Land change hotspots, 1990-2006


Observations for policy

Land use changes in Europe display a continued decline of land-based economic production, particularly in agriculture, forestry, mining and quarrying, among others. This leads to processes of extensification, resulting from the abandonment of former production areas when natural conditions or the constraints limit competitiveness.

At the same time, an increase of knowledge-intensive, innovation-driven and service-based economies and related lifestyles is taking place. This leads to an intensification of land use in the areas concerned, but also to an increase of property values and growth in urban areas.

In 1990, 4,1 per cent of the EU territory was classified as artificial surface. Sixteen years after this figure rose to 4,4 per cent. This corresponds to an increase of 8,8 per cent and the EU population grew only 5 per cent during the same period.

Policy context

During the period 1990-2006 Europe has undergone large land changes. In some cases almost 30 per cent of a single region has suffered some form of land change. These changes are particularly evident in Spain, Portugal, Czech Republic, Ireland and the Netherlands.

Land change processes taking place in Europe continue to be predominantly driven by Europe’s path on socio-economic development which is taking place due to the effects of globalisation and its effect on the global division of labour. This is of particular relevance for a wider number of policies and as pointed out above a wide range of policy fields that do influence land use changes.

Map interpretation

The map shows the hotspots of land use change between 1990 and 2006. One can observe a clear east-west dimension. large volumes of land use extensification are almost exclusively found in Central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland, Czech Republic, and Hungary. Land ownership reforms in Eastern Central Europe during the 1990s resulted in profound changes.

High volumes of land use intensification are especially notable in countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and Croatia. Some of the most significant changes took place on the Iberian Peninsula. This might be driven by the accession of both countries to the EU in 1986 which resulted in a process where the former agricultural structure developed into more intensive forms of production.

At regional level, it seems evident that intensification is associated with the growth or sprawl of urban areas and their associated artificial surfaces. Intensification also appears to take place to a larger degree in coastal regions of Spain, France, or Croatia, among others. Most likely this is related to the growth of the tourism sector. In other words, European tourism is an activity that requires larger areas, and the development of the Spanish coastline illustrates that situation. Arguably, this is not a question of short term changes but a consistent development process throughout the whole period from 1990 to 2006.

Concepts and methods

The map is based on the analysis of the EEA Corine Land Cover Data from 1990 and 2006. The land change hot-spots reflect both the percentage of land that has undergone change between 1990 and 2006 as well as the intensity of the change. The detailed thresholds are indicated in the matrix below the map.