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on the environment


Land use (Spain)

Why should we care about this issue

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

Socio-economic development in Spain, which has been very intense in recent years, has been accompanied by changes in land use. This has exerted severe pressure on natural and semi-natural ecosystems, parts of which have been converted into artificial surfaces and agricultural and forest areas.

Urban areas and their related infrastructure are the fastest-growing consumers of land. The rural landscape is changing due to a combination of increasingly intensive agriculture, abandonment of land used for extensive farming, and expanding forestry. Some of Spain's coastal and mountain regions are undergoing major spatial reorganisation to accommodate tourism and mass leisure activities. On the coast, urban expansion, industry and tourism have brought about major socio-economic and environmental changes.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

The Corine Land Cover (CLC) 2006 survey records a total land area for Spain of 50 672 957 ha. Of this, 50.1 % is classified as agricultural area; 47.1 % as forest, natural vegetation and open spaces; 2 % as artificial surface and the remaining 0.9 % as wetlands and water bodies.

Share Land Cover 2000-2006


These figures are very similar to those recorded by the CLC2000 and reveal a slight decrease in forest area and open spaces and a increase in artificial surfaces.

In terms of size, the greatest change in land cover between 2000 and 2006 occurred in Spain's artificial surfaces, which expanded by 15.4 % to occupy 2.0 % of the country's total area. The second-biggest increase was recorded in water bodies (water courses, water bodies, coastal lagoons and estuaries), which grew by 1.5 %. As the graph below shows, changes in other types of land use were comparatively insignificant.

Changes Land Cover 2000-2006

In 2006, urban fabric accounted for the largest proportion of artificial surface, followed by industrial or commercial areas and mineral extraction sites.

Share Artificial Surface 2006


However, the greatest growth between 2000 and 2006 occurred in road and rail networks and associated land, largely because of improvements to Spain's road network and enlargement of its high-speed rail network. The increases in the area covered by construction sites, sport and leisure facilities and airports also stand out.

Changes Artificial Surfaces 2000-2006

 'Changes in Land Cover in Spain. Implications for Sustainability', published in 2006 by the Spanish Observatory for Sustainability, compares 1990 with 2000 to provide a detailed analysis of this process. The majority (70 %) of artificial surfaces created between 1990 and 2000 were originally agricultural areas. The large amount of agricultural land available (usually close to well-established urban areas) and the profit made by owners when changing land use were two of the causes that contributed to this phenomenon.

As mentioned earlier, in 2006, artificial surfaces accounted for 2.0 % of Spain's total area. Their presence on the country's coastal strip is a phenomenon of particular concern— almost 45 % of Spain's population live in coastal municipalities that account for just 7 % of the country's territory.

In 2006, artificial surfaces made up 22.7 % of land area within the first kilometre of Spain's shoreline, while in 2000 they constituted 21 %. In 2006, urban fabric accounted for 17 % of land within one kilometre of the shore, port areas for 1.6 %, and industrial or commercial areas for 1.5 %.

In recent years, growth in the tourism and residential sectors has congested the shoreline on some parts of Spain's coast, particularly around the Mediterranean, and development has extended more than ten km inland. In 2006, artificial surfaces made up 9.4 % of this strip (8.5 % in 2000), while urban fabric accounted for 6.5 %.




The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Spain's territory is characterised by the following features:

  • Growing population density, though still below the EU average. In principle, this should produce less pressure on land. In 2000, Spain had a population density of 80 inhab./km2 compared to the EU-15 average of 120 inhab./km2. By 2006, Spain's population density had risen to 87.2 inhab./km2 and by 2009 to 92.4 inhab./km2.
  • Economic development occurred later in Spain than in most other western and central European nations, but the country has seen strong growth in recent years.
  • Spain's population has risen rapidly in recent years to reach a total of 46,745,807 inhabitants in 2009. Over the period 2000-2009, the population increased by 15.4 %. Immigrants account for a significant proportion of the population and in 2009 totalled over 5.6 million people (12 % of the resident population).
  • Growing GDP, which reached EUR1 053,914 million in 2009 (current prices), though the rate of growth has slowed since 2006. Between 1995 and 2009 alone, Spain's net GDP rose by 135.7 % (current prices).
  • One-third of the population lives on the coastal strip and in summer this area hosts four out of every five tourists travelling to Spain. This demographic pressure is a source of threat to many of Spain's natural coastal ecosystems.
  • Since 1995, Spain has received growing numbers of foreign tourists (the total rose from 34.9 million in 1995 to 52.2 million in 2009). This process has taken place parallel to population growth. Air travel is the mode of transport most widely used by tourists visiting Spain. In 2009, the country received 1.12 foreign tourists per resident.


In 2009, 86.8 % of foreign tourists (84.3 % in 2008 and 88.6 % in 2007) chose Spain's Mediterranean coast and its archipelagos as their destinations, resulting in an average of 5,759 foreign tourists per kilometre of coastline (a 10.3 % decrease from 2008). This sector has not escaped the effects of the international economic crisis and in 2009 8.7 % fewer foreign tourists travelled to Spain than in 2008.




The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Forecasts indicate that Spain's resident population will grow by 8.4 % in the period up to The most recent advances in population projections made by the INE ("Short term population projection in Spain from 2010 to 2020" Press Release of October 7, 2010) state that the population will grow by 2.7% until 2020 with the current demographic trends, compared with 14.8% growth over the last decade.

Spain will keep an annual rate of population growth in the coming years less than 0.35% with a slight downward trend. After some years of high population growth, Spain will reach just over 47 million people in 2020, with the current demographic trends. Thus, in the period 2010-2020 the resident population will grow by 1.2 million (2.7%) compared to the 5.9 million increase (14.8%) in the first decade of the century. On annual average, population growth would be 124,591 inhabitants, lower than 593,931 in the past decade.

Population projections

The foreign population input may diminish over the next few years due to the economic crisis and to the growth of unemployment, as well as a result of the immigration restriction measures enforced throughout Europe, but it is estimated to hold around 250,000 people annually in the next decade.

Changes in land use will be conditioned by initiatives deriving from the various government plans and programmes implemented. Possible outcomes include an increase in artificial surfaces due to creation of transport, technological and industrial infrastructure, an increase in forest area, and development of new agricultural crops. The principal initiatives are as follows:

  • Transport Infrastructure Plan: Approved in 2005 and assigned a medium-to-long-term horizon (2005–2020). It lays down the basic guidelines for action on matters of infrastructure and transport for which the State has jurisdiction.
  • Rural development planning: Law 45/2007, of 13 December, establishes the Sustainable Rural Development Programme as the principal planning instrument applied to the rural environment.
  • Forestry planning: The Forestry Plan forms part of the Spanish Forestry Strategy and is one of the instruments used to implement Spain's forestry policy. It has a 30-year horizon (2002–2032) and will be reviewed twice during its time in force.



Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Several legislative instruments are able to influence spatial planning. These include:

Protection of land

Spanish Law 8/2007 of 28 May 2007 on Land, and Royal Legislative Decree 2/2008, of 20 June 2008, approving the consolidated text of the Land Law, set out the guidelines for implementation of public policy on matters of land regulation, planning, cover, transformation and use according to the public interest and the principle of sustainable development.

Spanish Law 10/2006 of 28 April 2006 which modifies Law 43/2003 of 21 November 2003 on Forests, prohibits changes in land use in forest areas affected by fire for 30 years after a fire has occurred. The purpose of this law is to guarantee the conservation and protection of Spain's forests and to promote their restoration, enhancement, sustainability and rational exploitation by fostering collective solidarity and territorial cohesion.

Protection of coasts

Protection of Spain's coasts is the constitutional duty of both national and regional government. The principal piece of legislation in this regard is Law 22/1988 of 28 July1988 on Coasts. Land cover in coastal areas is governed by the Coasts Law, which defines two protected areas — a 100-metre-wide strip in which all construction is prohibited and a 500-metre-wide area of influence within which building is tightly controlled.

The publicly owned shoreline is the Directorate-General for Coasts' main area of responsibility and action. By 30 June 2010, 93 % of Spain's approximately 10 000 kilometres of publicly owned shoreline had been demarcated. The purpose of demarcating the publicly owned shoreline is to establish the official boundary, guarantee public access and use, regulate rational use of its assets and ensure appropriate coastal water quality.


Demarcated coastline

Many of Spain's protected areas include stretches of coastline. In June 2006, approximately 35 % of the country's coast was included in one of the available protection categories. The percentage protected varies widely between autonomous communities, with Galicia and Asturias having the highest proportion of protected coastline (over 50 %).


The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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