The Open Landscape Institute

The Open Landscape Institute (OLI) has specialized for years in the gathering and analysis of information about Israel’s open spaces, the formulation of policy principles and the creation of tools that will insure a proper balance between the necessity for development and the conservation of open spaces and the benefits they provide.

About KKL-JNF and OLI

The Open Landscape Institute (OLI) has specialized for years in the gathering and analysis of information about Israel’s open spaces, the formulation of policy principles and the creation of tools that will insure a proper balance between the necessity for development and the conservation of open spaces and the benefits they provide. The institute has developed a unique method for the surveying and evaluation of open areas, and its professional recommendations are used in planning and construction as a basis for sustainable development.

The surveys are conducted in conjunction with environmental bodies that deal with open spaces, and KKL-JNF has been a partner in the Unit since its creation in the 1980s. Other participants include the Nature and Parks Authority, the Ministry for Environmental Protection’s Open Spaces Division, Israel Lands Authority, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, drainage and river authorities and local authorities. Decisions as to which areas are to be surveyed are taken jointly on the basis of a number of criteria, including the value and importance of the area, the threats that face it and plans for its future use.
Surveyors at work in Switzerland Forest on the slopes above the Sea of Galilee. Photo: Uri Ramon


Because of its geographical location and its rich historical past, the State of Israel has been blessed with a uniquely precious and varied biological environment and a highly significant physical and cultural landscape whose existence depends upon the presence of large contiguous open spaces. At the same time, the tiny State of Israel has urgent development needs that greatly stress its resources and precipitate swift loss of land and open spaces, including sites of natural and cultural significance.

Only a small proportion of Israel’s open spaces are designated for conservation as woodland, nature reserves or national parks. Most open ground, especially in northern and central Israel, does not fall into these categories and thus is vulnerable to development that threatens the variety of its biological environment and landscape and their vital role in helping to maintain public health. Because this protected land is limited in area and much of it is fragmented and isolated, the extent and contiguity of unprotected open areas needs to be carefully monitored.

Cautious and judicious planning and management of land resources, nature and landscapes are necessary if we are to provide an appropriate response to the country’s vital development needs while at the same time protecting the natural biological variety found in these areas. Judicious planning of this kind must above all be based upon both a profound recognition of the existing natural landscape resources and a professional analysis of their degree of rarity and importance.

OLI's Survey and Evaluation Unit

A Unique Framework:

Since its establishment in the 1980s, the Open Landscape Institute’s Nature and Landscape Survey and Evaluation Unit has worked together with environmental organizations to gather and analyze information on open areas that can later be used as a tool in management and planning. This work is predicated on the understanding that reliable professional knowledge and information are necessary for the judicious planning and management of Israel’s land reserves and open spaces, in order to achieve an appropriate balance between the country’s development requirements and its varied biological and natural environment.

The Survey Unit conducts systematic surveys of comparatively large land units using a clear and transparent methodology. The work is carried out in a professional manner and, as it is funded by both public bodies and donations, it is not susceptible to influence or restriction by any form of private enterprise. The surveys’ findings are public property and are available and accessible to all. They are distributed in writing among the relevant bodies, can be viewed on the Open Landscape Institute’s website and are discussed at study sessions that are open to the general public.
Jerusalem Forest. Photo: Eyal Bartov

A Unique Methodology

Ecological and Landscape Information as a Basis for Planning

Although the scientific community has gathered a great deal of information on the flora and fauna of open landscapes, the physical planning processes that shape the future of these open spaces make very little use of this information. The Open Landscape Institute has developed a professional lingua franca for communication between ecologists, zoologists, botanists, archeologists, geographers and other scientists on the one hand and planning and land management professionals in the public and private sectors, members of planning committees, civil servants, environmental bodies, etc. on the other.

To this end, the Nature and Landscape Survey Unit has developed tools to express the evaluation of the natural landscape in planning terms. For example, it has developed a computerized model that analyses the contiguity of open areas and a uniform methodology that combines subject-specific appraisal maps into a single integrated evaluation map. The surveys are processed and produced by means of computerized geographic information system (GIS) technology that specializes in interpreting spatial information. The surveys can be consulted on the Open Landscape Institute’s website in user-friendly GIS-compatible formats that allow swift and easy access to their findings for planning purposes.

So far the Institute has conducted over thirty surveys of varying size and scope (see attached survey map), and methodological development has been conducted on a number of issues, as follows: survey and appraisal methods; a model for examining the contiguity of open spaces and the fragmentation processes they undergo; and methods of mapping vegetation.

Surveys as a Foundation for Planning

Nature and Landscape Surveys as a Foundation for Planning: Objectives

Because Israel is one of the most densely-populated countries in the world, the use of its land reserves has to be most judiciously and meticulously planned. For sustainable planning, a precise knowledge of the main important natural landscape features of the region in question is extremely important, and the survey and appraisal of open areas is designed to answer this need. Areas slated for massive development such as construction, infrastructures, etc., need to be located, while those portions of land that are to remain designated open spaces, such as nature reserves, forests, and other protected areas, need to be carefully managed.

The surveys present basic facts relating to the region (general contours, types of vegetation, heritage sites, etc.), together with information that allows this particular area to be appraised and compared with others and so facilitates the creation of plans that conserve the most valuable areas and preserve them for future generations. It also provides planners with a tool than enables them not only to conserve these areas as open spaces, but also to ensure that any activities planned for them are appropriate to the conservation of the character of their nature and landscape.
Surveyors in consultation during a tour of the hills above the Yavniel Valley. Photo: Uri Ramon

Ecological Information and Physical Planning

Combining Ecological Information with Physical Planning

In the early 1990s, a computerized geographic information system (GIS) unit was established to help process and produce the information on flora and fauna in open spaces. Since then, over thirty surveys of varying scope have been conducted. Because these surveys have become increasingly standardized with the passing years, they have contributed to the establishment of a broader database – especially where vegetation is concerned – which can be used to help monitor various aspects of the environment.

Using the Surveys

In recent years, the nature and landscape surveys have been used as a basis for planning in a great many projects that have involved extensive open spaces.

Most of the environmentally-aware plans such as those for Shikma Park, the Poleg Basin and the Ramat HaNadiv Ring, made use of nature and landscape surveys conducted in the area in question. The survey of Nahal Shikma, for example, served as a basis for an environmental appraisal and for the determination of conservation priorities in the region.

The surveys of the hills to the west of Jerusalem served as a basis for a debate on the construction boundaries of Israel’s capital, its suburbs and Mevasseret Zion, and also provided important input where management and interface of the area are concerned. Surveys of wooded areas such as Nir Moshe Forest, Dorot Forest, Elad Forest, etc., provided a tool for use in professional debates on ways to conserve and develop the woodland.

The survey of Yad Mordechai Forest provided a foundation for the preparation of a master plan for regenerating the forest.
The Survey and Evaluation Unit participated in the survey and agreed map formulation for the maintenance of rivers under the jurisdiction of the South Jordan and Western Galilee drainage and river authorities. Work has also begun in the Kishon Drainage Authority region.

This is also the case with the master plan for open spaces under the jurisdiction of the Bnei Shimon Regional Council, where planners have made use of surveys of the Lahav Hills and Nahal Dudaim.
Lahav Forest. Photo: Dudu Grinshpan, KKL-JNF Photo Archive
The Nahal Tzalmon survey, which was conducted for the Kinneret Drainage Authority, was used in the preparation of a master plan for the river, under the direction of the team of planners from Yaad Architects.

The Oron-Tzinn survey helped in the evaluation of the environmental influence of phosphate mining at a variety of locations in southern Israel, and the Modiin Ring survey has helped planners to examine alternatives for the city’s second stage of development and expansion. At present, ecological information about the area is being extended in order to facilitate management of the planting interface in the area.

The Haifa coast survey: Atlit served as a basis for considering changes to National Zoning Plan 13 (the Haifa / Tirat HaCarmel coastline).

The Caesarea sand dunes survey helped to define the extent of the sand-dune strip and enabled consideration of the development plans for it.

The Kinneret survey served as the basis for the preparation of the policy document for the area.

The sandstone ridges survey helped to get the central Nahal Shikma drainage basin and additional areas designated as vital to the conservation of the sandstone ridge habitat. The sand dune document is being used to evaluate development plans for areas of sand dunes.
View of Lake Kinneret from Swiss Forest. Photo: Avi Hirschfied, KKL-JNF Photo Archive