Typology of land use changes in Europe, 2000-2006


Observations for policy

European processes of land use change continue to be predominantly driven by socio-economic development. Currently, many circumstances including the economic and financial crisis are setting the priorities for a wide number of policies that influence land use change.

Policy context

There is continued decline of land-based economic production in agriculture, forestry, mining, and quarrying, among others. This leads to processes of extensification resulting from the former rural production areas when natural conditions or other constraints limit competitiveness.

In parallel, there is an increase of knowledge-intensive, innovation-driven and service-based economies and related lifestyles. This leads to an intensification of land use, but also to the increase of property values and growth of 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.

Map interpretation

The map shows different types of land use change in the period 2000 to 2006. In general, Northern and Eastern Europe experienced in this period a much lower level of intensification then other parts of Europe. These regions are characterised by rural conversions with only negligible land take or even farm withdrawal. For a large majority of the regions a dominant trend has been the replacement of agricultural activities in favour of pastures or forest land covers. As such, land use changes seem to reveal a socio-economic trend of rural stagnation as rural land-based activities are being replaced by urban growth.

Large parts of Spain, France, Italy, or Belgium are characterised by either medium high or high intensification. Many of the regions with high intensification are either located along the coast or in close proximity to large urban centres, for instance, regions with ‘high intensification due to residential and economic sprawl’. This particular type of urban sprawl is coupled with relatively high levels of internal urban change.

In Western Europe, another prominent type of regions are those with ‘medium-high intensification due to diverse urban processes’. These are regions experiencing typical forms of land change, including moderate levels of urbanisation processes coupled with different changes related to forestry and agriculture.

Concepts and methods

The map is based on the analysis of the EEA Corine Land Cover Data from 2000 and 2006. The process of developing the land change typology is based on the account for all land changes taking place in each region between these periods. The cluster analysis identified 10 classes which in turn have been reduced to 7 types of land use changes after performing a qualitative assessment of statistical similarity.