Israel Environment Bulletin Summer 1992-5752, Vol. 15, No. 3


Vital development needs in Israel have always posed a threat to the country’s open space landscape. In response, Israel has developed a significant system of nature reserves and national parks to protect areas of high natural and landscape value. But the small size of the country and the heavy pressure on its limited land resources have left few land reserves. Protected areas are small in size and insufficient to preserve the nature values, the ecosystems and the unique landscape image of this highly diverse and naturally rich country.

In order to secure the biodiversity and the visual resources of the country in areas which have not yet been granted statutory protection, a new approach was formulateddirecting development, both in terms of siting and features, to appropriate areas in ways which will not destroy the ecosystem, the wildlife and the principle landscape image of each landscape unit.

To accomplish the task, a methodology for nature and landscape surveys and evaluations was developed by Israel’s nature and environmental protection bodiesincluding the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Nature Reserves Authority, the Jewish National Fund and the Ministry of the Environment. The methodology calls for the integration of data and features into a preplanning map summarizing all the relevant conservation information concerning each landscape unit for the benefit of both planner developers and conservationists.

The recent acceleration of building and development in order to provide housing for the waves of immigrants pouring into the country, called for faster and more efficient ways to cope with the threat to Israel’s remaining open space landscapes. A think tank composed of representatives of Israel’s major nature and environmental bodieswas set up at the end of 1990 to adapt the methodology to the new reality of accelerated development.

Preliminary Classification of Landscapes

Dubbed DESHE, the Hebrew acronym for Image of the Country, the green lobby group worked quickly to classify the country’s entire open space landscape into characteristic landscape units in accordance to criteria relating to the totality of their attributes and functionsuniqueness and value, ecological function, natural and historical resources, recreational value, quantitative and qualitative value, landscape value, and carrying capacity for development. The preliminary classification was accompanied by recommendations for appropriate levels and features for the protection/development of each landscape unit.

Open spaces throughout the country were classified into four categories in accordance to their value, importance, sensitivity and vulnerability, as follows: protected areas, open space landscape areas, controlled development areas and building and development areas.

Protected areasincluding declared and proposed nature reserves, national parks and forest reservesare areas of special importance and high sensitivity in relation to nature, landscape and historic values. In such areas, development is prohibited except for countryside recreation and tourism, conservation and research.

Open space landscape areassuch as landscape reserves, pasturelands, forests, and other open public space areasare characterized by landscape sensitivity, diversity and special features. Such areas should be preserved as open space landscapes for purposes such as tourism and recreation and should only be developed for the uses and purposes defined for each individual area, in accordance to strict environmental principles.

Controlled development areasincluding partially built open areas, agricultural areas and afforested areasare areas of intermediate natural and visual sensitivity which are partially suitable for building and development as long as landscape protection is taken into account. In these areas, building and development will take into account the findings of natural resource evaluation studies and landscape surveys. Principles for controlled building and development may include restrictions on building height and density, use of specific materials and usage limitations.

Building and development areas are areas with low natural and visual sensitivity deemed appropriate for building and development. Guidelines for building and development in these areas may be presented on the basis of landscape and/or environmental considerations.

Given the shortage of time, the classification work based itself largely on existing data with a minimum of field work. Areas for which available information was insufficient were temporarily granted a higher level of protection, pending the results of landscape surveys and evaluations.

Principles for Environmentally-Sound Planning

In addition to the classification work undertaken by the team, ways were sought to incorporate environmentally-sound planning strategies into the overall national planning system. Special emphasis was paid to the formulation of principles with regard to the distribution of population, settlements, construction and development. Following are some of the main principles proposed:

  • In determining population distribution, special account should to be taken of the high landscape value and limited carrying capacity of such regions as the hills of Galilee and the central mountain ranges. The highest potential for absorption in terms of land reserves, low sensitivity and high carrying capacity exists in the northern Negev and therefore national efforts and resources should be directed to this area rather than to the highly populated central region and other sensitive regions.
  • Establishment of new settlements should be minimized as much as possible, especially in the center and north of the country and the establishment of small rural villages and low density suburbs should be curtailed.
  • Efficient land utilization should be promoted so that more extensive areas may be left as open spaces, in accordance with the following principles: increased density in residential areas and increased attention to a better quality of life and the environment; functional and spatial integration of land uses and multi-purpose land use; careful norms on the allocation of public areas; adoption of technological and legal solutions for efficient land use; reuse of damaged areas; and investment of resources in the prevention of nuisances.

    Principles were also developed for level and type of development, especially with regard to the construction of settlements and infrastructure facilities within open areas. Principles include:

  • integration of development with landscape features;
  • prevention of damage to non-renewable resources;
  • limitation of development to spaces which are as small as possible;
  • combination and integration of infrastructure facilities and lines.

    Implementation of these principles can be undertaken through the careful use of such planning tools as natural resource surveys, landscape surveys and evaluations, feature analysis and environmental impact assessments. Measures and resources for the prevention of nuisances and for landscape rehabilitation should be incorporated in development plans.

    The planning principles outlined above as well as the preliminary open landscape classification maps have been presented to decision makers to be used as guidelines for development and conservation. They were used in the preparation of the environmental

    guidelines map which constitutes a statutory document in the National Outline Scheme for Immigrant Absorption (see accompanying article in this Bulletin). Finally, these maps and principles are being used and will continue to be used in environmental lobbying and conservation campaigns.