- Land use in Europe is under intense transformation at it possesses the highest share of land use for settlement, production systems and infrastructure
- Land is a finite resource. Consequently, its use constitutes one of the main reasons for environmental change with significant impacts on ecosystems
- Europe seems to have an important biogeographic pattern with homogeneous rural forest in Northern and Baltic countries, for instance. In contrast, Southern Europe is dominated by arable land and a great diversity of rural landscapes
Observations for policy
Europe is characterised by extreme diverse land use patterns and high shares of land use. As land is a finite resource, this poses challenges to environmental policies as well as limitations to future developments.
Europe is one of the most intensively used continents on the globe, with the highest share of land use for settlement, production systems and infrastructure. The use of land constitutes one of the main reasons for environmental change with significant impacts on quality of life, ecosystems and management of infrastructures. It is a challenge that involves various policy levels and policy fields, not at least environmental and climate policies.
Maps on prevailing land use characteristics are available at administrative units (a) and grid cells (b). The maps show 14 different regional land use types, ranging from the more intensively urbanised areas to those areas characterised by natural components. The NUTS level map provides a regional picture of land use whereas the grip map provides insights on the variation of land use within single regions.
For instance, 29 regions characterised as ‘urban cores and metropolitan areas’ show a situation where almost 60 per cent of regions have land characterised as urban cores and metropolitan areas in the grid typology. At the same time, when the grid data are summarised at the administrative level, it becomes evident that that urban cores in larger regions become overshadowed by more dominant rural land types. Consequently, regions in this type are generally smaller regions which can be characterised as regional city-states, where periurban areas and rural hinterland is accounted for neighbourhood regions. Thus the urban land features in this type are also influential for the social, economic, and environmental performance of regions within near proximity.
Similarly, 81 regions classified as ‘rural arable land with permanent crops and some forest’ show a mix of arable land, pastures, mosaics, and some forest. These have around 40 per cent of arable land, followed by forest areas above 30 per cent while permanent crops have around 20 per cent. This prevailing regional type has a very diverse extent in Europe stretching from Southern Scandinavia to Eastern, Central and Western Europe. In Southern Europe, the coverage is notable Spain, Italy, and Greece, among others.
In addition to the specific patterns of each land-use typology one can observe an important biogeographic component which determines a North-South gradient. In Northern and Baltic countries homogeneous rural forest is dominant. Moving from rural land dominated by arable land becomes a common pattern, only altered by urban areas. Finally, in the Mediterranean one can see a high diversity of rural landscapes. Furthermore, the grip presents also a fine picture of the European urban systems.
Concepts and methods
Both maps are based on the analysis of the EEA Corine Land Cover Data from 1990 to 2006. The term ‘prevailing’ is important in this connection because it implies that the unchanged elements of European land are included in the typologies. The same applied to any changes that took place in between.