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Fragmentation of natural and semi-natural areas (SEBI 013) - Assessment published May 2010

Indicator Assessment Created 17 Sep 2009 Published 21 May 2010 Last modified 13 Feb 2015, 04:41 PM
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Generic metadata


Biodiversity Biodiversity (Primary topic)

forest connectivity | fragmentation | biodiversity | forests
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: N/A
Indicator codes
  • SEBI 013
Temporal coverage:
Geographic coverage:
Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom

Key policy question: Are European natural/semi-natural lands becoming more fragmented? Are forest landscapes becoming more fragmented?

Key messages

European ecosystems are literally cut to pieces by urban sprawl together with a rapidly expanding transport network. The increase of mixed natural landscape patterns due to the spread of artificial and agricultural areas into what used to be core natural and semi-natural landscapes is more significant in south-western Europe.

Fragmentation is in many places caused by forest harvesting and has a dynamic and cyclic nature but in south-western Europe, losses towards agricultural and artificial surfaces are more frequent. In the period 1990 - 2000 the connectivity for forest species was stable in approximately half of Europe's territory and increasing or decreasing slightly for another 40 %. The decrease was significant in about 5% of provinces spread in Denmark, France, the Iberian Peninsula, Ireland and Lithuania.

National patterns of core forest loss (%) by type of forest conversion and forest fragmentation process

Note: How to read the graph: In Netherlands, nearly 60% of core forest loss is towards artificial/agricultural cover and dominated by shrinkage (around 45%), then attrition (above 10%)

Data source:
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Spread of artificial and agricultural surfaces into previously core natural or semi-natural landscapes

Note: How to read the map: in south-west Spain, the spread of artificial and agricultural surfaces into previously core natural/ seminatural landscapes was significant between 1990 and 2000

Data source:
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Core forest fragmentation between 1990 and 2000

Note: Data from Corine Land Cover (CLC) for years 1990 and 2000, hence with same geographical coverage and forest definition as CLC; mathematical morphology based software GUIDOS (Soille and Vogt, 2009) and GIS analysis; results aggregated at provincial units (NUTS level 2/3).

Data source:
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Change in forest connectivity between 1990 and 2000

Note: How to read the map: in eastern Spain, there was a high decrease in forest connectivity between 1990 and 2000 for forestdwelling species with 1 km average dispersal distance

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Key assessment

Patterns of natural/semi-natural landscapes (1) (Figure 2)
Pattern changes can be naturally-occurring phenomena but are mostly driven at this scale by anthropogenic causes. The increase in mixed natural landscape patterns due to the spread of artificial and agricultural areas into previously core natural/seminatural landscapes was found to be more significant in south-western Europe (see Figure 2). The increase in core natural landscape patterns, when observed, is generally driven by the spread of core forest and other wooded landscape.

Core forest fragmentation in the period 1990 - 2000 (Figure 1 and Figure 3)
It is well known that forest area is currently increasing in Europe but this is not uniformly distributed. Locally, the spatial forest pattern is changing due to different dynamics: loss of forest areas, fragmentation of forest cover and therefore loss of connectivity. Those processes are likely to have ecological effects.

Fragmentation is in many places caused by forest harvesting and has a very dynamic and cyclic nature that may be beneficial to some species and highly detrimental to others (land mechanically disturbed after clear cut may be replanted or left to natural regeneration).

The term 'core forest' refers to the area of a forest patch minus a 100 m edge (2). Fragmentation processes in core forest loss potentially lead to effects on species (reduction of resource base, vulnerability to external disturbances, etc.). They can be due to different spatial pattern processes that were quantified at national level, e.g. forest patch shrinkage (forest loss at the periphery of a forest patch, with potential area effects on species), patch perforation (forest loss in the interior part of the patch introducing potential edge effects on species),patch attrition (the forest patch is totally removed, with potential sample effects on species). Countries in Figure 1 were ranked according to the proportion of total losses being converted towards artificial and agricultural cover in the period 1990 - 2000.

Forest connectivity (Figure 4)
The connectivity measure considers the inter-patch and intra-patch connectivity for forest dwelling species with a selected dispersal distance. In particular, the measures accounts for the shortest paths and potential dispersal flux between every pair of forest patches, the connected area existing within the patches themselves, and the role of forest patches as connectors or stepping stones that facilitate dispersal between other patches in the landscape. The non-forested landscape is considered as homogeneous.

Connectivity was rather stable in half of the provinces. The most significant decrease was foundin about 5 % of provinces spread in the eastern and western part of the Iberian Peninsula, the northern part of Ireland, southern Denmark and locally in France and Lithuania. All provinces in the hemi boreal countries, central Poland, south Germany, central France and parts of Portugal and Spain experienced connectivity loss.

(1) Natural/semi-natural lands include forest, transitional wooded land, grassland/shrub land, open space with little vegetation, inland and coastal wetlands. Patterns of natural/semi-natural lands are defined according to the composition in terms of natural/semi-natural, artificial/built-up and agricultural surfaces in the 50 ha surroundings of each natural/semi-natural land pixel (1 ha). Core natural landscape patterns are natural/semi-natural lands with a 100 % natural neighbourhood. Mixed natural landscape patterns are natural/semi-natural lands with at least 60 % natural neighbourhood and the rest as agricultural and/or artificial.

(2) Because edge effects are species specific, a 100m edge width was arbitrarily selected as a generic protection belt for interior forest species (100 m is for example the penetration distance of noise disturbances affecting interior forest birds). Forest class: a single forest class after dissolving boundaries between Corine classes 3.1.1 (broad-leaved forest), 3.1.2 (coniferous forest) and 3.1.3 (mixed forest); include young plantation when 500 subjects/ha, transitional woodland when canopy closure > 50 %. Non-forest class: includes transitional other wooded land, young plantations (< 500 subjects/ha), clear cuts, burned areas, forest nurseries and natural/semi-natural non-wooded vegetation (CLC classes 3.2 and 3.3), artificial (CLC class 1) and agricultural (CLC class 2) surfaces, wetlands (CLC class 4).


Data sources

  • No datasets have been specified.

More information about this indicator

See this indicator specification for more details.

Contacts and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Katarzyna Biala


EEA Management Plan

2010 1.2.2 (note: EEA internal system)


Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 6 years in October-December (Q4)
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100