Broadly Engaging With Tranquility


'Tranquillity' is regularly cited as a key reason for attracting visitors to the UK's Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). Local authorities must therefore ensure that any development in these areas is sensitive to ecological, social and economic interests whilst also continue to provide visitors with the enjoyment of the countryside they expect.

Key to addressing these wide-ranging objectives is how 'tranquillity' is defined. However, how people perceive of tranquillity is highly subjective and the sheer number of views on what is/not considered to be tranquil is infinite. So, just how does one go about capturing, and importantly using, the breadth of views and perspectives on this subject?

Our tranquillity research has taken on precisely this challenge in a range of rural and urban landscapes in the UK and overseas. 

The first of these projects , the Broadly Engaging with Tranquillity project (2013-2015)  applied a research design of mixed-methods. The study area comprised the landscape of the Purbeck, in the Dorset AONB in southern England and included the seascape from the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site.

This first project resulted from a collaborative partnership between academics at University of Winchester and with practitioners, including the Dorset AONB team and staff at Dorset Council from GIS and Economic Development departments. Funding was awarded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ES/L001748/1). 

Research Methods

Through a series of participatory action frameworks, views on the objective and subjective nature of tranquillity were captured. Subsequently and through additional stages of research including participatory action research events, a randomised household questionnaire based on a stratified sampling framework of urban and rural spaces in the Purbeck, and a series of visitor onsite surveys, the sum of people’s views shared with the research team from each of these research stages determined the final outputs of this research: a high-resolution (5 m) GIS planning tool that can be implemented in protected-area management and that is transferable to alternative locations.​

The entire work is founded on principles of international and national best practice in protected management. Therefore, engagement with rather than purely consultation on the fullest breadth of views is fundamental. These range from public-sector representatives, private enterprises and NGOs to local resident and business communities, the so-called 'hard to reach' and both domestic and foreign visitors.

The final stages of the research required consultation with stakeholders to verify interpretations of views and of the GIS models. These activities have been progressed through our partner's Annual Forum, through a series of road shows in the case study area, through presenting the work at a number of national and international conferences and in leading academic publications and best practice literature.

Findings Overview 

Tranquillity is commonly considered a highly subjective and ambiguous concept. Nevertheless, there is a need to establish a definition of practical use. This imperative is due to the fact that in many protected areas and indeed in the wider planning contexts there are statutory requirements for the creation, enhancement and/or protection of tranquil zones. Also, extensive local community engagement in helping to define tranquillity is endorsed and, in best practice, emphasised. This Broadly Engaging with Tranquillity project was created to address these challenges, and produced GIS (Geographic Information Systems) models of tranquillity for Purbeck in Dorset at a resolution of 5 m.

A broad range of stakeholder views was collated from representatives of local authorities, managing agencies and of visitors, three stakeholder groups that had informed previous studies. Unlike these studies, local residents, specifically those classed as ‘hard-to-reach’ members of the local community, were also involved in this project. By creating these groups, we introduced additional dimensions to tranquillity studies, including the refinement of local definitions of tranquillity according to each of the views conveyed by each participant group.


With more than 800 participants conveying more than 22,000 views, the study has not only been considered the largest and most comprehensive consultation of its type in the Dorset AONB to date, but it has also created new insights into the subject by identifying distinctions amongst views collated from residents, visitors, and according to local authority representatives according to age and gender. These and additional findings raise further research questions and have practical implications for how tranquillity is defined, modelled and managed in any given area.

GIS models were produced at a resolution of 5 m, i.e. each pixel in the model represents an area of 5 x 5 m. This is a considerably higher resolution than previous models created at 250 x 250 m and 500 x 500 m

GIS model: subset of residents views on tranquillity
GIS model subset: institutions views on tranquillity 

Broadly Engaging with Tranquillity, Easy and Refined (BETER)

In 2017, our Tranquillity research became automated through funding obtained from the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) for a follow-up project, Broadly Engaging with Tranquillity, Easy and Refined (BETER). BETER can create in 3 days through GIS what took the original BETP 6 months to produced.  As such, BETER is increasing our tranquillity research further across wider areas and in a wider range of environments, through its ability to considerably speed up the survey process.

Further Information

- Dorset AONB

“Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. Shutting it down. All of it. - Amir” 
― Khaled Hosseini