Customising virtual globe tours to enhance community awareness of local landscape benefits

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Our wellbeing depends upon the services provided by ecosystems and their components. Despite recent advances in academic understanding of ecosystem services, and consideration in UK national environmental policy, a greater awareness is needed at community and individual levels. Dynamic features of virtual globe applications have considerable potential for helping convey the multi-dimensional context of ecosystem services and promoting general awareness. In a case study targeting residents in a small urban fringe river catchment in Norfolk, UK, representatives from local authorities and responsible agencies collaborated with scientists to produce extensive customisation of virtual globes in this context. By implementing a virtual flight over the catchment, different views and scales are traversed to set the context for landscape features and ecosystem services. Characteristic sites, e.g. supplying cultural services, are displayed and relationships with the natural environment are explained using linked on-screen text. Implementation is cost-effective and described for practitioners in ecosystem and landscape management, who may be inexperienced in landscape visualisation. Supplied as three pre-packaged virtual tours, products are made available for download and are publicised at a variety of engagement events, including teaching events with schoolchildren. The tours have attracted public interest and generated positive feedback about improving knowledge of local natural assets. Schoolchildren show confidence with the interface, but supplementary problem-based activities can improve learning opportunities. The capacity of virtual globes to support more participatory involvement of the public in local ecosystem management may increase in the future, but such visualisations can already help promote community awareness of local landscape benefits.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)106-119
Number of pages14
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
Early online date24 Aug 2015
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015


  • Visualisation
  • Virtual globes
  • Virtual tours
  • Ecosystem services
  • Landscape management

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