Natural Resources, 2013, 4, 460-472
Published Online November 2013 (
Open Access NR
Evaluating the Land scape Capacity of Protected Rural
Areas to Host Photovoltaic Parks in Sicily
Laura Carullo, Patrizia Russo, Lara Riguccio, Giovanna Tomaselli
Department of Agri-Food and Environmental Systems Management, Catania University, Catania, Italy.
Received August 25th, 2013; revised October 3rd, 2013; accepted October 30th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Laura Carullo et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License,
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
This paper uses the LCA (Landscape Character Assessment) manuals produced by the Countryside Agency and Scottish
Natural Heritage to develop a method for analysing the characteristics of the landscape and its ability to host photo-
voltaic parks. The method was tested on a site which is part of the Natura 2000 network in Sicily, where the different
needs of high quality agricultural land, scenery of great natural value and human activities compete with one another.
The evaluation of the landscape’s capacity to absorb the changes was effectuated by defining criteria which take into
consideration the possible impact of photovoltaic sites on the landscape. These criteria were used to evaluate the sensi-
tivity of the characteristics of the landscape as well as its quality and value, and the visual impact of the proposed
changes. Most of the Landscape Units were found to be not suitable for photovoltaic parks because of the high value of
the land. However, protected agricultural land, mainly used for greenhouses, has a medium to high capacity to host pho-
tovoltaic plants, and if these are correctly planned, this could help to lower the sensitivity levels.
Keywords: Natural Resources; Energy Resources; Landscape Resources
1. Introduction
There is increasing interest in developing photovoltaic
energy in Sicily. The statistical institute GSE (Gestore
Servizi Energetici—management of electrical services)
found that photovoltaic energy production increased from
155.9 MW in 2010 to 865.7 MW in 2011, and 60% of
this was produced from land sites [1].
While the energy, economic and environmental impact
of photovoltaic plants is generally seen as positive [2-4],
the large scale use has a negative impact on the land-
scape, particularly in rural areas.
At national level, photovoltaic energy and other re-
newable energy sources are encouraged, but local com-
munities are more concerned about their negative impact
on their quality of life and the landscape [5].
Consequently, landscape aspects have taken on a key
role in determining the new sustainable energy strategy
Scientific studies have mainly considered the general
impact of photovoltaic farms on the landscape [7-9] al-
though deeper research has also concentrated on the vis-
ual impact [10,11]. However, the visual and perceptual
impact of solar parks on the landscape is similar to that
of other structures, such as wind farms, greenhouses,
warehouses, etc. There is a great deal of literature on this
argument, with useful information on the best way to li-
mit their visual impact [12-22].
However, analysing the impact of a project depends on
assessing its visual impact on the site. This requires a
landscape plan which can resolve the contradictions in-
volved in defining the assets of the landscape, and thus it
not only mitigates the impact on the landscape but also
ensures that the plants themselves contribute to its qual-
ity and identity, and respect the character of the place
The site was studied during the drafting of the Man-
agement Plan for the area.
The SCI/SPA sites of the Natura 2000 network are ar-
eas that the European Directives 43/92/CEE “Habitat”
and 409/79/CEE “Birds” state are important for guaran-
teeing the conservation of biodiversity, the habitats, and
the species, as part of a European Union wide network of
ecological sites. These sites also host normal human ac-
tivities, and this needs to be taken into consideration
when developing strategies for protecting and improving
their natural resources (Art. 2) [23-25].
Evaluating the Landscape Capacity of Protected Rural Areas to Host Photovoltaic Parks in Sicily 461
This is one of the fundamental principles established
for the landscape by the European Landscape Convention
[26], i.e. that conservation and planning measures are
only effective if they are established with the consensus
and participation of the local population.
Thus, it is necessary to study how to reconcile conser-
vation needs with social and economic development, and
with protecting the landscape.
The sites of Natura 2000 network include some excep-
tional landscape that should be preserved and also some
ordinary landscape and degraded areas. The latter needs
to be managed and recovered, so that they can become
places of “varied” quality, useful for everyday activities.
Planning allows us to reach these objectives, and this is
based on observation, evaluation and interpretation of the
dynamics of the landscape. Unlike other landscapes,
“protected” areas, “are distinguishable by having greater
(potential) operational efficacy, due to the existence of a
management plan, special management, and a manage-
ment structure, finance being available, and, in some
cases, consolidated experience built up over years...”
[25,27]. This means that in some cases they can become
experimental laboratories for innovative policies for sus-
tainable development and “model” examples of land ma-
nagement. This is also true when the question of insert-
ing photvoltaic parks is considered, in some cases they
may be compatible with the objectives of Natura 2000.
This work elaborates criteria for deciding which rural
areas are best suited for photovoltaic parks, taking into
consideration respect for the local character and the cul-
tural, social and production changes that would ensue. A
methodology for analysing and evaluating the landscape
was created and its validity tested on a sensitive rural
area which is part of the Italian Natura 2000 network: the
SCI-SPA “Torre Manfria, Biviere di Gela, Piana di Gela”
site, on the southern coast of Sicily. Parts of the area
have suffered greatly from human activities.
The area under investigation is dedicated to conserving
nature, and in particular migratory birds, and this would
logically exclude the installation of photovoltaic parks.
The parks could, however, be installed in certain degrad-
ed landscape in the area without interfering with the
above objectives.
2. Materials and Methods
This work evaluates the capacity of the SCI/SPA “Torre
Manfria, Biviere di Gela, Piana di Gela” to host photo-
voltaic parks, following the guidelines laid out in the
LCA (Landscape Character Assessment) manuals.
SCI/SPA “Torre Manfria, Biviere di Gela, Piana di
Gela” is a site of great natural value and includes an in-
ternationally important wetland (Ramsar) where both
local and migratory birds winter, nest and live. It is a fun-
damentally important ecological unit for flora [28,29]
and fauna [30] (Figure 1).
It has a surface area of 178.4656 km2, including ma-
rine areas. The land area is 160.28 km2, which is equiva-
lent to 3.6% of the total surface area of the regional Na-
tura 2000 network.
The vast areas of wetland, in particular the “Biviere di
Gela”, a regional conservation area and Ramsar site,
mean that the site is of marked importance for bird con-
servation. It also contains areas of cereal crops.
Along the coast the vegetation is host to a myriad of
habitats and home of many types of fauna [31].
There is also highly visible human activity with great
environmental impact, but also areas of marked historical
and archaeological value and active productive land. All
of these coexist in a way which is not consistent with the
definitions for areas classified as IBA (Important Bird
Areas) [32].
The evaluation uses the information on landscape units
(LU) obtained in a previous paper. Their characteristics
are shown in Table 1, and their geographical location
and borders are shown in Figure 2 [32-36].
The LCA manual, and its later expansion [37], defines
landscape capacity as “the degree to which a particular
landscape character type or area is able to accommodate
change without significant effects on its character”. This
capacity changes, depending on the types of the proposed
changes, and does not establish precise limits to land-
scape transformation, but rather defines the potential areas
which can host the changes [38,39].
It is worth clarifying that a state or regionally protect-
ed landscape is not necessarily a highly sensitive land-
scape. The capacity depends on the relationships between
the value of the landscape, its sensitivity, and the type of
proposed changes. This is the reason why a high value
landscape may not be compromised by a particular
Figure 1. Study area.
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Table 1. Description of features for Landscape Units identified.
Landscape Units Description of features
LU 1. Mount Ursitto Chalky-sulphuric rugged outcrops subject to high erosion, steep slopes. Scrub and small olive groves or vineyards. Markedly
unspoilt nature.
LU 2. Ursitto Sottano
and Serralunga Undulating morphology of clay or fluvial deposits. Cultvated land with many almond orchards and olive groves.
LU 3. Muro Rizzo Plain
and Lenze of Budiciano
Morphological plain, crossed by the river Maroglio, the main tributary of the river Gela. The area is divided into regular fields
with small farm buildings.
LU 4. Gela Plain
A wide plain, rich in water and fertile, cultivated almost exclusively for artichokes. Niscemi’s high plains are like leaning high
uttresses to the plain crossed by river Gela and its tributaries, the Maroglio and Cimia. The estuary area has been urbanized
with houses and other services and communication infrastructure.
LU 5. Niscemi Ravines An extensive ravine system set among clay hills. It is accessible by tracks which provide a panoramic view of Gela’s entire
plain, down to the sea.
LU 6. Hillside Valleys
of the Valle Torta and
Valle Priolo Rivers
Clayey hills and mainly torrent-like streams. Mainly a farming area with, almond orchards, olive groves and vineyards as well
as tilled land. Much greenhouse cultivation especially in the higher central area.
LU 7. Plain of the
Well-watered mainly tilled plain, with some old vineyards. The land is rich in archaeological sites on both banks of the rive,
which was once navigable
LU 8. ‘Macconi’ of
A sandy coastal strip, flat, with vast areas. of dunes. The landscape has been heavily modified by uncontrolled and disorderly
occupation of state land. There are greenhouses along the entire dune area, down the shoreline, and these have almost com-
pletely replaced the natural ecosystems and thus dramatically reduced the original habitats and biodiversity.
LU 9. Wetland of
Biviere di Gela Lake
A lake flanking the coastal dunes, with large bights worming their way among the dunes. The banks are intensely cultivated,
with vineyards and vegetable cultivation. Of great natural value because of the diversified environments, which host several
animal species and ensure the survival of different food chains. Recognized as an internationally important wetland (Ramsar
convention) and special conservation area according to EEC directive 79/409.
LU 10. Wetland of
Piana del Signore
The area between Gela’s industrial area, the oil refinery and Macconi greenhouses. An aquatic area with marshes, the Rive
Valle Priolo and a coastal strip), but major environmental problems due to human activities. The land is mainly flat.
LU 11. Gela River
A flat urbanized area with housing and a communication network which links Gela with the industrial plants located east o
the town. A quite natural river environment, although channelled between embankments at its estuary, with vegetation and
uncultivated areas on the banks. The mouth of the River Gela mouth is also rich in archaeological sites, mainly of Greek
LU 12. Arena Hill Rather well conserved coastal dunes, despite large areas of the gulf being built over with houses and greenhouses. At Monte
Lungo, sheer marble cliffs face the sea.
LU 13. Manfria Tower Sandy beaches broken by steep coastal slopes. There has been a great deal of illegal building along the coast. The area behind
the beaches is cultivated. There are important archaeological remains, and a panoramic view towards Licata.
LU 14. Manfria Dunes An ample dune sandbar, in some parts still well conserved, with hygrophilous, shrubby, herbaceous vegetation and various
rare or threatened species. The area is crossed by the Desusino, Rizzuto and Comunelli torrents
Figure 2. Landscape Unity (LU).
Evaluating landscape capacity means defining a clear
and reproducible program with precise evaluation criteria,
and compensating for subjectivity in the evaluation.
Evaluating the Landscape Capacity of Protected Rural Areas to Host Photovoltaic Parks in Sicily 463
Following the suggestions in the LCA guide [37], the
program had three phases:
first phase, defining the evaluation criteria;
second phase annotation of the evaluations;
third phase evaluating landscape capacity.
In the first phase landscape capacity was evaluated
following the guidelines in the literature [40,41], accord-
ing to which evaluation must take into account:
Landscape Value
Landscape Quality/Condition
Landscape Sensitivity
According to the LCA manual [37]:
The Value of each landscape depends on its local and
regional context. It can be determined by establishing a
consensus on its value, the sustainability criteria, and de-
finitions of the identity of the place [37].
The quality or cond ition of the landscape is its integral
physical condition and the visual, functional and ecolo-
gical importance of each component.
There are many definitions of Landscape sensitivity
and these definitions often conflict with one another.
However if we define it as the stability of the characteris-
tics of the landscape, it can be seen as: “the degree to
which that character is robust enough to continue and to
be able to recuperate from loss or damage. A landscape
with a character of high sensitivity is one that, once lost,
would be difficult to restore; a character that, if valued,
must be afforded particular care and consideration in
order for it to survive .” [42].
Landscape sensitivity can either be analysed globally
or in relation to specific cases or specific pressure, as is
the case in the present study.
Different methods can be used to evaluate sensitivity
[37]. This study combines analysis of character sensitiv-
ity and visual sensitivity.
As can be seen in Table 2, the qualitative characteris-
tics for each evaluation component of landscape capacity
have been given one of three values: low, medium or
high. The evaluation criteria follow the indications in the
literature, and in particular the French and German ma-
nuals [8], as well as some Italian regional manuals [43,
In the second phase judgements based on the previ-
ously established evaluation criteria (character sensitivity,
visual sensitivity, landscape quality and landscape value)
were included in the appropriate dossier (Figure 3). It
included a synthetic but efficacious structured and up-to-
date description of the character of the site, the structures
it contained, and the various values which could be given
to them. This allowed us to explain the criteria to the de-
cision makers and the firms in an efficient way [33]. The
information in Table 2 was used to give a value to each
Landscape Unity (LU).
In the third phase the data from the evaluation of the
different criteria were compared, in order to reach a defi-
nition of landscape capacity.
There are different ways of doing this. In this work we
preferred to use a qualitative method which reported oral
evaluations, using the criteria described in Table 2. These
were then combined in a single matrix. The oral evalua-
tions were converted into colours, so that the results
would be clearly visible on the map.
The oral evaluations were divided into a five level
scale: low, medium-low, medium, medium-high, and high.
This simplified the process of combining the different
evaluations and improved our ability to differentiate be-
tween the various areas.
Thus the evaluation process for each criteria was pre-
sented visually and comprehensibly, and it could be ex-
amined by, and shared with, the competent authorities
An LU’s capacity to host a photovoltaic park was high
if its character sensitivity and landscape value were low.
This meant that a photovoltaic park would not cause sig-
nificant changes in the LU. The capacity was low if sen-
sitivity and landscape value were high. This meant that a
photovoltaic park would significantly alter the LU, and
thus was inadvisable.
3. Results
Physical and perceptive criteria were used to determine
the sensitivity of the characteristics of the landscape.
This was combined with the visual sensitivity criteria and
the value of the landscape in order to define the capacity.
3.1. Character Sensitivity
Character sensitivity was evaluated using the criteria des-
cribed in Table 2.
All the LU had high sensitivity of natural character
(SNC) because they contained protected habitats and spe-
cies. This included LU 8, where there were only small
areas of habitat, but precisely for that reason, these were
of great value.
However there were very high levels of pollution in
LU 8, because of the many greenhouses, and this, com-
bined with permeable soil and high agricultural value
meant that the LU was defined as medium sensitivity in
our survey. Character sensitivity is, indeed, greatly influ-
enced by the landscape quality and in LU 8 this was very
LU 8, 10, 11, were given low human sensitivity char-
acteristics (HSC) because parts of them were used for
intensive agriculture (LU 8) or industry (LU 10 and 11).
Building photovoltaic parks would not modify the pro-
ductive functions of the landscape. LU 12 had areas of
traditional hillside agriculture, used for dry arable farm-
ing, and also tourist structures in its lower areas along the
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Table 2. Definitions of the criteria for evaluating the sensitivity of the character, the visual sensitivity, the landscape quality
and the landscape value for evaluati ng the capacity of the landscape.
Components Impact of photovoltaic
plants Weightings
Low sensitivity Medium sensitivity High sensitivity
Water Loss of retentive
capacity, pollution
Climate Modification of the
impermeable, erosion
Flora Loss/modification of
habitat and species
Loss/modification of
habitat and species,
Medium conservation
interest; medium permeable
soils; medium agricultural
value; medium levels of
High conservation interest;
permeable soils; high agricultural
value; non-polluted areas; rugged
Land use
Loss of cultivable
surface, traditional
culture, modification of
the agricultural fabrics
Disturbance of use,
loss of intrinsic quality
Modification/loss of
access, open spaces,
radiation, visual effects
Industrial/urbanised areas;
intensive agriculture;
absence of
cultural heritage; no
modifications in use; absence
of/distant from settlements;
no open spaces
Areas of extensive
agriculture; presence of
cultural heritage;
settlements of
some interest for
the project
Traditional agricultural areas and
non-extensive; high quality
cultivation; presence of cultural
heritage in the area of the project
or its surroundings; distur
of use; presence of/ear to
settlements; modification of
access, viability, use;
open spaces
Loss of scenic value,
ostacles to views
Modification of
dominant integral areas,
technical footprint
factors Function of
Technical footprint,
loss of recreational
Low visual quality; no scenic
value; no modification in the
dominant elements; integrity
of the landscape already
damaged; presence of harmful
elements; obstacles to views;
no tourist/recreational use
Medium visual quality;
disturbance of the dominant
integral elements of the
countryside; presence of
some harmful elements and
obstacles to views; areas
with some tourist/
recreational functions
High visual quality and scenic
value; modification of the
dominant elements; unspoilt
landscape; no harmful elements
or obstacles to views;
tourist/recreational use
Visual effects; technical
footprints (large
uniform black areas and
isolated imposing
Low visibility of and from the
countryside; flat or gently
rolling landscape; large
amounts of vegetation or
Low visibility of and from
the area
Rolling countryside; little
vegetation and few buildings;
settlements face towards the edge
of the area; tops of mountains o
plateaus visible
Visual disturbance due
to a certain number of
inhabitants and visitors;
disturbance in use
Area with low population
and rarely visited
Area inhabited or visited
at a medium level
Rugged topography; little
vegetation and few buildings;
small densely populated
areas with isolated villages
Type of camouflaging
Existing visual barriers can
be used
Visual barriers
can be created
Impossible to create
visual barriers
introduction of outside
elements which could
change the dominant
Degraded Mainly integral with
some degraded elements Integral
Typicality Transformation of the
landscape Not typical Some typical elements
present Typical
Quality (LQ)
elements of
the landscape
Acceleration of the
transformation and/or
degradation process
Many degraded elements
Both degraded and
non-degraded elements
present in equal quantities
Single elements in
good condition
Evaluating the Landscape Capacity of Protected Rural Areas to Host Photovoltaic Parks in Sicily 465
Loss of the conditions
which had been
responsible for the
issuing of norms
No limitations
Value recognised by the
local population in the
absence of official
Environmental and landscape
limiting norms
Consensus on
Loss of the conditions
which created the
social consensus
Low consensus Medium consensus High consensus
value (LV) Other Criteria
indicating value
Loss of the conditions
which determine the
Dynamic, highly urbanised
and highly productive
areas without scenic
value and of no
conservation interest
Areas with medium
tranquillity with few
inhabitants, of medium
interest for the landscape
and conservation
Quiet places with few inhabi-
tants, wild, with great scenic
value and of great conservation
coast. Thus this LU was given medium levels of sensitiv-
ity in its human and cultural characteristics. LUs 1, 5, 9,
13 and 14 had high sensitivity, because there were no
settlements and there was valuable historical patrimony.
LUs 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 had high sensitivity because they
contained settlements and traditional agriculture, and also
because they contained, or were near to, certain areas of
historical or archaeological importance. The traditional
rural character of these LUs was very high. However
most of the valuable rural buildings are in ruins, as are
the archaeological sites and the numerous historical re-
mains, and are not marked on maps, and there are also
certain elements present which damage the landscape.
The Sensitivity of the Aesthetic and Perceptual Char-
acteristics (SPC) was found to be high for LUs 1, 5, 9, 12,
13 and 14, where natural characteristics prevail. These
are silent peaceful places where one feels a great sense of
solitude. LUs 12 and 13 have beautiful views over the
plain of Gela and the sea. Building photovoltaic parks in
such places would damage the landscape and distort their
perceived characteristics.
LUs 2, 3, 6 and 7 have high sensitivity due to the tran-
quillity of the agricultural landscape, with a prevailing
sense of the balance with nature, of remoteness, and of
the unchanging quality to the landscape.
LU 4 is dominated by Castello Svevo on a limestone
hill. The rural landscape is wide and open. The slopes of
the Niscemi plateau, which can be seen to the east of the
LU, are of great scenic value. The colours of the area
change with the seasons, because it is used for cereal
crops, and so in summer it becomes yellow, which would
contrast greatly with the colours of potential photovoltaic
parks. Consequently this is a high sensitivity area.
The very low levels of SPC for LU 8 and 11 are be-
cause there are many negative factors. LU 8 is dominated
by the greenhouses which block every view of the sur-
rounding landscape and also by piles of discarded plastic
and illegal rubbish dumps.
In LU 11, by contrast, the panorama is destroyed by
the chaotic diffusion of industrial buildings and their in-
frastructure. LU 10 has some natural characteristics,
alongside industrial plants and many negative factors for
the landscape. For this reason it has medium sensitivity.
To determine the overall sensitivity of the character
one must take the landscape quality into consideration.
The evaluation criteria for this are reported in Table 2.
LUs 1, 2, 3, 4, 9 and 14 have high landscape quality,
because they contain relatively unspoiled valuable natu-
ral habitats (LUs 1, 9 and 14) or because they are typical
of the local rural characteristics of the area (LUs 2, 3 and
4). However greenhouses are beginning to be built in LU
14. LUs 12 and 13 have a mainly unspoilt quality, al-
though there are some recent buildings which do not
blend into the landscape. LUs 8, 10 and 11 are of low
landscape quality, because of the great impact of human
activities. This has resulted in natural resources being da-
maged, the beginning of loss of biodiversity, and reduc-
tions in the social quality of life, as well as the ability of
the local population to identify with the area. The re-
maining LUs have medium values, because, although
they are in relatively good condition, they are less typical
of the area than are the other LUs.
Information on evaluating the natural, human, and per-
ceptive character were combined with the quality of each
landscape (Figure 4), to create a map of the overall cha-
racter sensitivity (Figure 5). Clearly, the character sensi-
tivity of each LU is greatly influenced by its quality. For
example LU 8 has low sensitivity because all the para-
meters are low.
3.2. Visual Sensitivity
The criteria for determining visual sensitivity are shown
in Table 2.
LUs 1, 5, 7 and 14 have higher visual sensitivity than
those on hilly land (LUs 1, 5 and 14) and one cannot
change this, even though the landscape is not much used
(Figure 6). LUs 2 and 3 have views over the plain of
Gela and the Niscemi plateau, and so have high visual
sensitivity. LU 10 has high sensitivity because, although
not of highly visible, it is frequently used by local people.
The same is true for LU 11. LU 8 has low sensitivity be-
cause it is can only rarely be glimpsed from the main
roads, and because some of the structures of a solar park
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Evaluating the Landscape Capacity of Protected Rural Areas to Host Photovoltaic Parks in Sicily
Figure 3. Evaluation dossier.
would have less visual impact than the existing green-
houses. The remaining LU were classified as medium
sensitivity because they are rarely visited (LU 12) and/or
because it would be possible to mitigate the effects of the
parks (UPs 4 and 6).
3.3. The Value of the Landscape
The landscape’s value was generally determined on the
basis of its institutional or social importance and its rare
and high biodiversity.
The evaluation criteria were closely connected to the
specific area, which is of great conservation interest but
also suffers from important human impact. Thus it was
decided to give additional weight to the remaining nature,
to the sense of peacefulness, and to the scenery.
No LU had a landscape value of less than medium, de-
fined as their importance for conserving biodiversity, as
sites of the Natura 2000 network. LU 9 (Lake Biviere)
had a very high value, because it is an internationally im-
portant wetland, of great importance for bird protection
(Ramsar Convention), and of regional importance as the
largest coastal lake. This LU is, furthermore, an oasis of
unpoiled nature and peace. s
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Evaluating the Landscape Capacity of Protected Rural Areas to Host Photovoltaic Parks in Sicily 467
Figure 4. Sensitivity of natural, human, perceptive character and quality sensitivity of landscape.
Figure 5. Overal sensitivity of the character.
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Evaluating the Landscape Capacity of Protected Rural Areas to Host Photovoltaic Parks in Sicily
The coastal LUs 6, 8, 11, 12, 13 and 14, were given
high ratings because of their importance as links between
land and sea biospheres. They also include the mouths of
the rivers which cross the SCI/SPA site. LUs 8, 12, 13
and 14 also contain fragile dune systems which need con-
servation. LU 13 contains important historical architec-
ture and archaeological remains. The transient bogs of
LU 10 and the riverside areas of LU 7 are also of high
value. LUs 2, 4 and 5 are homes to the typical bird spe-
cies which live in the semi-steppe cereal growing areas.
LU 1 is of great value for conserving habitats and species
and is a natural oasis in an area with intense human ac-
tivities. It also contains traditional rural buildings and
beautiful scenery.
3.4. Landscape Capacity
The landscape capacity was defined by comparing the re-
sults for the character sensitivity (LCS), and the visual
sensitivity and combining these with the landscape value,
using the correlation criteria suggested in the LCA ma-
nuals (Table 3). The landscape capacity map shows the
values given to the different components for each LU
(Figure 7).
Because landscape capacity depends on the values
given to the landscape, no LU was found to be highly
suitable for hosting a photovoltaic park. Indeed all the
LUs had high landscape values, because of their impor-
tance for conservation. However LU 8 is greatly degrad-
ed and thus was given a medium-high capacity.
LUs 1, 9, 10 and 14 had low capacity mainly because
of the rarity of their environments. LUs 7 and 11 had low
levels because of their importance as ecological link ar-
LUs 2, 3, 4 and 5 had low capacity because they are
typical examples of steppe and cereal cultivation, and the
homes of rich bird-life, which is why this area is a Natura
2000 site. These LUs are also very visible, and so any
Figure 6. Visual Sensitivity.
Table 3. Evaluation of the landscape capacity.
Landscape Unit SNC HSC SPC LQ LCS VS LV Landscape Capacity
LU 1 High High High High HIGH High High LOW
LU 2 Medium Medium High High MEDIUMMedium High LOW
LU 3 Medium Medium High High MEDIUMMedium High LOW
LU 4 High Medium Medium High MEDIUMMedium High LOW
LU 5 High High High Medium HIGH High High LOW
LU 6 Medium Medium Medium Medium MEDIUMMedium High MEDIUM-LOW
LU 7 Medium Medium Medium Medium MEDIUMHigh High LOW
LU 8 Low Low Low Low LOW Low High MEDIUM-HIGH
LU 9 High High High High HIGH Medium High LOW
LU 10 High Low Medium Low MEDIUMHigh High LOW
LU 11 High Low Low Low MEDIUMHigh High LOW
LU 12 High Low Medium Medium MEDIUMMedium High MEDIUM-LOW
LU 13 High High High Medium HIGH Medium High MEDIUM-LOW
LU 14 High High High High HIGH High High LOW
SNC: Sensitivity of natural characters; HSC: Sensitivity of Human characters; SPC: Sensitivity of Aesthetic-perceptual Character; LQ: Landscape quality;
LCS: Landscape characters sensitivity; VS: Visual sensitivity; LV: Landscape Value.
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Evaluating the Landscape Capacity of Protected Rural Areas to Host Photovoltaic Parks in Sicily 469
Figure 7. Capacity.
new structures immediately strike the eye.
The remaining LU has medium capacity, because of
their high value, even when they have low sensitivity.
4. Discussion
No LU was found to be suitable for change, and, gener-
ally speaking, high impact technology such as solar pan-
els should not be introduced. However it was discovered
that even protected areas contain degraded landscape,
and these have medium-high capacity for transformation,
if the impact of the project is verified occasionally. It was
also found that low capacity was linked to high character
sensitivity and visual sensitivity, and not merely to the
high values given to the landscape.
With reference to the method used for evaluating the
sensitivity of the landscape and its capacity to host a pho-
tovoltaic park, we would like to highlight the following
The evaluation of the capacity of the landscape is bas-
ed on the literature on landscape characteristics and is in
line with the principles of the European Landscape Con-
vention (art. 1).
There were certain subjective elements in the evalua-
tion but, if accepted as part of a transparent, simple and
rigorous process, with clearly established evaluation cri-
teria, and one which is easily comprehensible to laymen,
they could become a key way of involving citizens in ter-
ritorial planning, allowing them to direct the changes in
their homeland. The qualitative weightings in the evalua-
tion were developed in a single matrix. This summed up
the results of the different phases and allowed the steps
taken to be retraced and the reasoning behind the final
proposals to be understood. In the approach used “capac-
ity” did not define the precise limits for development in a
particular landscape but, instead, indicated the land-
scape’s ability to host the changes, identifying those
highly sensitive aspects of the landscape whose alteration
would change the significance of the landscape.
A decisive ironclad weighting was given to values at-
tributed to the landscape when evaluating its capacity,
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Evaluating the Landscape Capacity of Protected Rural Areas to Host Photovoltaic Parks in Sicily
and these values were, in any case, high in protected ar-
eas. It is however desirable that such values emanate from
the involvement of the local population.
Further research could test the suitability of the eva-
luation method for different types of pressure, either in
the same place or in different locations, with specific
evaluation criteria being defined for each case.
5. Conclusions
This paper tested the appropriateness of the methods in
the LCA manuals of the Countryside Agency and Scot-
tish Natural Heritage for evaluating the capacity of a pro-
tected landscape to assimilate the modifications that
building a solar park would cause at the Natura 2000 site
“Torre Manfria, Biviere di Gela, Piana di Gela.
The work showed how effective the British system is
for analysing the characteristics of the landscape and
how its evaluation system could identify areas suitable
for specific human developments.
The research focused on the effect that solar parks
would have on the landscape [8], and identified reference
criteria and useful weightings for the relevant factors in
the evaluation process. These followed the principles es-
tablished by the ELC for evaluating particular landscapes.
The work identified their characteristics, and then added
a “specific measure” which gave value to the landscape,
based on its importance to the local population.
This evaluation process may also be used for a land-
scape which had already been examined by specific land-
scape planning instruments. The evaluation process is de-
signed to protect biodiversity, to conserve natural re-
sources and to create new and different management cri-
teria for rural areas, which will encourage sustainable de-
velopment or mitigate the impact of human activities, ve-
rifying whether or not the areas are suitable for photo-
voltaic parks.
In conclusion, we believe that evaluating the capacity
of the landscape based on an analysis of its characteris-
tics is an important planning instrument, and that the re-
sults of such evaluations should be widely communicated,
in particular to the local administrations that are respon-
sible for landscape planning. This would improve the plan-
ning of human activities in rural areas and pinpoint the
most suitable areas for such activities.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that even when a pro-
tected environment has a high capacity for hosting new
plants, the effective capacity depends on the specific pro-
ject. Every form of intervention affects the landscape,
and the impact depends on the amount of change and
possible mitigating actions. Although attempts may be
made to reduce them, the effects can still be significant
and are always related to the specific context and the cha-
racteristics of the new structures [40]. Thus, the signifi-
cance can only be evaluated on a case by case basis.
6. Acknowledgements
This paper has been prepared within the project LIFE11
NAT/IT/232, funded by the European Union.
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