Land use (Croatia)
Why should we care about this issue
Land is an essential Croatian national asset and resource, and since the country is situated in three geomorphologic units (the Pannonian Basin, the Dinaric mountain system and the Adriatic Basin) it is characterised by geographical, landscape, architectural, geomorphologic and climate diversity. Highly indented coastline, over thousand of islands and islets, karst regions that occupy half of the territory, abundant freshwater resources that ensure drinking water supply, all situated in a comparatively small area, speaking geopolitically, all this is an exceptional wealth that needs to be preserved with special care and sustainable development planning.
It is essential to preserve still balanced spatial network of cities and towns, and wealth and diversity of biological characteristics, some of which are rare even on an European level (natural forests, uncontaminated fertile soil, and considerable reserves of quality drinking water).
The state and impacts
The total area of the Republic of Croatia is 87,661 km2, of which 56,594 km2 is land, and 31,067 km2 sea and internal sea waters (18 981 km2 of territorial waters, and 12 498 km2 internal sea waters). Total coastline length is 5,835 km.
The lowland areas up to 200 m a.s.l. account for 53% of the land, hilly areas and hill slopes between 200 and 500 m a.s.l. account for 26%, and highland and mountainous regions above 500 m a.s.l. account for 21% of land. The land assets include 1,242 islands and islets as well as almost 4,000 km of rivers and 5,900 m3 of renewable drinking water per capita a year.
The karst region which is a specific form of relief occupies about 54% of territory. Karst phenomena and forms are particularly developed in limestones of highland and coastal Croatia and, as an isolated phenomenon, in the Sava- Drava River basin.
Out of total territory, 8.5% of natural areas are under some form of permanent or preventive protection (8 national parks, 2 regional parks, and 11 nature parks account for about 78% of protected areas) .
Forests are the Croatian assets that belong to the renewable natural resources. Since they cover about 47% of land, they are particularly important with regard to the environmental protection.
According to the CLC 2006 Land Cover map, the majority of the total Croatian territory is occupied either by forest and shrubs (26,487.6 km2 or 46.8%) or heterogeneous agricultural land (18,452 km2 or 32.6%). The areas under bush and grass cover (4,742.1 km2 or 8.4%), arable land and permanent crops (4,389.1 km2 or 7.8%) and artificial surfaces (1,774.5 km2 or 3.1%) are present in lower percentages. The lower share is occupied by inland waters (539.3 km2 or 1.0%) and marshland (200 km2 or 0.4%). According to the CLC 1990, CLC 2000 and CLC 2006 data and in comparison with many EU countries, Croatia did not suffer any dramatic changes in 2006 compared to earlier years, i.e. 1980, 1990 and 2000 .
The artificial surfaces account for 3 % or 177,453 ha only. This is an area change of 9,020 ha in this area category recorded during the period 2000-2006. A comparison of CLC data for the same period shows that all area categories were growing except for artificial, non-agricultural vegetation (urban vegetation and sports and recreational facilities) which reduced. In the period 1990-2000, 4,738 ha of agricultural and forest land had its use permanently changed, and in the 2000-2006 period 8,050 ha. The main drivers of land take in both periods were building of settlements and roads and the expansion of industrial and commercial zones, and related setting up of construction sites and pits.
In the 1990-2000 period, changes to agricultural land affected almost all the categories, except irrigated plough land and orchards, and involved a total area of 31,280 ha. Significantly less change was recorded in the 2000-2006 period, when the change of use involved 13,067 ha in all the categories except irrigated arable land. The most important driver of change of use in this period was the expansion of areas used for farming, and development of infrastructure and settlements. In recent years, the Mediterranean region of Croatia there has seen a trend of forestland conversion to agricultural land, primarily for permanent crops.
The extent of Mine Suspected Areas (MSA) - the consequence of combat operations during the Homeland War - is currently 954.5 km2, which is a decrease compared to 2005 when the area covered 1,147.00 km2.
The key drivers and pressures
The load on space is best evidenced by intensified building activities in settlements, urbanisation of coastal zone, changes of surfaces and fragmentation of space. The major changes in surfaces have happened due to reduction in agricultural land and increase in artificial surfaces. It could be, however, concluded that in comparison to other EU countries Croatia has not suffered major changes during the last thirty odd years. Although the transport and energy infrastructures occupy not more than 2.42% of the national land area, the increase in the period under consideration is significant, which is in line with the global trends. This is most reflected in increase in road network density, while the area occupied by marinas doubled between 1999 and 2008. However, the trend was stopped in 2007.
Due to the modern way of life and work, total urbanised surfaces in towns and cities have been on increase. As a consequence, the population increase trend has been recorded in metropolitan and suburban areas, and in settlements located alongside the roads and coastline. However, the Croatian urban settlement density is not high - 2.2 settlement per 1,000 km2 only. Although it is clear that the load on urban agglomerations has not stopped, the population rate in Croatia is still in decline. The available data, based on statistical estimates, indicate that the number of inhabitants in 2008 was by 2% lower than in 2001. The estimate for the reporting period indicates that Croatia has a natural decrease in population of -1.9 per 1,000 inhabitants.
According to 2001 Census data, 3,065,590 inhabitants or 69.1 % of the total population lived in local self-government units. The average population density is 78.4 inhabitants/km2. The occupation and spatial distribution of business, service and other industries are a function of polycentric and corridor development alongside transport systems and the coastal zones.
The forest fires pose a major challenge facing the forest management sector. In the period 2005-2008, outbreak of 943 fires was recorded and 35,248 ha of forest and forest land was fire-affected.
Local soil contamination is encountered in areas of intensive industrial activity, inadequate dump sites, mining and military activity, as a consequence of various incidents, and the like. A total of 2,264 potentially contaminated sites were identified in 2008.
The proportion of agricultural soil areas with high to moderate potential or real risk of water erosion is 46.36 %. The proportion of soil under forests with high to moderate potential risk is 71.33 % while those at real moderate risk account for 44.82%.
Areas used for transport and energy infrastructure outside settlements occupy 2.42 % of the land area of the national territory, i.e. 308.5 m2 per capita. The density of the road network was 51.8 km/100 km2 of the territory in 2008. Number of motor vehicles and road transport volume is increasing, while rail and maritime transport is stagnating. The growth of road transport is accompanied by a rise in the number of accidents.
The 2020 outlook
It is planned that the key issue - mine clearance - will be resolved by 2019 , and it is one of major conditions for revitalisation of rural areas . The preference for polycentric development in Croatia is based on the existing structure and composition of settlements. The promulgation of the Regulation on Protected Coastal Area Development and Conservation  had stimulated measures that have resulted in numerous positive effects in the protection of the coastal strip, especially with respect to unplanned building.
Sustainable exploitation of agricultural and forest land, land fertility preservation, and protection of forest and agricultural areas is a strategic orientation founded on a number of strategic/planning documents and legislation.
Existing and planned responses
A significant progress in preservation of the coastal and island areas from inadequate building has been recorded in the period since 2004, after promulgation of new legislation regulating construction activities in these areas, and taking of concrete measures resulting in demolition of illegal buildings and structures.
The Strategy for Sustainable Development of the Republic of Croatia  is a key long-term document and a guideline for the economic and social development and environmental protection respecting the principle of sustainable development of Croatia. Because of undesirable trends of inadequate use of space in the coastal and island areas, in 2004 the government passed the Regulation on Protected Coastal Area Development and Conservation  that intensified control and protection from inappropriate building in these areas.
Major changes in forest management resulted from the adoption of the National Forest Policy and Strategy  and the new Forests Act . The preparation of the National Forest Inventory (CRONFI) is in the final stages and the Inventory will be available in 2010. Sustainable forest management in Croatia has received acknowledgement in the form of a certificate from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), whose standards mostly correspond with the principles of the NATURA 2000 network.
In accordance with the Environmental Protection Act , the formulation of the National Indicators List  fallowed in the beginning of 2009. as a basis for systematic monitoring of and reporting on the state of the environment. The same legislation defines soil protection and contamination and the protection of the lithosphere and stipulates the adoption of laws and special regulations to ensure its sustainable use. While the Act on Confirmation of the of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa  was passed in 2000, Croatia has not adopted a umbrella law on soil protection although the issue of soil protection is indirectly addressed by a number of regulations, from those regulating agriculture and forestry to regulations dealing with polluters whose activity affects the state of the soil. Monitoring of agricultural land is included in the Agricultural Land Act , and monitoring of forest soils in the Ordinance on the Collection of Data, Network Points, Keeping the Registry, and Conditions of Use of Data on Damage to Forest Ecosystems .
 Strategy for Spatial Development of the Republic of Croatia
 Draft State of Environment Report of the Republic of Croatia, Croatian Environment Agency
 State of Environment Report of the Republic of Croatia, Report, Croatian Environment Agency, Zagreb, 2007
 National Mine Action Program for the Republic of Croatia (Official Gazette 120/09)
 Rural Development Strategy for the Republic of Croatia for the Period 2008-2013
 Regulation on Protected Coastal Area Development and Conservation (Official Gazette 128/04)
 Strategy for Sustainable Development of the Republic of Croatia
 National Forest Policy and Strategy (Official Gazette 120/03)
 Forests Act (Official Gazette 140/05)
 Environmental Protection Act (Official Gazette 110/07)
 National Indicators List
 Act on Confirmation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in those Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa (Official Gazette – International Treaties 11/00)
 Agricultural Land Act (Official Gazette 152/08)
 Ordinance on the Collection of Data, Network Points, Keeping the Registry, and Conditions of Use of Data on Damage to Forest Ecosystems (Official Gazette 129/06)
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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