Evaluating and protecting coastal landscape values

'Cultural heritage' denotes places and things that have aesthetic, historic, scientific or social significance, or other special value for future generations as well as the present community. 'Heritage' can refer to archaeological sites or buildings, or to the way in which 'natural' areas are interpreted as part of a way of life.

RAC (1993a), p. 33

Many coastal areas are valued for the scenic attractiveness of spectacular cliffs arches or stacks, great sand masses, patterns of islands, or the sweep of an estuary. This landscape value may be recognised in the dedication of a park: the IUCN category V (table 4.12) describes a reserve dedicated for this purpose. It is apparent from table 4.12 that this form of reservation is very unevenly used in Australia. However, it cannot be concluded that scenic coastal landscapes are not conserved in some states, since many other classes of reserve are also of high landscape value.

A major difficulty with securing scenic amenity in coastal areas is that many such areas encompass both private and public land: the preservation of all the elements of a particular landscape on private land implies the maintenance of a particular form of management. This concept has been developed over three decades in the English Heritage Coast system, as a project-based approach (see Caton 1993) which developed from the English National Parks system under the initiative of the former Countryside Commission. It is a

Table 4.12 Numbers of coastal reserves by state in IUCN category V


Number of reserves in IUCN category V

Number of coastal reserves in IUCN category V




New South Wales



Northern Territory






South Australia









Western Australia



a Nine of these are small historical reserves.

b Includes seven marine parks, which overlap with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Source: extracted from lists in Cresswell & Thomas 1997

system based on private management within an elaborate framework of land management agreements between landowners and the Countryside Commission. No such tradition exists in Australia, where maintenance of particular land uses at the coast depends primarily on the planning system. The planning system, as an instrument designed for development control, is not efficient in securing landscape amenity. For example, the zoning of an area as 'Rural Coastal' might secure it for a while against the sprawl of real estate along the coast, but it cannot secure it against land use change within the category 'Rural Coastal'. In addition, at the coast there is often pressure to change the zoning. Scenic coasts, and particularly those that retain vestiges of naturalness, are under continuous pressure by developers with schemes for real estate, resort, and marina development. Land managers, both government and private, are continually faced with the dilemma of rising real estate values encouraging development growth, while scenic values are reduced by a decline of naturalness (Caton 1993).

Identification and definition of areas of high landscape value is another difficult problem. Researchers in the field of landscape evaluation disagree as to whether it is possible or desirable to attempt objective definition, the debate being split between those who favour an analytic method and those who maintain that a holistic approach is necessary. The lack of agreement over method in this area is a major problem where there is a need for a standard that can be sustained under challenge. As Lothian (1984, p. 1) stated: 'In the absence of an explicit policy to recognise landscape quality and complementary action to safeguard and enhance this quality, it will be gradually lost by default.' Kane (1976, p. 1), in a similar vein, suggested landscape should be treated as a resource: 'This reduction in landscape diversity is not only sad, but also dangerous because scenic landscapes should be regarded as a natural resource. Perhaps they are not as obvious a natural resource as forest, water supply, ores, soil, and fossil fuels, but they may in the long run be one of the most vital resources in helping to maintain stable and healthy societies.'

A variety of methods of landscape evaluation have been used to reduce or overcome the 'problem of subjectivity'. They have all been partially successful in terms of their validity (does the method measure what it is designed to measure?) and reliability (can the measurement be replicated?). For example:

• assessment in the field, for example Wright (1974)

• assessment of photographs, for example Revell (1982)

• the views of an individual, for example Porteus (1989)

• the views of groups of 'ordinary people', for example Kane (1976)

• the views of experts, for example Kane (1976)

• the views of 'landscape consumers', for example Shafer & Mietz (1969)

• whole landscape (gestalt) assessments, for example Fines (1968)

• ratings of components within the landscape, for example Leopold (1986). A persistent problem has been turning the ratings obtained for a particular view into defined areas on a map that can be used in protecting landscapes. State government agencies have made attempts to investigate methods of coastal landscape assessment in order to assist councils to take landscape quality into account in dealing with development applications. Ramsay and Butt (1989) undertook a qualitative visual analysis of the South Coast of New South Wales in 1989, proposing management zones and allowable building types compatible with visual amenity. Before this, the National Trust (1983 and 1984) had proposed planning policy guidelines for the NSW coast based on a visual amenity study. The NSW Government Coastal Management Policy of 1997 gives as one of its nine goals 'to protect and enhance the aesthetic qualities of coastal areas'; its strategic actions include a land acquisition policy and measures to ensure protection of areas of high aesthetic value is included in planning instruments.

The Queensland and Western Australian governments have both undertaken reviews (Brouwer 1993, Cleary 1997) of landscape assessment. The Draft State Coastal Management Plan for Queensland, released in October 2000, seeks to 'conserve the values of coastal landscapes, (policy 6A). The same plan defines areas of 'high scenic value' on a map (p. 35) and advises that regional plans and council development plans should take account of these. In South Australia, the Coast Protection Board placed emphasis on coastal scenic amenity in its Coastal Management Plans for the Coast Protection Districts of Kangaroo Island and the Fleurieu Peninsula (Coast Protection Board (SA) 1988a,b).

It is widely agreed that certain landscapes are attractive and as such are valuable, but defining what constitutes an attractive landscape and delimiting it on a map has proved a difficult task. Landscape has long been both a matter of private contemplation and satisfaction and a marketable commodity. These two are not unrelated, for there is no doubt that the media, and particularly the advertising industry, uses certain pieces of landscape as icons or symbols relating to our values and attitudes. Thus our perception of what constitutes valuable scenery is modified over time. Almost universally, certain pieces of countryside are acknowledged as scenically valuable, but the task of ranking the worth of a number of pieces of landscape has proved intractable. No system of landscape evaluation is at present universally endorsed. The conservation of scenic landscapes raises the problem of defining objectively what is a subjectively perceived quality.

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