Landscape quality assessment provides a contextual basis for integrating cultural ecosystem services within landscape management and policy. However, measuring landscape visual quality remains a challenge; especially in the Balkans with its complex environmental and socio-cultural history.
In response, we present a first assessment of landscape visual quality across Shar Planina, North Macedonia and test the transferability of a visual quality assessment method (VQI) originally developed to evaluate Northwest European landscapes.
This study includes remote (GIS) and field assessment. The latter produced quality measures which were summarized, scaled and weighted into an index (0–1.0) and served as a ground-truth dataset for subsequent GIS assessment. To assess how spatial scale affects the VQI and what scale is most appropriate to capture perceived landscape quality, the remote assessment was applied at scales ranging from 1 to 5 km2 and results were then correlated to field assessment results.
Values for the field VQI range from 0.2 to 0.82 whilst the values from the remote assessment applied at 1 km2 range from 0.1 to 0.74 and increase to 0.77, 0.84 and 0.86 at 2 km2, 3 km2 and 5 km2 respectively. Strongest correlation between the GIS and the field assessment was observed at 2 km2, which captured detail whilst remaining appropriate to the perceived landscape.
Our research allows consideration of this cultural ecosystem service within the wider conservation efforts on Shar Planina and provides methodological guidelines for assessments of visual quality of mountainous landscapes elsewhere in the region.
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We would like to thank all friends and colleagues that supported the extensive fieldwork carried as part of this study and all the participants for taking time to contribute to the field visual quality assessment, particularly students from Biology Student Research Society from the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics in Skopje. We would like to extend our gratitude to the Macedonian Ecological Society for providing access to available digital data of Shar Planina and Metodija Velevski for his help in statistical data analysis.
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Jovanovska, D., Swetnam, R.D., Tweed, F.S. et al. Assessing the landscape visual quality of Shar Planina, North Macedonia. Landscape Ecol 35, 2805–2823 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10980-020-01122-5