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| Making land work for sustainable development

In comparison to the United States of America, the European continent is very densely populated and there are many, and sometimes conflicting, demands being placed on the land available to us – across the European Union. Two recently launched, large-scale integrated projects will attempt to develop effective new analytical tools for the management of sustainable land use and the impact of policies introduced at the European level.

How will measures to protect the water shed area around the Odra River in Poland affect the competitiveness of the 50 000 ha of grain crops grown in the region – a question for SEAMLESS.
How will measures to protect the water shed area around the Odra River in Poland affect the competitiveness of the 50 000 ha of grain crops grown in the region – a question for SEAMLESS.
The SENSOR  and SEAMLESS integrated projects (IPs) are both funded under priority area 6.3 of the Sixth Framework Programme ‘Global change and ecosystems’. Launched in January 2005, over the next four years they will be working on the development of integrated, computer-based, sustainability impact assessment tools to support the European Union in assessing more accurately the longer-term impact of its policies on multifunctional and sustainable land use.

Multifunctional land use – a key concept

The SENSOR consortium includes 33 partner institutions from 15 European countries, working under the coordination of the Leibniz-Centre for Agricultural Landscape and Land Use Research (ZALF), Germany. Based on the two European research networks Landscape Tomorrow  and  Landscape Europe, the consortium is characterised by the wide range of knowledge required for the task it has set itself – including expertise in economics, environmental resources, biodiversity, landscape sciences, agriculture and forestry, rural development, transport and energy infrastructure, tourism and demography. Its aim is to develop science-based ex ante Sustainability Impact Assessment Tools (SIAT), including databases and spatial reference frameworks, to support decision-making on policies related to multifunctional land use in European regions.

“The concept of multifunctional land use is central to the project,” notes Dr Katharina Helming, coordinator of the SENSOR project. “In Europe, land is increasingly being called on to fulfil multiple functions – which may be complementary, but which may also conflict with one another. For instance, a demand for a scenic landscape and recreational activities may conflict with the need to grow food or renewable energy crops and the modern technologies used to support this production. The way in which these simultaneous demands are managed and integrated depends on local conditions and management practices. Our aim is to develop a tool which makes it possible to assess the potential impact of EU policies on land-use management and the various land use requirements of a region.”

To help refine its analysis capabilities, the project has divided its regional analysis of multifunctional land-use into four categories, each with their own distinct needs and challenges: islands; post-industrialised areas; mountains; and coastal zones.

Translating policies into scenarios

Combining land use possibilities.
Combining land use possibilities.
The tools developed by SENSOR will be used to help the EU assess, before implementation, the potential impact of policies such as the common agricultural policy (CAP), the Water Framework Directive and rural policies, on regional land use scenarios. Five sectors in particular will be considered: agriculture, tourism, forestry, natural protection, and transport and energy infrastructures.

One of the major challenges for the project team will be to unravel the interrelations between the various functional needs of a region. “If we want to assess the impact of the development of tourism in a particular region, or the development of new transport infrastructure networks, we will need to look at a wide range of factors in each case – including the impact on the environment, biodiversity, employment, migration, water quality, aesthetic quality of the countryside …,” explains Helming.

Another challenge will be integrating the temporal and spatial scales of the impact of policies. “So far, policy analysis has tended to look at the short-term effects (three to seven years). If we look at the longer-term effects, however, we may find that the initial effects are cancelled out – or even reversed, in some cases,” notes Helming. Likewise, we need to look at impacts across various types of spatial boundaries: geophysical, administrative, water shed areas, etc.

Agriculture and sustainable development

Agricultural policy and practice are changing – on a global level – and the impact that policy changes may have needs to be carefully assessed, preferably before these changes are implemented. That is the specific goal of the SEAMLESS project. Some 30 research institutions from 13 European countries, as well as one African (Mali) and one American research institute, are involved in this large-scale project which brings together a vast wealth of knowledge in a wide range of disciplines. “One of our major challenges will be to achieve a seamless integration of the natural and social sciences within the models and framework we develop,” says Dr Martin van Ittersum, the project coordinator from Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

The SEAMLESS impact assessment tool kit will help to forecast the impact of changes in agricultural policy or practice at various levels. For example, within the context of the new round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations, it could help to assess the impact of a further liberalisation of sugar beet prices in specific regions. Alternatively, it could help to analyse the possible contribution of different agricultural practices to achieving the goals set by the Kyoto Protocol. The project responds to a specific need expressed by the European Commission and should make a significant contribution to policy development   – as well as enhancing agriculture’s contribution to sustainable development.

“It is our ambition to design a generic and open system. It should have the capabilities to assess today’s burning policy issues, but also those of the year 2010,” says Van Ittersum. “This requires that the framework be flexible enough to work with a broad range of scientific models and tools which can function together in an advanced software infrastructure, using the latest developments in IT.”

Tools for policy impact assessment

Both SENSOR and SEAMLESS will make a major contribution to the ability of the EU to assess the potential impact of its policies accurately within the context of sustainable and multifunctional land use. The major differences between the two projects are that SENSOR will be looking at various sectors, whilst SEAMLESS will focus specifically on the agricultural sector. SENSOR will also focus only on the regional level, whereas SEAMLESS will look at potential impacts from the local level right up to the global level. The two projects will work in close collaboration with the aim of maximising on the potential synergies and pooling resources where this seems appropriate (sharing data and information). Initial prototypes are expected to be ready for testing by mid 2006.

Related research themes


graphic element
    Dr Katharina Helming
    Leibniz-Centre for Agricultural Landscape and Land Use Research (ZALF)
    Dr Martin van Ittersum
    Wageningen University
    The Netherlands