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on the environment


Land use (Denmark)

Why should we care about this issue

Land Land
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The Danish landscape is characterised by a high degree of fragmentation with many smaller nature areas and forests spread in the open landscape. The quality of nature and the environment in the open landscape is closely linked to agricultural management and practices. In the arable land the general trends are that farmland has become more uniform, many hedges have disappeared and the size of the fields has increased, by 7% over the last ten years. During the last decades, nature types in the open land, such as meadows, heathland, etc. have been reduced in size, whereas forests and urban and infrastructure-areas have increased.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

The main part of the Danish land is used for agricultural production (62 %). However, since the early 1950s the arable area has decreased, and between 1980 and 2008 the area decreased by 3%. The remaining land use includes forests (13 %), roads and built-up-areas (10 %), nature areas in the open land, for example heathland and meadows, (9 %) and lakes and watercourses (2 %). During the last decades, nature areas in the open land have decreased, whereas forests and built-up-areas have increased. Since the end of the 19th century, forest areas have more than doubled. The total forest area was 570 000 hectare in 2008. The city zone areas, increased by 10% from 2000 to 2008.

Figure 1 (1.1.1)

Figure 1 (1.1.1): Development in land use in Denmark during more than eight decades. Lakes and rivers (approximately 2 %) and areas of unknown use (approximately 10 %) are not included. Since the agricultural area is computed from historical data, the data are slightly lower than the recent data from Statistics Denmark. Quantification methods for forest areas has changed over the years, therefore time‑dependent figures are not comparable. Source: National Environment Research Institute and Forest and Landscape, University of Copenhagen.

Figure 2 (MTR:6.2.1)

Figure 2 (MTR:6.2.1): Developments in open habitat acreage: permanent grass (pasture, common, meadow, saltmarsh), heath, bog and sand dunes. Source: Danish National Environmental Research Institute.


The Danish landscape suffers from a high degree of fragmentation. Approximately 92 % of the nature areas in the open land (so-called § 3 protected areas) are below five hectares, of which 58 % are below 0.25 hectare. The latter areas are mainly lakes and ponds. Fragmentation can have a large impact on the ability for animals to move around and plants to spread their seeds.

Figure 3 (1.7.1)

Figure 3 (1.7.1). The number of open land protected nature areas as a function of size. Protected areas refer to those included in the Danish Nature Protection Act. Source: National Environment Research Institute.

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Urbanization, infrastructure development and agricultural production is one of the main drivers of land use in Denmark and as such has a significant impact on nature and the environment. Although the development of agricultural production is an important driver for the environmental impact, other changes, such as structural changes and agricultural specialisation, also impact the environment.

From 1990 to 2008, Danish pig production increased by 13 %, although from 2002 this is decreasing. In the same period the production of cattle decreased and poultry production was almost unchanged.

Structural changes have implied a change in farm size and number. From 1990 to 2008, the number of farms decreased by 46 %. At the same time, the remaining farms grew in size, e.g. the number of farms >100 ha increased by 120 %. Specialisation implies that areas with high animal density have increased. From 1990 to 2006, the area with highest density of pigs, i.e. >0.25 animal units per ha, increased by 144 %.

Figure 4 ()

Figure 4. Livestock production measured in animal unit (~100 kg N in manure). Source: Statistics Denmark.

Figure 5 ()

Figure 5. The development in number of farms as a function of size measured in hectare (ha) Source: Statistics Denmark

The area used for crop production has decreased over the last decades and from 1990 to 2008 by 16 %. In contrast, the area for forage increased by 57 % from 1990 to 2008. Permanent grassland decreased by 12 % in the same period. These areas are less important for agricultural production, but are important nature areas and are partly included in nature protection areas.

Figure 6 ()

Figure 6. Area use in agricultural production. Source: Statistics Denmark


The development of ecological farming has increased since the late 1980s. In 2009, the area used for ecological production was 170.346 hectare, corresponding to 6.5 % of the total cultivated area. At the same time, the number of ecological farms decreased from 3 466 in 2000 to 2 689 in 2009, indicating that the size of the farms has increased significantly.

Since the EU repealed the set aside obligation in 2007‑2008, it is estimated that 80 % of the set aside areas in Denmark have been cultivated, corresponding to 115.000 hectare. At the same time, the extensively cultivated areas have increased, i.e. to approximately 28 000 hectare. These are most likely the ’old‘ set aside areas, since this terminology no longer exists. As a consequence, the environmental impact from pesticide use, phosphorous load to rivers and lakes, nitrogen leaching, emission of ammonia and CO2 from agriculture is expected to increase and the importance of set aside areas as habitats and corridors for wildlife will most likely decrease.

Figure 7 (1.4.1)

Figure 7 (1.4.1): Development of set aside areas and extensively cultivated areas in Denmark. The use of the category “set aside” ceased in 2008. Extensively cultivated areas are a classification for nature areas, nature like areas, planted forest areas, and non-cultivated fields. Source: National Environmental Research Institute, AU and Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, AU.

Figure 8 (1.3.1)

Figure 8 (1.3.1) : Development in number and production area in ecological farming (inclusive areas in transformation and areas not yet included in the transformation pool). Source: The Danish Plant Directorate.


Physical planning in Denmark distinguishes three different area zones: city, countryside, and summer house zones. The housing stock for all types of housing increased from 2000 to 2009. The number of villas and cottages, as well as semi-detached and terrace houses and blocks of flats increased by 4.5 %, 5.8 % and 5.8 %, respectively. Housing in the countryside zone is increasing. In 2000, 7 % of new dwellings in Denmark were built in the countryside zone, rising to 12 % in 2007. City areas correspond to 6.2 % of the total area use in 2008.

Figure 9 (1.6.2)

Figure 9 (1.6.2): Development in the number of housing types; villa and cottage, twin- and terrace house and block of flats. Source: Statistics Denmark.

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

An increasing number of projects aiming at restoring nature areas are being implemented in Denmark. The largest restoration project is the ’The Skjern River Restoration Project‘ (1999-2002), with the aim of re-establishing the natural course of one of the larger river and wetland areas in Denmark. Evaluations have shown a successful restoration of the natural wildlife and biotopes. Several Natura 2000 areas are included in the Skjern river wetland area and the area is becoming one of five National Park areas in Denmark.

National Parks are used to protect unique Danish nature. The first National Park ’National Park Thy’ was established in 2008. The second, ‘Mols Bjerge’, was established in 2009. The remaining three National Parks will be established in the coming years.

In all state forests, extensive forestry has been adopted as an official approach, and since 2007, state forests have been certified by the environmental labelling FSC or PEFC, signalling progression towards the the 2040 target of increasing the area of pristine forest by 40.000 hectare by 2040.

Several initiatives incorporated in the Government action plan “Green Growth” from 2009 are expected to create 75.000 ha of “new” nature areas, mainly in the open landscape, on the expense of arable land.

The increase in city areas, number of houses and housing areas in the country side show that the spreading of city area is continuously progressing, although according to local planning.

Following a reduction in the ecological farming area between 2002 to 2007, the area increased from 2007 to 2008, indicating progress towards the 2020 target of 50 % increase relative to the 2007- area as laid down in the Government action plan “Green Growth”.

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The 2009 Danish strategy for sustainable development stresses the importance of the need to increase coherent areas of nature and green corridors. Initiatives are prioritised, such as the lay‑out of National Parks and re-establishment of wetland areas. The quality of Danish nature areas is regulated through several initiatives, including the Act on Nature Conservation from 1992, that aims to protects open‑land areas (so-called § 3 areas) and the habitat directive which has led to identification of Natura 2000 areas. Initiatives to maintain these areas and additional 40 000 hectare nature areas in the open land are described in the Government plan ’Green Growth‘ from 2009.

In the 1989 Forestry Act, a target of doubling the forest area was set. This target has been maintained in the National Forestry Programme from 2002, specifying the increase in forest area to cover 20‑25 % of the total Danish area within a three-growth generation (i.e. 80-100 years).

The Danish 2006 National Planning Report set a target to preserve a clear boarder between cities and the countryside and the Danish strategy for sustainable development from 2009 states: The government prioritises more compact cities and initiatives to avoid non-intended spreading of city areas into the open land.




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