Mapping landscape potential for outdoor recreation

Outdoor recreation outside urban areas has been steadily growing over the last decades. This development opened up new opportunities, but also posed pressing challenges. Effective landscape management to use new opportunities while addressing upcoming challenges requires a better understanding of what makes landscapes attractive for outdoor recreationists. IVM researchers Franziska Komossa, Emma van der Zanden and Nynke Schulp quantify landscapes' outdoor recreation potential using different recreation user groups in the European Union.

12/05/2017 | 12:22 PM

Knowledge about the preferences of different recreation user groups and their potential spatial distribution will enable stakeholders to adopt their agenda at different levels (e.g. landscape management, spatial planning, development of recreational facilities) to meet recreational users' demands and prevent the occurrence of potential conflicts. 

A typology of 5 outdoor recreation user groups was made on the basis of spatial indicators for landscape characteristics identified through a literature review of landscape preferences. Findings from the review were validated in an expert workshop that focused on the relative importance of these preferences. The study refers to the 5 user groups as ‘the convenience recreationist’, ‘the day tripper’, ‘the education recreationist’, ‘the nature trekker’, and ‘the spiritual recreationist’. The groups differ from each other according to recreation focus and landscape preferences. 

Fig 1 Mapping landscape recreation
Figure 1: Overlay of the dominant outdoor recreation potentials for all outdoor recreation user groups. Map was simplified for visualization purposes by removing small patches.
The convenience recreationist stays close to home, enjoys easy short-term activities and is drawn to landscapes with a high level of scenic beauty, preferably close to water sites. The day tripper engages in more active and sportive activities, aimed at bodily recovery, and appreciates above all the naturalness of the recreation environment. The education recreationist, as the name already implies, values the educational merits of the landscape and these are above all found in the differences from the recreationist's home environment; rare flora and fauna, for example, as well as landscape variation hold special interest. "Real nature" is what attracts the nature trekker, finding it primarily in remote places that are not easily accessible such as rough, mountainous landscapes. The spiritual recreationist, finally, seeks for an authentic way of life through a closeness with nature. The likelihood of a landscape to be perceived sacred or spiritual increases with the presence of outstanding qualities such as unusual rock formations, spectacular lakes, canyons or exceptional beauty.

As a next step, the study mapped where landscapes attractive to the aforementioned recreation user groups occur. This revealed diverging patterns, but also overlapping patterns of outdoor recreation potential for all user groups (Figure1). Overlaps between the outdoor recreation potential of different user groups are a result of landscape attributes that are similarly interesting for different user groups. Examples are similar preferences for elevation for the convenience recreationist and the day tripper and a focus on flora and fauna for the education recreationist and the spiritual recreationist. Generally, areas with high recreation potential for multiple user groups are dominated by forest or mosaic land use and are often concentrated in mountainous areas. 

Fig 2 Mapping landscape
Figure 2: Accessibility of outdoor recreation potential across the EU for (A1) The convenience recreationist, with (A2) a zoom in on The Netherlands and the German Ruhr area; (B1) The day tripper, with (B2) a zoom in on The Netherlands and the German Ruhr area; (C) The education recreationist; (D) The nature trekker and (E) The spiritual recreationist.
Finally, the researchers analyzed to what extent the different recreation user groups can access the potentially attractive landscapes. As accessibility is related to the willingness to travel, which varies among the separate user groups, different accessibility thresholds were applied for each of them to identify areas with low versus high accessibility per user group. The low willingness to travel of the convenience recreationist consequently reveals itself in patches of highly accessible areas with high outdoor recreation potential in highly urbanized zones, e.g. in The Netherlands or the German Ruhr area (Figure 2, dark brown). The developed maps accordingly show that the degree of accessibility strongly differs among areas with high recreation potential, ranging from 0.1% of areas with high recreation potential classified as highly accessible for the convenience recreationist, compared to 97% for the spiritual recreationist. 

For more information, you can find the paper online under
Full dataset can be downloaded from