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All construction work carried out by Landsvirkjun is accompanied by unavoidable disruption to land and can have an impact on the ecosystem and surroundings. Larger projects can have a significant visual impact and Landsvirkjun is therefore committed to designing new projects which harmonise manmade structures, landscaped areas and the natural surroundings.

The appearance of land and the environment

Development, research and construction work on new projects affects the appearance of the surrounding environment. Disturbance to the land can be in the form of reservoirs, dams, waterways, pipes, underground cables, facilities and drilling work. The effects can differ tremendously according to the nature and shape of the land surrounding the site as well as the utilisation of it.

Changes to the appearance of the land can have a great impact on how people perceive their environment. Perception is determined in part by the experience and emotions connected with a particular place but knowledge of the area, cultural background and the need to belong to the surrounding environment can also play a part. Diversity, uniqueness, beauty and the majesty of the landscape, alongside its value as a recreational area are all key factors in how people experience nature and the environment.

The discussion on visual impact is relatively new in Iceland, despite the fact that the Icelandic character is intrinsically tied with Icelandic nature. In 2012, Iceland became a member of the European Landscape Convention, increasing the profile of the discussion at the national level. The role of the agreement is to “promote landscape protection, management and planning” (http://conventions.coe.int) and Landsvirkjun is committed to using these guidelines in the design of new projects.

Environmental risk is assessed in all of Landsvirkjun’s projects and appropriate measures are taken immediately to minimise the likelihood of any danger arising.

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New projects on visual impact:

  • Three potential hydropower projects are under preparation along the Blanda Hydropower Station waterway in Auðkúluheiði. A landscape analysis was conducted on the waterway in connection with the EIA for the potential projects. The aim of the analysis was to identify ecological regions and to assess their value. The results will subsequently be used as part of the EIA to assess the sensitivity of the landscape, with regard to construction within the area. The landscape analysis could identify the need for necessary mitigation measures to ensure minimal disturbance to the quality and appearance of the land.
  • In 2012, a landscape architect was employed by Landsvirkjun. The work focuses on landscaping, the appearance of the environment, the design of structures and work in connection with landscape analysis in accordance with the European Landscape Convention. The objective of this work is to analyse the visual impact of projects earlier on in the design process.
  • Landsvirkjun has been active in developing a new methodology in connection with landscape analysis. The value of Icelandic landscape is assessed alongside the effects of new projects constructed and developed on that land. An international database which uses recognised methods to analyse landscape is used during the process of developing the methodology. This Icelandic methodology will offer the opportunity to establish procedures with regard to the decision making process and the organisation, design and construction of sites, the structures therein and finishing work on the surrounding landscape.
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Visual impact at Bjarnarflag and Þeistareykir

Two university students, studying architecture and landscape architecture, were involved in research projects for Landsvirkjun at Þeistareykir and Bjarnarflag with regard to landscaping and appearance. The project focused on landscaping disturbed land as a result of piping, borehole areas, borehole structures, mufflers and roads at the site of the potential power projects at Þeistareykir and Bjarnarflag.

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The European Landscape Convention

In 2012, Iceland became a member of the European Landscape Convention, an agreement introduced in 2000. The role of the agreement is to “promote landscape protection, management and planning” (http://conventions.coe.int) and to support European cooperation on these matters.

The Convention defines the word “Landscape” as “an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors” (http://conventions.coe.int). The convention emphasises the need for sustainable development built on balance, the consensus of society and the business sector and harmony with the environment. Membership of the convention is the Icelandic government’s declaration of intent to support the cause by implementing “principles, strategies and guidelines that permit the taking of specific measures aimed at the protection, management and planning of landscapes” and a commitment to “the formulation by the competent public authorities of the aspirations of the public with regard to the landscape features of their surroundings.” Furthermore, “Landscape” will be taken into consideration in regional development matters, cultural issues, farming, social issues and economic factors.

The origins of the Convention can be traced to the CEMAT (Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Spatial/Regional Planning) in Bonn and up until the first world conference on environmental matters, held in Stockholm in 1970. These events resulted in the first draft of the Convention. The Convention was finally signed in Florence in 2000 and implemented in 2004.

The greatest advancements in landscape analysis methods have been demonstrated by Austria, Australia, the UK, the USA, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Canada, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Germany. The main focus in landscape analysis includes systematic registration and analysis, via visual checklists and proven strategies. Quantitative criteria (both objective and subjective) is used to assess the value of the landscape and the effects on landscape based on landscape characteristics, general condition, history and culture, value to the public, the extent of development and construction, duration, the nature of the affected area and available options.

An important basis for methodology has been developed and Landsvirkjun will use this in research and development on visual aspects. Developing methods suited to Icelandic circumstances is of particular importance.