Land use (Luxembourg)
Why should we care about this issue
Luxembourg has experienced a rapid demographic growth as well as economic growth. Consequently, there was - and still is - continuing pressure on biodiversity and landscapes caused by fragmentation of the territory, urban sprawl, and transportation infrastructure.
Land management is therefore a crucial issue in Luxembourg that is being addressed by various integrated Action Plans.
Luxembourg is a territory of 2 586 km². The maximum distance from north to south is some 82 km, from west to east about 57 km. It is composed of two different geological zones: ‘Ösling’ in the north and ‘Gutland’ in the south. Differences in the sub-soil composition of these two regions lead to dissimilar landscapes with distinctive vegetation types. As a result, agricultural practices as well as economic development have been, and continue to be, different in these two regions. Most of the national population and most economic activities are concentrated in ‘Gutland’ and the region therefore has higher population and industrial densities than the other region. Consequently, it is also in ‘Gutland’ that the highest share of built-up areas is recorded (housing, offices, commercial and industrial buildings, transportation infrastructures). Finally, with the significant population and economic growths that characterise Luxembourg, and mainly the ‘Gutland’ region, there is continuing pressure on biodiversity caused by fragmentation of the territory, urban sprawl, and transportation infrastructure.
The state and impacts
Based on a comprehensive land take assessment for Luxembourg, the territory underwent major transformations over the period 1962-1999 [Note 1]: scrubland and secondary forest landscapes as well as overgrown vacant lots increased by 64 % and 43 %, respectively, while wetlands were reduced by 82 %, orchards by 58 % and solitary trees by 55 %. Changes in the agricultural area in use caused the destruction of rare biotopes of great ecological value in open settings (such as dry grasslands and wetlands). The expansion of the forest area accentuated the disappearance of these threatened biotopes [Figure 3].
Moreover, changes in the composition and structure of landscapes and biotopes have also been caused by urban sprawl and the encroachment of commercial and industrial zones, the expansion of infrastructure (transportation and technical equipment), farmland consolidation, drainage, and shifting farming practices.
In order to have a more up-to-date assessment of land-use changes, data from the cadastral register can be analysed. According to this source, between 1990 and 2009, non constructed areas – i.e. agricultural and woodland areas as well as watercourses – have declined from 92.3 % to 86.5 % of the territory, a decline of some 147 km2 (or 5.7 % of the national territory). These 147 km2 are spread between newly constructed areas (housing, office, commercial and industrial buildings – 123 km2 (or 4.7 % of the territory) and new transportation infrastructures – 24 km2 (or 0.9 % of the territory).
Nevertheless, land-use change from non constructed areas to constructed areas and transportation infrastructures has slowed down these last years. Between 1990 and 2000, agricultural and woodland areas lost on average 11 km2 per year (or 0.44 % of the territory or 3 ha per day) in favour of built-up areas. This amount fell to 3.9 km2 per year (or 0.15 % of the territory or 1.1 ha per day) on average for the period 2000-2009. This slowdown can also be witnessed when looking at built-up areas: the annual growth rate for these areas reached 6.5 % between 1990 to 2000 and dropped to 1.4 % for the subsequent period 2000-2008 [Figure 1].
In addition to net losses of natural habitat, habitat productivity has also been undermined by the loss of continuity, particularly by expansion of the road network and other linear infrastructure. An assessment of the degree of landscape fragmentation shows that Luxembourg is among the most seriously affected of European countries. Since 1960, nearly 28.5 % of hedges and tree rows have been lost, and more than 50 % of solitary trees have been eliminated [Figure 3, Figure 4].
Finally, the spread of industrial and urban development and the intensification of agriculture have caused a degradation of watercourses and their associated wetlands.
Figure 1 - Land use: 1972/1990-2009
Source: STATEC, Luxembourg in Figures 2010, page 6.
Figure 3 - Landscape monitoring: 1962-1999
Source: Ministry of Sustainable Development and Infrastructure - Department of the Environment.
Figure 4 - Average size of non-fragmented parcels
Source: EEA-ETC/TE, 2002.
The key drivers and pressures
The economic development of the country, that gradually shifted from a rural economy to an industrial one (with the steel industry) and, finally, to a service and financial centre has been, and still is, the main driver of land-use change. Indeed, this development led to a strong population growth alongside an even stronger cross-border commuter growth – see country profile – that led to construction needs (housing, offices, and transportation infrastructure).
The 2020 outlook
The population of Luxembourg is likely to continue to rise. Estimates are that it could reach 560 000 to 605 000 inhabitants by 2024, bringing an overall need for more infrastructure facilities and housing, i.e. more threats to existing natural and semi-natural areas. That is why the issue of land use and consumption is taken on board in various action plans.
Existing and planned responses
The main responses put in place are the Regional Orientation Plan (‘Plan Directeur Régional’ and the National Plan for Nature Protection (‘Plan National Protection de la Nature’). The Regional Plan aims at (i) a more effective and rational spatial organisation of a region through an improved structuring of the built-up areas in towns and villages, (ii) a coordinated location of important regional infrastructures and (iii) the protection and the development of natural areas. The National Plan for Nature Protection, adopted by the government in May 2007 and covering the period 2007-2011 is intended to (i) halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010, in particular by maintaining and restoring threatened species and habitats of national or community interest – see the nature protection and biodiversity common environmental theme – and (ii) preserve and re-establish ecosystem services and processes at the landscape and national scales. The Action Plan on Landscapes (‘Plan Sectoriel Paysages’), which is currently being drafted, is another tool, as well as the cross-sector integrated plan (IVL - ‘Integratives Verkehrs- und Landesentwicklungskonzept für Luxemburg’) which also deals with the issue of land use change and conservation. Finally, one of the 18 objectives of the second National Plan for Sustainable Development is expressly dedicated to a sustainable territory planning – building, living and working in a sustainable spatial environment – that is complemented by a clear objective with regard to soil use with a consumption of 1 ha or less per day by 2020.
The latest comprehensive land use assessment using aerial photography dated back to 1999. Subsequent analyses were partial – as for CORINE Land Cover 2006 update [Figure 2] – or are not yet totally finalized.
Figure 2 - CORINE Land Cover: 2006
Other interesting links
To be completed ...
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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