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on the environment


Land use (Poland)

Why should we care about this issue

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


Poland’s environment is spatially diversified to a significant degree as a result of geographical, historical, and economic conditions. The level of environmental transformation varies from areas only slightly transformed by humans, where the landscape is almost original in character (part of the Białowieża Forest), through areas of natural landscape (large forests, marshy areas, etc.), cultural landscape (urban and agricultural areas), to areas of devastated landscape (raw materials extraction in open-cast mines).

Generally, however, the Polish landscape is only slightly transformed compared to western European countries and is characterised by high natural values.

Therefore, proper management of the space and environmental resources is important to ensure that the further development of the country will not lead to the degradation of the natural wealth and landscape diversity.



The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Results of the Corine Land Cover 2006 project indicate that the country’s dominant land cover categories are agricultural areas (62.7 % of the country), of which the largest are arable lands (44.5 % of the country) as well as forests and semi-natural areas (31.2 %) with a dominant share of forests (30.1 % of the country). Artificial surfaces occupy 4 % of the country. In this category, urban fabric predominates (3.2 % of the country).

Fig. 1: Land cover in Poland in 2000 and 2006 based on the results of the CLC2006 project (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Changes in land cover in Poland during the periods 1990–2000 and 2000–06 were relatively small; in fact, they did not exceed 1 % of the country (0.8 % and 0.5 % of the territory, respectively).
The most important land cover changes in Poland include:

  • the gradual, albeit slow, growth in urban areas, particularly an increase in commercial, industrial and housing areas, as well as areas occupied by transportation and infrastructures,
  • loss of agricultural land, particularly arable land and pastures,
  • successive increase in forest cover associated with the agroforestry programmes implemented in Poland, and changes within the forest areas related to timber operations, forest renovation and natural disasters (fires and trees fallen as a result of wind).

Fig. 2: Changes in land cover in the period 2000–06 based on the results of the CLC2006 project (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Legend: 112 discontinuous urban fabric; 121 industrial or commercial units; 122 road and rail networks and associated land; 131 mineral extraction sites; 132 dump sites; 133 construction sites; 211 non-irrigated arable land; 222 fruit trees and berry plantations; 231 pastures; 311 broad-leaved forests; 312 coniferous forests; 313 mixed forests; 324 transitional woodland-scrub; 333 sparsely vegetated areas; 512 water bodies.
The graph does not include changes covering an area of less than 1 000 ha.

Fig. 3: Distribution of land cover changes types in Poland on the basis of the results of the CLC2006 project (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Fig. 4: The changes of cover/land use in Poland in the period 2000–06 (CLC 2006) (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

In the period 1990–2006, the area occupied by urbanisation increased by 40 020.71 ha, previously used mainly as arable land, fruit trees and berry plantations.

Fig. 5: Land occupied by constructions, infrastructure, transport and other anthropogenic forms in 1990–2006, based on the databases CLC_changes 90–00 and CLC_changes 00–06 (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

The percentages of various land cover categories in the increases of anthropogenic surfaces slightly differ in the two periods analysed. Construction and mineral extractions sites form the highest proportion of occupied land, both in 1990–2000 and 2000–06. In 2000–06, the share of land associated with road and rail networks and related infrastructure increased significantly, being close to 16 % of newly created anthropogenic sites. In the period 1990–2000, the increase in land occupied by transportation accounted for only 2.2 %. 

Fig. 6: Distribution of land cover categories in newly created artificial surfaces, based on the databases CLC_changes 90–00 and CLC_changes 00–06 (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

The area of forest and semi-natural areas is increasing steadily. In the period 1990–2000, the increase was about 15 795 ha (just over 6.2 % of the total change), while in the period 2000–06 it was 18 460 ha which represents 10.1 % of the total area of change. The increase in forest area is mainly a result of a systematic afforestation of agricultural land. Changes within the forest areas, including changes associated with the destruction of forests by hurricanes, changes related to planned forest management (timber operation and restoration of forests) and, to a relatively small extent, the acquisition of forest areas by construction, transport and industry account for around 1.5 % of the total change in the years 2000–06.

The pace of land cover change is slower in Poland than in many other European countries. The area of these changes is also smaller. This applies, in particular, to such indicators as the proportion of land occupied by transport and communications, the development of anthropogenic land, the fragmentation of forests and land used for agriculture.

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

Demographic processes and economic development are the main driving forces behind changes in land use. The transformation is primarily a result of the development of industrial activities, urbanisation, expansion of communication systems, and the introduction of intensive commercial forms of agriculture, fisheries and forestry.

Fig. 7: Factors stimulating the development of anthropogenic land cover forms based on the databases CLC_changes 90-00 and CLC_changes 00-06 (Source: GIOŚ/PMŚ)

Statistical data from the years 1998–2008 indicate an increase (more than threefold) in areas excluded from agricultural and forestry use for non-agricultural and non-forestry purposes. In 2008, the areas that were intended for housing — 3 205 ha (nearly 50 % of all exclusions) — had the largest share in the total area excluded.

Fig. 8: Agricultural land and forests, excluded for non-agricultural and non-forestry purposes in the years 1998–2008 (Source: GUS)

Over the last decade, the number of housing units created has nearly doubled. Service and leisure areas are increasing in line with the increase in housing construction. The demand for passenger and cargo transport is also increasing, entailing the development of communication networks. The total length of surfaced public roads has increased by more than 16 % over the last two decades.

In the early part of the 21st century, the population showed a decreasing trend. The year 2008 was the first in which the population was more than the previous year. But the size of households has changed; there has been a decrease in the average number of persons per household (3.17 in 1999, 2.94 in 2008).

The migration from countryside to town, as well as foreign emigration, caused by economic factors, influences the country’s settlement patterns. Two phenomena are characteristic: the concentration of populations around the cities and the expansion of depopulated areas. In recent decades, there has been a sharp increase in the population in communities surrounding major urban centres. The phenomenon of impulsive suburbanisation is seen around the main urban centres. There is also excessive, scattering of country building and violation of the rural landscape.

But large areas of the country are still dominated by traditional, extensive farming. However, the farm structure is changing and the number of large farms has increased. In 2008, farms with an area of 50 ha accounted for 1 % of all farms. Direct subsidies from EU contribute to the reforestation of fallow land. The increase in forest cover is also a result of an effective forest management policy.

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

There are no outlooks for land use changes but, given the current development conditions, one can assume that local conflicts associated with the expansion of the transport infrastructure, needed in order to increase the competitiveness of the country, will increase. Consequently, taking into account available demographic projections, one can expect that the process of concentrating populations, as well as economic activities, in the big cities, medium-sized cities and rural areas surrounding them, will continue. The projected decrease in the total population of Poland will occur at the expense of the rural and small urban populations.

In line with the trends occurring in the EU, the growth of seasonality in the development and use of the areas outside the zones directly affected by the big cities (possession of second homes) should be expected in Poland.

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Currently, work on the 2030 National Spatial Planning Concept is ongoing, taking into account current development conditions and the need to improve the system of land-use planning at national level in order to properly assist economic development. The principles of spatial policymaking by local authorities and government administrative bodies are established by law for spatial planning and development, which recognises spatial order and sustainable development as the bases for actions in this connection.

Protecting the Earth’s surface is also one of the priorities of the National Environmental Policy for 2009–12 and Its 2016 Outlook, which adopts as the medium-term objectives for the year 2016: 

  • dissemination of good agricultural and forestry practices, consistent with the principles of sustainable development,
  • preventing the degradation of agricultural, meadow and wetland areas by anthropogenic factors,
  • increasing the scale of recultivation of degraded and devastated land, restoring them to natural, recreational or agricultural functions.

According to the Environment Protection Law, the protection of the Earth’s surface can be summarised as the cross-sectoral activities aimed at maintaining a high quality of surface soil by the rational use of management techniques, conservation of natural values and the possibility of productive use, limiting changes in the natural formation, maintaining soil and land quality above or at least at the level of required standards, bringing the quality of soil and land to the required standards if they are not met, preserving cultural value, including archaeological treasures.

According to the Act on the Protection of Arable and Forest Land, the protection of agricultural and forest land must include:

  • reducing earmarking them for non-agricultural or non-forest purposes,
  • preventing the process of their degradation and devastation,
  • counteracting the negative effects of non-agricultural activities reducing the productive potential of soils,
  • recultivating and developing land for agriculture,
  • conserving the bogs and ponds as natural water reservoirs.



Results of the CLC 2000 and CLC 2006 projects (

Elżbieta Bielecka ‘Charakterystyka głównych kierunków zmian pokrycia terenu w Polsce w latach 1990-2006’ (Characteristics of the main directions of land cover change in the years 1990–2006), Warsaw 2009, unpublished material.

GIOŚ ‘Raport o stanie środowiska w Polsce 2008’ (Report on the State of the Environment in Poland 2008).

GIOŚ report ‘Stan środowiska w Polsce na tle celów i priorytetów Unii Europejskiej. Raport wskaźnikowy 2004’ (The state of environment in Poland vs. European Union objectives and priorities. Indicator report 2004).

Experts’ design of the country spatial development concept by the year 2033, Warsaw, December 2008 (

The updated concept of National Spatial Management (Warsaw, October 2005).

The concept of national spatial policy (MP No 26, Item 432, p. 502) (

The National Environmental Policy for 2009–12 and Its 2016 Outlook (

CSO Environment Protection Statistical Yearbooks (

‘Polska 2030. Wyzwania rozwojowe’ (Poland 2030. Development challenges), the document presented on June 17 this year and prepared by the Strategic Advisory Group of the President of the Council of Ministers chaired by Minister Michał Boni, Warsaw, 2009 (



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