The visual (disamenity) impact of energy infrastructure/energy chains can potentially restrict the set of feasible pathways for meeting future energy demands in the UK (e.g. through local opposition and/or regulatory actions). Wind farms in particular have a profound visual impact that extends over large Zones of Visual Influence (ZVI). This project examines the possible impacts of energy systems on visual aspects across the UK, and the consequences of these on limiting the realm of feasible UK energy scenarios. Specifically, it will address:

1. What is the potential ZVI of different energy system components (wind, power stations, and perennial bioenergy fields) and how this ZVI changes spatially under different pathways?

2. What are the current and emerging regulatory and legislative barriers for energy development imposed by the overlap of ZVI with different land designations (e.g. National Parks, Green Belt).

3. How do people from different groups of beneficiaries value existing UK landscapes? Are there thresholds in their willingness to accept alterations to visual amenity stemming from different energy generation land uses and how might this change spatially (e.g. at greater distances)?

4. How much of the estimated bio- and geo-physical potential of different energy technologies can be realized under present-day regulatory/legislative barriers and societal preferences?    


Analysing ZVIs is a computationally challenging exercise, especially when one needs to incorporate effects of vegetation, buildings and other features and work with very high resolution digital elevation models. In Leeds, a novel VoxelViewshed tool has been developed using ray casting algorithms common in gaming software, but largely ignored by mainstream GIS software. This approach enables near real-time mapping of ZVIs from many millions of points to all other areas within tens of kilometres. The tool was used to develop a wilderness quality index for the whole of Scotland that was later adopted by Scottish Natural Heritage to define wild land areas. We will use a similar approach to develop cultural landscape indicators for the whole of England. Comparing thresholding and ordination methods (e.g. PCA), we will explore different definitions of ZVI and their overlap with designated landscapes across the UK. This will be complemented by policy analysis and web-administered choice experiments, which are commonly used to value changes in ESs and offer information on trade-offs among the benefits provided by the different alternatives. We will also use a new fuzzy participatory GIS tool (Map-me) developed at Leeds to validate the geocomputation analysis with locals and experts. Finally, we will extend the analysis by combining the outcomes with GIS-based modelling of potential energy supply, and examining the trade-offs between energy services, nature recreation (based on aesthetic value) and existence value for wild/cultural landscapes.

The PDRA on this sub-WP will focus on visual and cultural impacts of onshore and offshore wind, while an associated PhD student will examine unconventional gas (including impacts on belonging and ownership for those whose property is above a shale-gas field) and/or bioenergy (including visual impacts from generation stations, landscape from crop planting, global from imported biomass). Cross-fertilization between the projects will benefit both the PDRA and student.


Our research feeds into further analyses in Projects 11, 12 & 13. It will provide a first assessment of the visual impacts and constraints impose on developing a suite of energy technologies and supply chains within the UK. This analysis is well suited to support spatial planning, zoning and other policy development at the local authority, regional and national levels.