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| Land management

Mankind uses land in many ways, as a place to build homes on, to grow crops and to pasture animals for food, as a source of raw materials and mineral wealth, and – of course – for numerous leisure activities, to name a few.

The way land is used is driven by the interplay of economic, social and environmental factors. Land management is about finding the right balance of these, often competing, factors that allows sustainable land use.

Whenever land is put to use, it is subject to stresses that can be quite high, as in the case of intensive agriculture. These stresses may not only affect the biodiversity of the land, such as through the loss of hedgerows, but can also have widespread social impacts – for example, by detracting from the land’s natural beauty. Research on multifunctional land uses looks at land from a holistic perspective to understand how different patterns of use cause different stresses, what the consequences of these stresses are, and how they can be managed or corrected.

Researching landscapes

The objective of EU-funded research on land management is to develop tools and strategies for sustainable land use. Emphasis is put onto three types of land: agricultural, forest resources and coastal zones. They incorporate the results of the EU’s Fifth Framework Programme ‘City of tomorrow and cultural heritage’ key action.

In addition, this research looks at integrated concepts for multifunctional use of agricultural and forestland, as well as their supply chains, in order to reveal sustainable development options which take into account the economic, social and environmental factors at play.

Research on sustainable land use also includes landscapes, particularly those in sensitive regions such as mountains, coastal zones and islands. How to deal with post-industrialised land and landscapes is also considered. Research involves building databases and models for land management that integrate the multifunctional aspects of environmental protection, rural development, culture and tourism as well as the use of land for agricultural and forestry activities. Attention is also paid to identifying externalities and sustainability thresholds.

Urban spatial development and its impacts on the surrounding countryside also must be addressed to optimise land use and ensure sustainable regional development. Within cities, research carried out under the ‘City of tomorrow and cultural heritage’ key action (see also theme Urban Sustainability and Cultural Heritage) has analysed the process of ‘urban sprawl’ and its impact on sustainability, and developed tools to help define strategies for limiting the expansion of urban areas and ensuring their sustainability. Such strategies include improved integration of land use and transport planning, rehabilitation of brownfield sites, redevelopment of industrial sites and the regeneration of rundown areas.

Sustainable land use worldwide

Agriculture and forestry for sustainable development is a research topic with a strong international dimension. The loss of forestland through felling for wood, and of agricultural land through poor management, affects people and the climate worldwide. Sometimes internal policies indirectly impact international markets.

The research aims at developing qualitative and quantitative models and tools to represent stakeholders’ behaviour and contribute to the ‘impact assessment’ of policies (see Policy Framework page on this site). These models and tools integrate the different specific functions of land associated with agriculture and forestry activities. The final objective is to contribute to the design of sustainable strategies that take account of economic drivers, the socio-cultural needs of people and protection of the environment. The participation of developing countries in this research is encouraged (see International co-operation on this site).

Latest News on Land management


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Multifunctional Land Uses

The following are some examples of research projects and support actions funded by the European Union which aim to improve scientific understanding of land management and related practices.

This EU-backed project is using agriculture and land use as a case study to evaluate a series of tools for impact assessments and sustainable development strategies. Different tools are applicable in different situations. The project is identifying the merits of each tool, its applicability and constraints, and the extent to which externalities (see definition) are accounted for. The aim is to improve policy-making by ensuring the right tools are used for the right job.
The Multagri support action is putting together an overview of research on the ‘multifunctionality’ of agriculture. Multifunctionality comprises not just the economic aspects of agriculture, but also includes its environmental pros and cons, as well as the social role it plays for others, such as rural communities and agro-tourists.
Using land for agriculture and forestry has evident economic benefits. However, as plants and trees soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, this type of land use also benefits the environmental pillar, and, through this, the social pillar of sustainable development. The INSEA project is studying the greenhouse gas emission balances of agricultural, livestock and forestry activities to provide analytical tools for policy-makers faced with land use decisions, as well as providing input into the climate negotiation process.
The Tigress project uses Time-Geographical methods to investigate how socio-economic drivers can force environmental change at a variety of levels, from local to global. Changes in land use can lead to new socio-economic structures over the long term – but little is understood about how this happens. For policy-makers implementing sustainable development strategies, such understanding is needed if the longer-term outcomes are to be truly sustainable.
Europe faces an urban sprawl problem as cities grow beyond their natural carrying capacity and urban planning struggles to keep up with the outward spread. An EU project Scatter – part of the LUTR cluster – is monitoring urban sprawl in Brussels (BE), Stuttgart (DE), Bristol (UK), Helsinki (FI), Rennes (FR) and Milan (IT) with the aim of presenting concrete suggestions to improve urban management. It is examining the effect that new public transport systems, such as extending a light railway line, can have on feeding urban expansion, and coming up with more imaginative ways of using existing inner city land for residential purposes.

Externalities are the external costs of an activity that are not included in its price. For example, a car driver does not pay for the pollution he/she causes – only for the car and the fuel.