Landscape sensitivity studies

This approach assesses a landscape’s resilience to specified types of change.

Landscape sensitivity, in the context of spatial planning and land management, is a measure of the resilience, or robustness, of a landscape to accommodate change arising from specified development types or land management practices. Landscape sensitivity assessment provides an indication of this resilience. The findings are strategic and indicative in contrast to site- and project-specific Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment.

How to do it

Any landscape sensitivity study is based on a detailed Landscape Character Assessment.

In 2019, Natural England published “An Approach to Landscape Sensitivity Assessment”.  Natural Resources Wales and NatureScot are preparing separate guidance documents for Wales and Scotland on similar lines.

The Scottish draft was consulted on in the summer of 2020. We are grateful for the comments we received, which led to a revised draft being produced in the autumn. The draft guidance is being tested on a couple of wind farm studies. These are taking longer than expected due to Covid restrictions delaying fieldwork, but we hope that the final guidance will be produced in late autumn 2021.

Read the Draft Landscape Sensitivity Assessment Guidance.

The guidance builds on techniques from the Landscape Character Assessment (LCA) Guidance Topic Paper 6 of 2002 and NatureScot research on good practice in 2010. This led to a web-based toolkit on how to commission an assessment, often called landscape “capacity” studies",  although the 2010 research noted that this was usually seen as an inaccurate term. We intend to update and revise the toolkit as complementary information to the Sensitivity Assessment Guidance. 

Read guidance on commissioning a landscape sensitivity study

Read research on good practice for landscape sensitivity studies in Scotland

Onshore wind energy landscape sensitivity studies

NatureScot has worked with several planning authorities in Scotland to produce landscape sensitivity studies for wind energy. These strategic studies should help to inform site selection and the assessment of the landscape and visual aspects of individual planning applications for wind turbines.

Such studies only look at the landscape and visual aspects of wind energy development. You can see some examples below.

Wind energy studies should not be referred to as ‘capacity studies’ as no local or regional targets are available on which to determine the ‘capacity’ for development. Landscape Sensitivity Assessments should reflect their purpose, which is to provide a strategic assessment of relative landscape and visual sensitivity to certain defined forms of development. 

Where studies are updated and the name is changed to ‘sensitivity assessment’ it may be necessary to update references to the amended version where relevant. Sensitivity assessments are technical studies and as such should be used to inform the preparation of Development Plans and their policies.

Examples of landscape sensitivity studies

Housing

Renewable energy

Aquaculture

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