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Scenic natural landscapes in Iceland: An analysis of their visual characteristics and relationship to other Icelandic landscapes


In Iceland, many places have protected status or have been nominated for conservation because of their beautiful, diverse or extraordinary landscapes, or are otherwise renowned for scenic beauty. Neither landscape nor scenic beauty are, however, defined by law nor are they easy concepts to reach consensus about.
In this study, 48 acknowledged scenic landscapes in Iceland were visited and analyzed using methods developed in the Icelandic Landscape Project (ILP). The aim was to 1) ascertain whether the scenic landscapes had particular visual features in common, 2) establish whether they fit or are exclusive to the major landscape categories already defined by the ILP, and 3) explore how the newly developed methodology was suited to discern differences between “scenic” and “ordinary” landscapes (from a nationwide systematic sample). The sample was compiled from the following sources: 1) sites protected under the Nature Conservation Act because of landscape value, 2) sites in the Nature Conservation Registries and 3) Nature Conservation Strategy 2004-2008 where landscape was listed as a criterion for nomination, and 4) the preferences of a group of 8 landscape connoisseurs. Cluster Analysis was applied to classify the areas based on 21 visual physical characteristics and their defining and separating features were explored with Principal Component Analysis. This was done for the scenic areas on their own as well as with the scenic areas plus a sample of 112 systematically surveyed sites.
The results were that the assessed scenic areas were visually quite diverse. They had high scores for attributes which pertain to diversity in common; their high diversity scores underlined their variation. When classified within the sample of systematically surveyed sites, some of the scenic areas blended into different groups but others made up their own group. The results indicated that there were some visual physical characteristics which quite often set the scenic areas apart from other landscapes and that this method was sensitive to those qualities. These were especially characteristics which pertain to diversity, such as the diversity of forms, patterns, colors and texture, as well as scores for water cover, water current and water expression. On the other hand, vegetation diversity was not significantly different between the assessed scenic areas and other landscape sites in Iceland, and vegetation cover was lower, which may be counterintuitive when compared to scenic areas in other countries.


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