Archive:Agri-environmental indicator - land use change

This article has been archived. For further information about agri-environment, please see the Agri-environmental_indicators.

This article provides a fact sheet of the European Union (EU) agri-environmental indicator land use change. It consists of an overview of recent data, complemented by all information on definitions, measurement methods and context needed to interpret them correctly. The land use change article is part of a set of similar fact sheets providing a complete picture of the state of the agri-environmental indicators in the EU.

Table 1: Land use change of agricultural land (ha and %) and conversion of agricultural land to artificial surfaces (ha and %), 2000-2006, EU-27, EFTA, candidate and potential candidate countries
Source: European Environment Agency
Figure 1: Change in land use from agriculture to artificial surfaces (%), 2000-2006, EU-27, EFTA, candidate and potential candidate countries
Source: European Environment Agency
Figure 2: Sector share of land converted from agriculture to artificial surfaces (%), 2000-2006, EU-27, EFTA, candidate and potential candidate countries
Source: European Environment Agency
Figure 3: Sector share of converted land in total land use change (%), 2000-2006, EU-27, EFTA, candidate and potential candidate countries
Source: European Environment Agency
Map 1: Change in land use from agriculture to artificial surfaces (%), 2000-2006, EU-27, EFTA, candidate and potential candidate countries, NUTS 0, 2 and 3
Source: European Environment Agency
Map 2: Share of land converted from agriculture to housing, services and recreation (%), 2000-2006, EU-27, EFTA, candidate and potential candidate countries, NUTS 0
Source: European Environment Agency
Map 3: Share of land converted from agriculture to construction sites (%), 2000-2006, EU-27, EFTA, candidate and potential candidate countries, NUTS 0
Source: European Environment Agency
Map 4: Share of land converted from agriculture to industrial and commercial sites (%), 2000-2006, EU-27, EFTA, candidate and potential candidate countries, NUTS 0
Source: European Environment Agency

Land use change is defined as the exits from agricultural land use broken down by non – agricultural sectors.

It represents the conversion of agricultural land to non agricultural use.

Main indicator:

  • Percentage of the total agricultural area that has changed to artificial surfaces compared to a reference period

Supporting indicator:

  • Land use change from agricultural land to artificial surfaces (ha) between 2000 and 2006

Main statistical findings

Key messages

  • The total area of land use change from agriculture to artificial surfaces between 2000 and 2006 varies across Europe. The change in land use area as a percentage of agricultural area ranges from 0 % (Malta) to 3.1 % (Albania). At country level the highest share of land use change from agriculture to artificial area occurred in the EU-27 is in Cyprus (1.7 %) followed by the Netherlands (1.4 %).
  • In general the highest percentage of agricultural land in 2000 converted to artificial surfaces by 2006 occurred in urban regions. The NUTS regions with the largest percentage changes and where agricultural land was at least 150 000 ha in 2000 are Madrid (4.6 %), South Holland (2.6 %) and North Holland (2.1 %).
  • The sector share of land converted from agriculture to artificial surfaces indicates which sectors take up most agricultural land. Most of the agricultural land in Europe is taken by the housing sector (38 %), followed by construction sites (28 %) and the industrial and commercial sector (18 %).

Assessment

The indicator represents land use change from agriculture to artificial surfaces between 2000 and 2006 in absolute terms (hectares) and as a percentage of the agricultural area in 2000 (1 km grid, NUTS 2/3 regions or country level).

The total area of land use change from agricultural land cover to artificial surfaces between 2000 and 2006 amounts to approximately 520 000 ha in 38 European countries and Kosovo under UNSCR 1244 borders, which represents an overall change of 0.2 %. Data at Member State level show that the area of land use change from agriculture to artificial surfaces varies significantly between the countries (Table 1) and (Figure 1). The conversion of land as a percentage of CORINE Land Cover agricultural area ranges from 0 % (Malta) to 3.1 % (Albania). Countries where the change ranges between 1 and 2 % include the Netherlands (1.4 %) and Cyprus (1.7 %). The changes in all other countries are less than 0.5 %, e.g. Ireland, Spain and Bosnia & Herzegovina (0.4 %), Denmark, Italy, Germany and the Czech Republic (0.3 %), Lithuania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Finland (0.1 %). Land use changes represented at administrative level show that in general the highest percentage of agricultural land in 2000 converted to artificial surfaces by 2006 occurred in urban regions. The NUTS regions with the largest percentage changes and where agricultural land was at least 150 000 ha in 2000 are Madrid (4.6 %), South Holland (2.7 %) and North Holland (2.2 %). Administrative regions in coastal areas also show significant changes in land use from agricultural land to artificial surfaces, such as: Dublin (7.0 %), environs of Copenhagen (5.5 %) and Albania (3.1 %), South Holland (2.7 %). These changes are most likely linked to the urban sprawl and growth of tourism.

The sector share of land converted from agriculture to artificial surfaces indicates which sectors take up most agricultural land (Figure 2). The division of sectors originates from the following CORINE Land Cover categories: 

  • housing, services and recreation (residential, urban green, sport and recreation);
  • construction sites (Spaces under construction development, soil or bedrock excavations, earthworks)
  • transport facilities (road, rail, airport, port)
  • mines and waste dumpsites (mines, quarries, solid and liquid waste dumpsites, spoil-banks)
  • industrial and commercial sites (industry, agro-industry, commerce, military)

Within the land use change areas the conversion of agricultural land to the housing, services and recreation sector play the most important role in Europe, this sector accounts for 38 % of the total land use change area in Europe (Figure 3). Particularly in the Balkan countries the land take due to housing is very high (Figure 2) and (Map 2).

The land use change from agriculture to construction sites has become increasingly important and accounts for 28 % of the total European land take of artificial areas and was the second largest driver. The land use change from agriculture to industrial and commercial sites was 18 %, from agriculture to mines and waste dumpsites accounts for 11 % and to transport facilities 6 % respectively (Figure 3).

Data sources and availability

Indicator definition

Land use change is defined as the exits from agricultural land use broken down by non – agricultural sectors. It represents the conversion of agricultural land to non agricultural use.

Measurements

Main indicator:

  • Percentage of the total agricultural area that has changed to artificial surfaces compared to a reference period

Supporting indicator:

  • Land use change from agricultural land to artificial surfaces (ha) between 2000 and 2006

Links with other indicators

The indicator "Land use change" is linked with following other indicators:

Data used and methodology

Data source: CORINE Land Cover (CLC) database changes 2000-2006

For the update of the indicator fact sheet the same approach as indicated in the IRENA fact sheets was used. To be comparable with the previous analyses the same CLC Classes indicating the land use change were chosen.

The following CLC classes “to artificial surfaces” were used:

Housing, services and recreation (residential, urban, green, sport and recreation)

  • residential (urban fabric continuous – 111 and discontinuous – 112)
  • urban green - 141
  • sport and leisure facilities – 142

Industrial and commercial sites (industry, agro-industry, commerce, military)

  • industrial or commercial units – 121

Transport facilities (road, rail, airport, port)

  • road and rail networks – 122
  • airports – 123
  • port areas – 124

Mines and waste dumpsites (mines, quarries, solid and liquid waste dumpsites, spoil-banks)

  • mineral extraction sites - 131
  • dump sites - 132
  • construction sites - 133

The CLC Inventory describes land cover (and partly land use) with a three-level nomenclature of 44 classes. CLC has a uniform methodology and nomenclature across Europe. CLC 2006 data are highly consistent in this context. CLC was elaborated based on the visual interpretation of satellite images (Spot. Landsat TM and MSS). Ancillary data (aerial photographs. topographic or vegetation maps. statistics. local knowledge) has been used to refine interpretation and assign classes. The CLC database is based on a standard production methodology characterised by the following elements: Mapping scale is 1:100 000. Mapping accuracy is 100 m. The minimum mapping unit for the inventory is 25 ha for areas combined with a minimum width of 100 m for linear elements. The CLC Change database has a resolution of 5 hectares. The CLC Change database is produced by manual interpretation of changes based on a comparison of satellite images from 2000 and 2006.

CORINE LC is updated only every 6-10 years and the CLC 2006 coverage is not yet complete for the EU 27 and according to specifications CLC data have > 85% thematic accuracy. Calibration has been performed for some key classes on the basis of a point survey, such as LUCAS - (Land Use/Cover Area frame statistical Survey) - European field survey program funded and executed by Eurostat.

The generalisation of the vector data to a 1x1 km grid also results in some inaccuracy in assigning values to particular regions along borders – there is however no loss of information by adopting a grid approach, as all areas are included.

CORINE Land Cover (CLC) has a uniform methodology and nomenclature across Europe. CLC 2006 data are highly consistent in this context. However, CLC is updated only every 6-10 years and the CLC 2006 coverage is not complete for the EU-27 (without Greece). Weaknesses: The mapping unit (25 ha) and scale (1:100 000) gives only limited detail for monitoring high-resolution land use changes. Original vector CLC data are generalised according to a 1x1 km grid, which can introduce errors along border regions, as the “majority” rule is applied in allocating grids to an administrative region.

Context

Land is a finite resource and land use has a number of important drivers. The increasing demand for food, feed and bio energy have to be combined with the demand for infrastructure, settlements and the designation of land for nature protection, and various water soil and civil protection objectives. The use of agricultural land for other purposes is related to changes in the environment to cater for and facilitate human activity. It is generally a phenomenon linked to economic growth. There are many land development activities resulting in land use change from agricultural land to artificial surfaces: urban sprawl (housing and industrial developments), transport infrastructure (motorways, railways, etc.), tourism and recreation facilities. Increased land development activities often result in higher land prices and more restricted access to land. The way we use our land can have major impacts on environmental conditions.  

Policy relevance and context

Spatial planning has in general been the responsibility of Member States adopting the principle of subsidiarity. Land use planning and management decisions are usually made at local or regional level. Spatial planning has been specifically addressed, within the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) and supplemented with new priorities by the Territorial Agenda of the EU and the action programme for its implementation which defined an intergovernmental programme of work up to 2011. The ESDP proposed a balanced and polycentric approach to land development, and views on adoption of measures such as the reuse of underdeveloped or derelict urban areas (‘brownfields’) as a way to reduce urban expansion onto agricultural land. This is in line with the European Soil Thematic Strategy, (Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions - Thematic Strategy for Soil Protection COM final 0231/2006) that aims to protect soils from degradation. Only few Member States have defined national policies which explicitly addresses the issue of soil sealing. Nevertheless awareness for the need of reducing land take has increased, as can be seen in numerous initiatives which have been taken.[1] As economic growth is still highly depending on land take and soil sealing measures to decouple economic growth from soil sealing have to be taken into account.

A wide range of policy areas addresses land use aspects at different spatial scales. The European Commission initiatives - Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe (INSPIRE) Directive 0002/2007 and Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) COM final 0565/2005 provide geographic information flow about the land use in Europe. The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the Directive on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive 0042/2001 are the two main tools to analyze the impact of projects and programmes on land use resources. The cross-cutting nature of land use is also emphasised by the EU rural development and regional policies. The EU aims to facilitate the development and structural adjustment of rural areas in order to retain population in the countryside and improve the economic viability of the farmers through rural development measures (Regulation 1698/2005) . Moreover, the Structural Fund Regulations for 2007-2013 (Regulation 1080/2006 on the European Regional Development Fund, Regulation 1081/2006 on the European Social Fund, Regulation 1082/2006 on a European grouping of territorial cooperation (EGTC), Regulation 1083/2006 laying down general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund, Regulation 1084/2006 establishing a Cohesion Fund, Regulation 1085/2006 establishing an Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA)) aims at promoting the development and structural adjustment of regions whose development is lagging behind and supporting the economic and social conversion of regions facing structural difficulties (industrial, rural and urban areas and areas dependent of fisheries). Policy instruments can help to develop the green infrastructure such as the designated Natura 2000 areas. To ensure the continuing protection of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA) habitats from urban sprawl, the objectives of Natura 2000 need to be reconciled with those of other policy areas that have a land-use dimension, for example the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP). Green infrastructure is a concept addressing the connectivity of ecosystems, their protection and the provision of ecosystem services, while also addressing mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Its ultimate aim is contributing to the development of a greener and more sustainable economy by investing in ecosystem based approaches delivering multiple benefits in addition to technical solutions, and mitigating adverse effects of transport and energy infrastructure. 

Agri-environmental context

Conversion of agricultural land to artificial surfaces, which is also known as soil sealing can have several environmental impact on soil, water and biodiversity resources. The sealing may increase the risks of soil erosion and water pollution.

It also disturbs agricultural habitats, impact on animal migration patterns and affects the hydrological cycle (increased water runoff and decreased water retention) leading to an increased risk of floods. In addition, it affects the esthetical value of agricultural landscapes, and increases their fragmentation, which can result in more noise and emissions because of increased traffic levels.

See also

Further Eurostat information

Publications

Dedicated section

Source data for tables, figures and maps (MS Excel)

Other information

External links

  • Publications:
  • Database:
  • Other external links:

Notes

  1. With a view to achieving the objectives of the Soil Thematic Strategy and the proposed Soil Framework Directive, which aim to protect European soils from degradation and to contribute to resource efficiency, the European Commission ordered a report entitled 'Overview of best practices for limiting soil sealing or mitigating its effects in EU-27' from the Austrian Environment Agency, which was completed in April 2011.