wildlife, cultural heritage and different land uses may have the potential to supply the opportunities to meet some or all of the demand, by way of the type of recreation, by its carrying capacity or land use, or all three. However, because of its fragility it may have no potential for recreation. The activities, the carrying capacity and the quality of the setting in which they take place are considered together. As the market is highly differentiated, the recreation planner has to match the aspirations of different people with what the landscape has to offer and can accept. This depends on the extent of the land base and its current use, its variety and robustness, the climate and the alternative opportunities offered by other leisure operators working in the same vicinity.

Land base

The extent of the land base will determine how many visitors can be spread out so that some can find true solitude while others can enjoy more gregarious situations. For example, larger areas can allow potentially conflicting activities to be zoned in space: a large lake can be zoned so that dinghy sailors and speed- boats are kept separate, while each type of user has enough room to maximize the experience of the visit. Larger areas also mean more scope to move activities from place to place if wear and tear shows signs of getting serious, or if there is conflict with other land uses. In a managed forest, logging will move from place to place, and may have to disrupt the use of an area for certain recreation activities, such as orienteering, for a number of years. Larger areas also enable use to be dispersed instead of concentrated, so that the pressure of wear and tear can be spread out and reduced. This has implications for design, depending on what facilities are needed and how much recreation is amenable to dispersal. Also, the management and maintenance implications of shifting and dispersed use as well as the logistics needed should be assessed.

The existing land base might be used for some recreation already. Proposed new developments might not be compatible with either the existing land use or recreation activity unless there is space to alter one or both and achieve a compromise.

Landscape variety

The variety of the landscape and its components can suggest what might be provided. A

landscape of extreme topographic variation, such as a mountainous or hilly area, will probably offer more scenic attraction. It might also provide mountaineering, rock climbing, hill walking, hang-gliding and other pursuits not offered by flat terrain. A variety of vegetation types will provide different settings. For example, forests can hide a great many people: they have a high visual carrying capacity, and tend to be robust landscapes containing particular animals and birds. Meadows or grassland provide good walking country with open views, places to camp, and different wildlife. Sand dunes are fragile and easily damaged, and can tolerate only very light or controlled access. Bogs and marshes offer limited possibilities, an abundance of biting insects and very low carrying capacity.

Water is always an important element, and greatly increases the attractiveness of an area. Whether the water is flowing or still it has special attractions—reflection, movement, drama, the play of light, the sound the water makes, and its cooling effect. It is also a place where numerous recreation activities can take place, thus combining in a unique way the satisfaction of the activity with the beauty of the setting.

In general the more varied the landforms and range of vegetation and associated wildlife the more attractive an area tends to be for scenic and wildlife viewing. There is a widely held view that variety tends to be preferred over monotony.

Carrying capacity

The robustness or fragility of the landscape, and of the habitats and wildlife it contains, is termed its carrying capacity. The landscape's resilience to wear and tear, and its ability to recover from damage, are key factors in determining what can or cannot be provided.

Rock and soil are the first aspects to be considered. Hard rock is hard-wearing, but alluvial soils, scree and talus are fragile and easily dislodged. Wet soils, clays, soft rocks and peat are easily eroded, so that significant access is acceptable only if specially surfaced paths are constructed and maintained. Unrestricted trampling over peat moss in the English Peak District has shown how difficult it is to put right the serious effects of this type of damage. Sand dunes are the most vulnerable of all (see above). Volcanic lava is very uncomfortable to walk over, even in tough boots, for any distance.

Vegetation is another important aspect to assess. In high alpine mountains or polar regions, vegetation grows very slowly, and site recovery after damage is extremely slow. Hence significant access should be avoided. Pasture grass may be one of the most robust surfaces, but it can only stand so much wear and tear. Forest vegetation may be dense and impenetrable, but when opened by paths offers opportunities for access without too much risk of people straying from the trail.

Constructed facilities

A major opportunity for managers to increase the physical carrying capacity of an area is to construct various facilities. Hard-wearing surfaces can improve the robustness of access and confine the visitor to predetermined locations, as many are disinclined to stray far from a trail. Such action requires investment, continuing management, maintenance and good design. Although built facilities can contribute to the robustness of a site they can also stimulate increased demand and adversely affect the visual carrying capacity in certain circumstances. Nevertheless, built facilities are important in increasing the potential for barrier-free access for disabled people.


The climate is often a vital factor in the capacity of an area to supply a particular range of recreation opportunities. For example, it is obvious that snowy winters are needed in order to ski under natural conditions. Areas with more extreme climates—that is, hot summers and cold winters—tend to favour a concentration of recreation at certain times of the year: for example, the winter season for skiing and snow mobiling or the summer for sailing, sunbathing, windsurfing and swimming. Oceanic temperate climates such as that of Britain, the coast of Oregon or parts of New Zealand facilitate a wide range of activities all year round.

Some climates pose risks to people outdoors. In mountains the weather can close in and become dangerous for less experienced hikers in areas where it can change very quickly, such as in Scotland or the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington. Deserts can cause heat exhaustion and dehydration at the hottest times of the year. This limits the range of activities and the type of people who can cope unless special measures are taken—for example, waymarking of tracks in mountains, provision of shade and water in desert areas—so that others beside the young, fit and experienced can enjoy the area.

Seasonal changes are linked to the climate in many ways but also have different features. Some seasons such as autumn or spring are the prime times for scenic viewing, when the vegetation colours are at their best and wildlife is active. Many people prefer to visit forest landscapes during these seasons—New England is noted for the brilliance of its leaf colours in the fall, for example. Seasons for fishing or hunting may be important in many areas, and hunting may cause potential conflicts with other users due either to disturbance of game or the risk to humans of being accidentally shot.

Alternative opportunities in the area

The major recreation providers, such as national parks and forest services in the USA and Canada, frequently have large tracts of land in locations where there are few if any alternatives provided by other operators. In more crowded countries such as Britain, the Netherlands or Germany there may be a wide variety of different opportunities provided by a range of public and private operators. It is unnecessary in most cases for an operator to try to provide all of the potential activities if someone else is in a better position to do so. In many cases, as facilities may be provided free, particularly access, it is sensible to consider where respective strengths may lie. For instance, two neighbours might possess different types of landscape such as a lake or reservoir and a forest. In this case it is easy to provide different experiences such as sailing on the lake and hiking in the forest. It may furthermore be sensible for there to be one car park to serve both facilities instead of two separate ones, and for hiking trails to include access to the water at certain points. In another case, two adjoining owners might both possess lakes. Rather than each trying to satisfy demands for fishing and powerboats it might be better for the landscape, wildlife management and the recreation experience if the lake best suited to fishing was solely used for that purpose and the other concentrated on powerboating. In this way the demand is catered for while the carrying capacity of the wider landscape is respected.

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