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Sound and independent information
on the environment


Land use (Greece)

Why should we care about this issue

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

Greece’s land is highly fragmented due to its mountainous terrain and hundreds of inhabited islands, which affects land use. In the absence of implemented planning legislation, most of post-World War II urban development was uncontrolled. The problems caused by the lack of effective spatial policies (e.g. land use conflicts, urban sprawl and illegal construction, landscape and environmental degradation) have compromised the efficient organisation of space and affect both economic development and protection of the environment.  

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

In the period 1990-2000, the increase in artificial surfaces (+13.8 %) was the most significant land cover change in Greece (Table 1). This corresponds to the increase in urban areas. However, in 2000, dense urban areas still occupied a small portion of the whole territory (just over 2 %).

The largest land-cover category taken by urban and other artificial land development was agriculture (34 37% arable land or permanent crops). Pastures and mixed farmland was the next category (32.52 % of the total uptake; Figure 1) (GR – EEA CSI 014).

The most important land cover types taken by urban development over the period 1990-2000 were ‘’mines, quarries and waste dumping’’ (56 % of the total land uptake), followed by ‘industrial and commercial sites’ (20 %; Figure 2). The contribution of Greece to new total urban and infrastructure sprawl in Europe is only 3.72 % (mean annual value) (Figure 3). Greece has a very insignificant annual increase in urban areas of 0.015 % (Figure 4).

Transfers of land between agriculture (CLC class 2) and

forest and semi–natural (CLC class 3) cover types,

1990-2000, Greece


CLC 2 to CLC 3


CLC 3 to CLC 2



Transfers of land between pasture (CLC class 2.3.1) and arable land (CLC class 2.1) – permanent crops (CLC class 2.2) cover types,

1990-2000, Greece



The main origin of agricultural uptake from forest is Sclerophyllous vegetation (CLC class 323) and Natural Grassland (CLC class 321); overall 972.69 ha/year (Figure 5).

Under the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy, land‑use changes involved vineyards, olive groves and wetlands. A decrease of the vineyard area may be attributed to their conversion to built-up areas, as many of the vineyards have historically been located close to urban centres. The growth in the area of olive groves may be a consequence of the related subsidies, while the conversion of wetlands into agricultural land may be attributed to large scale agricultural developments occurring in the period 1990 1993 (EEA, 2009).



The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Social Drivers

Between 1991 and 2001, the Greek population increased with an average annual population growth rate of 0.66 % (NSSG, 2009). The number of individuals per household is estimated to decrease annually from 0.43 % in 2000-2005 to 0.37 % in 2010-2015, reflecting ageing of population and new living arrangements (MINENV, 2009).

Greece has one of the most concentrated urban structures in Europe, with about 50 % of the urban population resident in the country's two metropolitan areas of Athens (3.8 million inhabitants) and Thessaloniki (1 million). Also, around 80 % of the urban population lives in the 11 largest cities, while 20 % live in the 72 cities with a population of between 10 000 and 50 000 inhabitants (Economou et al, 2007).

Economic Drivers

The growth in urban areas can be attributed to the urban sprawl and the development of services in existing urban centres, the development of tourist destinations (including summer houses) and the modernisation and extension of transport infrastructures. These changes mostly occurred at the expense of agricultural and pasture land close to urban centres and coastal areas (EEA, 2009).

The extension of urban activities beyond designated urban zones, and illegal construction in coastal areas, on burned forest land and along major highways remain persistent concerns, causing problems such as traffic congestion, urban sprawl, a lack of communal and green space, and damage to sensitive natural areas (OECD, 2009).

Environmental Drivers

According to the Greek National Committee to Combat Desertification, 34 % of the country is impacted to a high degree by desertification, 49 % is moderately affected, while 17 % is at low risk (OECD, 2009). The pressures are numerous, including inadequate protection of vegetative cover exacerbated by forest fires and inappropriate agricultural practices. Soil degradation, accelerated as a result of bad management practices, may also locally reduce the capacity of the ecosystems to adapt to future changes in climate and land uses.


The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

The efforts undertaken in Greece since the end of the 1990s to develop and implement planning legislation are expected to have positive consequences on land use in the coming years. The completion of the Cadastre and the National Forest Registry will enable the evaluation of the effects of legislation and provide a clear picture for the future.

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

In the late 1990s, the new generation of planning legislation in Greece (Table 2) enabled the country to take a comprehensive and rational approach to organising its national and local territories for the benefit of economic development, social cohesion and its natural and cultural heritage.

It has taken almost a decade and a large effort for the concepts of Laws 2508/1997 and 2742/1999 to be translated into the current set of framework and urban plans. This planning regime needs to be completed and put into practice. Completion of the Cadastre and the National Forest Registry will be part of the answer, as they will facilitate a more effective control of land development. Completion of the cadastre takes longer than originally anticipated (expected to finish in 2018). Through the completion of the National Forest Registry (expected in 2012), forests may be safeguarded and forest fires by arson may be limited.


Table 1.   Relevant statistics 1990-2000 by land cover class, in ha (EEA, 2009)

Corine land

cover types


cover flows

Total land cover, 1990 (ha)

Total Consumption of 1990 land cover (ha)

Total Formation of 2000 land cover (ha)

Net Formation of Land Cover (formation-consumption)

Net formation as % of initial year

Total land cover, 2000 (ha)



Artificial areas








Arable land and permanent crops








Pastures and mosaics








Forested land








Semi-natural vegetation








Open spaces/ bare soils
















Water bodies







Total (ha)









Table 2.   Legislation on spatial and urban planning (OECD, 2009

Law 2742/1999 on Spatial Planning and Sustainable Development

National Framework for Spatial Planning and Sustainable Development

General Framework Plan (the ‘National Plan’)

National plan sets out policy regarding competitive land uses, requirements for EIA, national transport links, etc.

Regional Framework Plans

Regional elaboration of national plan

Specific Framework Plans

Sets out development goals for special areas of the country (e.g. coastal areas and islands, mountainous and lagging zones), sectors of activities (e.g. industry) of national importance or networks and technical social and administrative services of national interest


Law 2508/1997 on the Sustainable Development of Towns

Master Plans (for large areas around a major urban centre) and General Town Plans or (for the entire territory of a municipality)

Policy on land uses, population forecasts and housing needs, transport and other infrastructure, environmental protection, etc.

Land use plans for built-up areas

Plans with more details, designation of sites for specific uses, building regulations, etc.


Figure 1.

Figure 1.          Relative contribution of land-cover categories in Greece taken by urban and other

                                artificial land development, 1990–2000 (EEA, 2010a,b)


Figure 2.

Figure 2.          Annual land take by several types of human activity in Greece


                           (Data source: LEAC DB (based on CLC CHANGE DB); EEA, 2010a,b)



Figure 3.

Figure 3.          Mean annual urban land take in Greece, as % of total Europe-23 urban land take

                 1990-2000 (Data source: LEAC DB (based on CLC CHANGE DB); EEA, 2010a,b)


Figure 4.

Figure 4.          Mean annual urban land take in Greece, as % of 1990 artificial land (Data source:

                                 LEAC DB (based on CLC CHANGE DB), Corine Land Cover (CLC) 1990 and 2000,

                                 ETC/TE; EEA, 2010a,b)

Figure 5.

Figure 5.          Forest transfer to Agriculture cover types, 1990-2000



 Economou, D., Petrakos, G., Psycharis, Y., 2007. National Urban Policy in Greece, in Van den Berg, Leo; Braun, Erik and van der Meer, Jan, 2007. National Policy Responses to Urban Challenges in Europe, Ashgate publishing, Ltd, UK, ISBN 075464846X.

 EEA, 2005. CSI 014 - Land take - Assessment published Nov 2005.

 EEA, 2009. Soil country analyses: Country report, Greece. Technical report Doc. Rev. 4.0, February 2009.

 EEA, 2010a. Datasets. Downloadable data about Europe's environment.

 EEA, 2010b. Land cover accounts (LEAC) based on Corine land cover changes database (1990-2000)

NCESD, 2009 - National Centre for Environment and Sustainable Development. Greece: State of the Environment Report 2008, edited by Sani Dimitroulopoulou (in Greek, with English Summary). ISBN 978-960-99033-0-1.

 NSSG, 2009 – National Statistical Service of Greece.

MINENV, 2009. Climate Change: GHG Emissions projections – policies and mesures, May 2009.

 OECD, 2009. Environmental Performance Review - Greece. ISBN 978-92-64-060083-8.



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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