The impact of personal factors

Education, income and occupation

Although in the early 1970s research reported that environmental agendas were primarily supported by the middle or upper-middle class, this notion was rebutted by Buttel and Flinn (1978) who found that age and place of residence were better predictors of awareness of environmental problems and support for environmental programmes than education, income and occupation: what they called ‘the three major indicators of social class’. Of these three, education was the most significant.

Two of the main factors accounting for differences in landscape perception are occupation and expertise. Farmers have been found to react differently to nature development plans compared to other residents of an area and visitors to that area (Van den Berg et al. 1998). In this study, respondents were presented with a photograph of an existing agrarian landscape and five digitally manipulated versions of the same landscape incorporating changes that represented different kinds of nature restoration (rough field, open swamp, half-open swamp, forest and stretch of water). The farmers differed significantly from both the residents and the visitors in rating the existing agrarian landscape as the most beautiful. Interestingly, the six images were also rated for biodiversity by a panel of experts. The expert ratings of biodiversity were positively related to the beauty ratings of the residents and the visitors; but not to the farmers. Thus, it would be reasonable to assume that farmers (certainly in the Netherlands and possibly elsewhere) might also react less favourably to naturalistic ecological plantings in public urban settings, given their apparent preference for ordered landscapes.

Not surprisingly there is also evidence indicating that members of environmental groups have particular preferences for wild landscapes and vegetation (Dearden 1984; Kaplan and Herbert 1987).

However, the relationship between expertise and preference for particular types of landscape is not always straightforward. In his recent study of the values held by British Landscape architects, Ian Thompson (2000) found that most of the practitioners he interviewed thought that ecological values in the practice of landscape architecture were no more important than aesthetic or social ones, and some thought they were less important. Furthermore, Thompson encountered a number of critiques of an ecological approach to design, including accusations of superficiality and tokenism, and the belief that ecology is anti-design. Whilst these findings do not relate exclusively to planting design, it seems safe to assume that many landscape architects may be somewhat wary of introducing ecological plantings in public urban settings. This may, in part, be a legacy of the backlash against what is known as ‘the ecological approach’, pioneered in Warrington New Town in the 1970s.

Age

Lyons’ study (1983) confirmed that age was an important factor in landscape perception. This study found that young children expressed the highest landscape preferences and elderly people expressed the lowest. However, there was also a significant dip in preference around the teenage years. Similar findings were reported by Herzog et al. (2000). Interestingly, they also found that, although the adults had lower preference than the young children (but higher than the teenagers), the adult scores were more variable, suggesting that by the time people reach adulthood other factors have come into play. They also suggested that young children display higher landscape preference because of their tendency to view landscape as a good playscape, whereas teenagers are more preoccupied with social and other concerns. It is difficult to know how age would influence preference for ecological plantings. Balling and Falk (1982) found that young children had a preference for savannah scenes, even though they were not familiar with them. However, there is a dearth of evidence about how children and young people view landscapes generally, and this is certainly an interesting area for further research.