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Landscape as a recreational space: a WSL event

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17.1.2022  | Stephanie Kusma | News WSL


Too many people roaming about in the same place could adversely affect recreational activities and the natural environment. Experts discussed the aspects that need to be considered when planning and maintaining recreational landscapes at "Erholsame Landschaft", the 2021 Forum für Wissen held by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL).


A typical piece of advice given to many people suffering from stress is that they should go outside for a walk or bike ride to clear their head. As various studies have demonstrated, this makes sense: spending time in the countryside can relieve stress and have a positive impact on people's health. Gardens and urban green spaces also play a key role here. This was shown again and again at the 'Recreational Landscape' Forum for Knowledge, held at WSL in late November 2021.


Psychologist and WSL researcher Nicole Bauer spoke about a range of findings, including the fact that gardening helps combat both short- and long-term stress. This was confirmed by survey results as well as measurements of the stress hormone cortisol taken from test subjects.

According to Bauer, one of her studies indicated that simply spending time in the countryside was not enough to alleviate cases of extreme stress, but that exercise always helped. "And our landscape is the space where people exercise," explains WSL landscape researcher Felix Kienast.


Preferably colourful, diverse and by the water

A number of studies, including some by WSL, have revealed that species- and structure-rich environments featuring elements such as individual trees and hedges, as well as sites with a view of or next to water bodies are popular landscapes. The Forum showed that conflict could arise if such appealing sites are in densely populated areas or are widely trailed on social media, for example. "However, just a tiny fraction of Switzerland experiences major problems," says Marcel Hunziker, a landscape researcher at WSL. "There are no significant difficulties in most parts of the country."

Friction between different forms of recreational use (e.g. downhill mountain biking and hiking) is not the only source of conflict, as recreation can also impact the actual primary use of an area, for example as a working forest or agricultural land. "That is partly because the boundaries between private and public land are less clear to people now than they used to be," says WSL's Matthias Bürgi.


Visitor management: informing and influencing the public

Such problems escalated at some of these 'hotspots' during lockdown. For example, the Greifensee lake was overrun by holidaymakers and sports enthusiasts, according to those at the Forum. In some cases, visitors ignored information boards or rangers, thus posing a risk to protected ecosystems, for example.

Differentiated communication tailored to the respective user groups is vital here, according to Hunziker. While some visitors can be won over through information, others need persuading. He illustrates this point with the case of off-piste snow sports that may interfere with wildlife protection measures.


Cultivating attractive landscapes

According to Hunziker, snowshoe walkers are open to heeding such measures and can be encouraged to, for example, avoid certain areas by presenting them with relevant arguments and information. In contrast, he points out that freeriders could be won over with a strategy appealing to their emotions and focusing on specific examplesrole models, such as the approach adopted by the 'Respect to Protect' campaign. This showed that freeriders could have fun off-piste and still respect wildlife.

For a landscape to encourage exercise and be a place for recreation, "this space has to be looked after", says Kienast, who is calling for landscape maintenance to be integrated into every political decision with a view to creating or maintaining a landscape that people find useful and attractive. "That is because they will then visit the area to exercise and so reap the resulting health benefits," explains the researcher.