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Aesthetic Values

Various aspects of ecosystems provide the opportunity for aesthetic enjoyment (e.g. beauty of the landscape, smell of the bush, sound of the surf and the feeling of sand between the toes).


Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Service Category

Cultural Services


What are aesthetic values and how are they derived?

The beauty of sunset, the sound of the surf and the feel of the sand between the toes brings aesthetic enjoyment to many.

Scenic views across the landscape are provided to those who go high.

One of the most evident ways we experience the environment is through our senses. Aesthetic appreciation of urban, rural, bushland or coastal landscapes is one of the most fundamental ways that people experience and relate to their physical environment. Sometimes called visual quality, scenic character or scenic amenity by professionals, visual appreciation of the environment is a well recognised and accepted dimension of aesthetic appreciation.

While many built environments are attractive (like the Taj Mahal or the Sydney Opera House) their aesthetic appeal is often associated with the reinforcement of cultural or social identity, sense of belonging and desire for safety. Building designs that mimic nature are also generally more aesthetically pleasing than building styles that are simply industrial or functional. Some other buildings serve as important landmarks, as do tall mountains. Landscapes with significant natural elements like plants, water and rock provide relaxation and other psychological relief in addition to their aesthetic values. The provision of this ecosystem service is strongly related to the provision of all other cultural services.

Relative to other ecosystem functions, Table 1 below shows the magnitude ecosystem functions contribute to the provision of aesthetic values. The provision of water (quality and quantity) and vegetation have been identified as two important components of ecosystems required to provide aesthetic values. People like legible things that make them feel safe, close to nature, and nurtured. Water is a basic need for the survival of people and tall vegetation (such as rainforest and eucalypt forest) reflect natural abundance and a protective environment for people and native animals.

Vegetation can be used to screen less favourable scenic amenities (e.g. quarries, mines, power stations, rubbish dumps) whilst impeding the movement of airborne substances such as dust and aerosols, enhancing air mixing, maintaining air quality and therefore visual amenity. Maintaining diversity of ecosystems removes visual monotony and provides for the diversity of aesthetic values that are held across the SEQ community.

Many ecosystems rely on natural pollination to self maintain vegetation structure. Supporting habitats become banks of genetic resources important for maintaining plant and animal biodiversity and the resilience of the ecosystem. Maintaining supporting habitats provides food and also increases the chance of viewing wildlife. Research conducted by Fuller and others found that the psychological benefits gained by visitors to urban green spaces increased with their biodiversity. Other functions such as waste treatment and assimilation contribute to maintaining the condition of the ecosystem.

Table 1:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem functions) each ecosystem function contributes to Aesthetic Values.

Ecosystem Function Category Ecosystem Function 0
Regulating Functions
Gas Regulation

Climate Regulation

Disturbance Regulation

Water Regulation

Soil Retention

Nutrient Regulation

Waste Treatment and Assimilation


Biological Control

Barrier Effect of Vegetation

Supporting Functions
Supporting Habitats

Soil Formation

Provisioning Functions

Raw Materials

Water Supply

Genetic Resources

Provision of Shade and Shelter

Pharmacological Resources

Cultural Functions
Landscape Opportunity



Ecosystem diversity is important to maintaining the diversity of aesthetic values that are held across the SEQ community. What is aesthetically pleasing to some people may not be to others.

If a leaf falls in the forest, can anyone hear? Ecosystems have aesthetic properties even if no-one is present to see, hear or feel the environment. But a 'value' is based on an individual's perception and our society derives more collective benefit if many people can gain pleasure from the experience. A treed park in the city can give to thousands or even millions of people in a day, whereas a distant paddock may be enjoyed by a grazier on the rare occasion.

The most important human input required to utilise this ecosystem service are inputs that facilitate ready access to an ecosystem (e.g. parks, paths, steps, view points). Aesthetic appreciation is innate and is generally independent of people's formal knowledge of ecosystems. 

ARE THERE ANY BARRIERS TO people RECEIVING this ecosystem service and its benefits?

Over-use of a particular location can degrade an ecosystem and its scenic amenity. Urbanisation and densification of the environment with industrial-style buildings can diminish people's opportunity for regular aesthetic appreciation of the environment. Loss of open space is often a concern for the maintenance of biodiversity and health of outdoor recreation, but it also causes loss of green 'look and feel' of cities and towns.

This ecosystem service provides many benefits that contribute both directly and indirectly to the well-being of the SEQ community. The Constituents of Well-being this ecosystem service contributes to are presented in Table 2 below. Further information on these constituents and how ecosystem services contribute to them can be obtained by clicking on the links in the table.


Table 2:The relative magnitude (to other ecosystem services) Aesthetic Values contributes to each constituent of well-being.

Well-being Category Constituent of Well-being 0
Physical Health            
Mental Health            
Secure and Continuous Supply of Services            
Security of Person            
Security of Health            
Secure Access to Services            
Security of Property            
Good Social Relations
Family Cohesion            
Community and Social Cohesion            
Freedom of Choice and Action
Social and Economic Freedom            
Self Actualisation            




Monitoring changes in land cover can be an indicator of scenic amenity.

Links to other publications and websites

SEQ Regional Plan - Scenic Amenity
Scenic Amenity
Healthy Spaces and Places
Healthy Waterways - Keep it Clean
SEQ Water - Aesthetic Guideline Value
Plant Culture - Office Aesthetics

It would be possible to routinely measure changes in the scenic amenity of SEQ landscapes by updating information on the land cover of the region - increasing urbanisation and declining open space - and resulting changes in the area of preferred scenery. Another approach would be to monitor changes in the views from popular view points.

Current regional guidance on aesthetic assessment is limited to visual appreciation - scenic amenity. The Department of Local Government and Planning have sponsored a number of scenic amenity studies in SEQ to identify our most scenic (and not so scenic) landscapes. This work has been collated into a set of guidelines about protecting scenic views, view corridors and scenic landscapes. Included in these guidelines is the Interim Regional Scenic Preference Maps providing a moderately contemporary overview of the region's visual resources. It would be valuable to update this mapping (2004 version) and enhance and maintain this information. 

How is this ecosystem service currently managed in SEQ?

There is no specific agency or legislation charged with management of this ecosystem service. Most local governments in SEQ employ professional planners, landscape architects and environmental planners who can advise on the approach taken to protect aesthetic values in their council area. The Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and the Department of State Development, Infrastructure and Planning have professionals who can provide limited advice and assistance. The Australian Institute of Landscape Architects can also recommend professionals who can assist in aesthetic assessment of landscapes or views.