As a result of the liberalisation of the agricultural market, mountain regions in Central Europe are at great risk of experiencing increasing land abandonment and spontaneous reforestation. Prior to taking measures for landscape maintenance, the ecological and landscape-aesthetic consequences of land abandonment should be analysed. This paper addresses the aesthetic component of such analyses: we investigated whether lay people perceive land abandonment and spontaneous reforestation as a loss or a gain and developed a prototypical technique for rapid aesthetic assessment of reforestation scenarios for vast regions.
First, we conducted image experiments to assess the respondents' reactions to increasing levels of reforestation. Based on these experiments we concluded that a medium degree of reforestation is most desirable. Second, we analysed the relationship between scenic beauty and landscape patterns and found that landscape preference values correlate significantly with various quantitative measures of the landscape pattern (e.g., diversity and contagion indices of grey- tone and colour images). Third, we applied a GIS-assisted ‘moving- window' technique to transform spatially explicit remote-sensing data (in particular orthophotos) of a test region to spatially explicit data of landscape-pattern indices. Thanks to the significant positive correlation between pattern indices and landscape preference values, the resulting maps can preliminarily be interpreted as ‘beauty'-maps of the test-region.