About Scotland’s landscapes

Scotland’s unsurpassed landscapes have long been celebrated in paintings, verse, prose and song. Our fine scenery is inspiring to live in and to visit, and the imagery of an unspoilt landscape is important in the marketing of our tourism, film industry and world renowned products such as whisky.

The quality of the greenspaces in our towns and cities, and the ease with which we can access our surrounding landscapes, are important for our health and wellbeing: high quality landscapes encourage us to venture into the outdoors.

Each part of Scotland has a distinctive character, contributing to a sense of national and local identity, also known as a ‘sense of place’. The diversity of our landscapes and townscapes provides a living canvas of Scotland’s history, reflecting ways of life and traditions that are deeply engrained in Scotland’s culture.

Scotland's landscapes

Our finest landscapes have been given the designation National Scenic Area or National Park and these include some of the most famous areas in Scotland – the Cuillin Hills, Glencoe, Ben Nevis, The Cairngorms, Loch Lomond. Some landscapes are particularly valued for their wild land  quality.

Scotland’s landscapes are one of the country’s greatest assets, yet one undergoing a great deal of change. It is essential that we look after our landscapes and ensure the distinctiveness of each part of Scotland is not lost.

The variety of landscapes in Scotland

Scotland has a great variety of landscapes for its size. 

A new map of Scotland’s landscapes and places shows this. It unites the physical fabric of our towns, countryside, hills, glens and coasts with the human and cultural aspects of place and history. Designed to highlight the variety that occurs in even a small country, and make communication about landscape issues easier, it has been developed by Scottish Natural Heritage with input from Historic Scotland, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and others. 

The map divides Scotland into 79 areas, each with accompanying descriptions: 1-10 Shetland and Fair Isle to Harris; 11-20 Wester Ross to Monadhliaths, 21-30, Speyside to Deeside & Donside 31-40 Aberdeen & Lower Deeside to Angus Glens, 41-50 Strathmore & Mearns to Firth of Tay, 51-60 Islay & Colonsay to Lothian & Borders Coast, 61-70 Kintyre to Ettrick & Moffat Hills and 71-79 Lower Tweedale to Cheviots.

Scotland's landscapes

Together they present a national picture of Scotland’s distinct landscapes. They will:

  • increase awareness of the diversity of Scotland’s landscapes, regional distinctiveness and the importance of place
  • enable easier communication of landscape, e.g. by providing a gateway to other information sources
  • facilitate involvement in landscape issues
  • provide a framework for monitoring some types of landscape change
  • provide a Scottish counterpart to similar landscape mapping elsewhere.

The map complements, and does not replace, the more specialist landscape analysis contained in the existing set of Landscape Character Assessments (see below) and Historic Landuse Assessment.  Information on the methodology   used to produce the map is available.

The map is currently in a pre-publication phase.  In due course it will be made interactive easier to access.  In the meantime, if you would like to comment on the contents or suggest other ways we could develop this material, please e-mail [email protected]

Scotland’s varied landscapes – other information sources

All the landscapes of Scotland have been classified and mapped through the technical process of Landscape Character Assessment.

Scotland's landscapes

An account of Scotland’s landscapes and how they have changed over time can be found in Scottish Natural Heritage’s National Assessment – Landscape.    

The importance of our landscapes

Our landscapes are important to us for many reasons. They are a shared resource for everyone, irrespective of ownership, ability or background.  They provide a living history of Scotland’s past, and an inspiration for Scotland’s culture.  They provide a wide range of social and health benefits and underpin Scotland’s economy.  This unique resource should be looked after for the benefit of future generations.

For more information see Landscape, health and the economy and our publication Valuing our environment   .

How we benefit from our landscapes

Landscapes provide people with:

Pleasant surroundings and amenity
The attractiveness and amenity of our everyday landscapes are important for the quality of peoples lives.

Permanence and continuity
From a human perspective, many elements of the landscape are fixed or change very slowly providing a strong sense of place and reassurance.

Memories and associations
Individuals and communities may associate certain landscapes with particular experiences.

Diversity and character
The distinctiveness and character of our landscapes helps define a sense of place at both the local and regional level.

National identity
All of Scotland’s landscapes are part of our national identity, but some project a sense of Scottishness and are considered national icons.

Scenic quality, beauty and aesthetics
Many of Scotland’s rural landscapes are valued for their natural beauty and attractiveness. The aesthetic qualities and attractiveness of our townscapes and individual buildings are also important.

Scotland's landscapes

Health and wellbeing
Attractive and accessible landscapes invite and encourage physical activity. They can provide escape from the pace of modern living and give us better insight into our past and culture. Closer engagement with them is therefore good for our individual health and well-being both mental and physical.

Community regeneration
Restoring degraded landscapes, engaging local people in their history and biodiversity and involving people more generally in decision making and management can also help build stronger communities.

Enjoyment and recreation
Our landscapes provide a very wide range of opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, ranging from local greenspace and urban parks through to remote mountains and coasts. All offer relaxation, challenge, and inspiration and an opportunity to experience first hand our natural and cultural heritage.

In addition to providing a setting for contact with the natural world and built environment, our landscapes provide a vital record of our past and insight into people we were and places we lived. They provide a range of opportunities for learning about the natural and cultural heritage and also settings for formal and informal learning activity.

What is landscape?

Landscape is more than just ‘the view’. It can be the ever-changing backdrop to our daily lives, as much as the places we seek out for leisure. It can mean a park, a piece of wasteland, a beach, a mountain, a forest. It is also about how people relate to these places and to nature – what they value about it, and how they respond to changes in the landscape.

In Scotland, some landscapes, such as the high summits of the Cairngorm Mountains, consist entirely of natural elements. These can be called ‘natural landscapes’.

Scotland's landscapes

Other landscapes can be largely the result of human activity, such as arable farmland or urban areas. These can be referred to as ‘cultural landscapes.’

More often, though, our landscapes are a mix of natural and cultural elements, giving rise to the European Landscape Convention’s definition of landscape:

  • ‘An area as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction or natural and/or human factors.’

This interaction has given rise to the great variety of landscapes that are found in Scotland today. See Landscape Character Assessment to see how this variety has been described and mapped.

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