Hansson, K.*, Külvik, M. Bell, S. and Maikov, K. 2012. A Preliminary Assessment of Preferences for Estonian Natural Forests. Baltic Forestry 18(2): 299-315

Forests are a major element of the Estonian landscape and are visited by many people for recreational purposes. This article explores the Estonian natural forest environment from an aesthetic point of view. Previous studies have shown that natural landscapes are preferred over artificial, man-altered landscapes, yet little is known about preferences within natural settings in Estonia, where the forest forms an important aspect of the culture. The study reported here aimed to test the preferences for different natural forest stand structures using photographs shown to 97 participants. The evaluation was based on the environmental preference matrix of coherence, complexity and mystery formulated by Kaplan and Kaplan (1982, 1989), the photos being assessed for these factors by experts before the preference survey took place. Other elements were also evaluated to see which respondents found most attractive or unattractive and which might affect preference. The results were analysed to see which factors best explained preferences. Similarities between expert-group and lay-person assessments of predictor variables were also examined. Mystery proved to be statistically the strongest predictors of preference followed by coherence, as expressed by the test subjects, although the most preferred scenes were rated by experts as having high levels of coherence, showing some differences between experts and non-experts. The elements which most negatively affected preference were signs of death and decay as well as natural untidiness. This suggests that features inherent to natural landscapes and natural processes are not well understood or appreciated by the test population and that more information could be provided explaining why these are necessary parts of the natural landscape.

Keywords: visual landscape perception, human-landscape interaction, environmental preference, natural forest views, naturalness of environment.