EU Science Hub

Main land-use patterns in the EU within 2015-2030

Agricultural land and forest & natural vegetated (F&NV) areas are the largest land groups in the EU, each one accounting for more than 40% of the EU territory. They are expected to marginally shrink between 2015 and 2030, while built-up areas are likely to expand by more than 3%, reaching 7% of the EU territory by 2030.


In 2015 France had the largest absolute built-up area in the EU – more than 5 million ha, 17% of the EU total, followed by Germany (4.2 million ha, 14%) and Italy (2.9 million ha, 10%). In relative terms (built-up as share in total territory), the densely populated Malta, Belgium and the Netherlands topped the list with 35%, 22% and 21% respectively.


By 2030 built-up will proportionally expand across the EU. Italy will see the largest absolute increase (+144 thousand ha), followed by Germany (+128 thousand ha) and Poland (+121 thousand ha). The highest relative growth of around 6% is expected for Romania and Belgium. A more substantial contraction of about 1% is likely in Bulgaria and Croatia.


At regional level, high built-up shares are observed where capitals and other major cities are located, in traditional touristic hotspots and in heavily industrialised zones. Built-up is projected to continue expanding in and around most capitals and other major cities, albeit at different extents. Spain, France, Greece, Croatia, Ireland and Estonia will see large inter-regional differences, i.e. regions with more than 10% growth or decline in built-up. Shrinkage in built-up
is also projected for vast areas in Portugal, Latvia, Lithuania and Bulgaria. Many regions in Northern Romania, Hungary and Southern Poland are likely to experience a noticeable expansion of built-up.


F&NV areas are widely presented in less populated and/or mountainous and/or cold climate zones, where other land covers are less suitable. Consequently, the F&NV cover is particularly dominant in Sweden (17% EU share) and Finland (13%), with more than 70% of their territories being allocated to F&NV areas in 2015. Together with Spain and France, they accounted for more than 50% of the whole EU's F&NV cover. Estonia, Latvia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Greece had more than half of their territories covered by F&NV areas.


Within 2015-2030 forests will expand (especially due to afforestation) at the expense of natural vegetated areas, but the cutback in the latter (-4.8 million ha) will be greater than the growth in the former (+1.4 million ha). Hence, the F&NV cover will shrink in a number of EU Member States, including in all the leading ones. The decline in Spain and France will be particularly pronounced – around 1 million ha in each of them. The F&NV cover is projected to  significantly expand only in Poland (+3.7%). The deepest relative decreases are expected in the group with the lowest (below 15%) share of F&NV areas: Malta (-17.5%), the Netherlands (-10.6%) and Denmark (-8.4%).

The general trends at regional level will largely follow the ones at national level.


Nearly 600 thousand ha of abandoned land are projected to re-cultivate into F&NV areas.