Land take as a result of the expansion of residential areas and construction sites is the main cause of the increase in urban land coverage in Europe.
Agricultural zones and, to a lesser extent, forests and semi-natural and natural areas are disappearing in favour of the development of artificial surfaces. This affects biodiversity since it decreases habitats and fragments the landscapes that support and connect them.
Between 2006 and 2012, the annual land take in the European countries (EEA-39) assessed in the 2012 Corine land cover (CLC) project was approximately 107 000 ha/year. The figure for the 2000-2006 period was approximately 118 000 ha/year.
In the 28 countries 1 covered by all three CLC assessment periods (1990-2000, 2000-2006 and 2006-2012), annual land take decreased by 10.5 % between 2000 and 2006, and by 13.5 % between 2006 and 2012.
In absolute values, the annual land take in these 28 countries was 114 000 ha/year (1990-2000), 102 000 ha/year (2000-2006) and 98 500 ha/year (2006-2012).
Between 2000 and 2006, more arable land and permanent crops were taken by artificial development than between 1990 and 2000, while fewer pastures and less mosaic farmland were taken over the same period. In fact, between 2006 and 2012, the types of land most taken for artificial development were arable land and permanent crops, followed by pastures and mixed agricultural areas.
1 The 28 countries covered by all three CLC assessment periods are AT, BE, BG, CZ, DE, DK, ES, EE, FR, GR, HR, HU, IE, IT, LT, LU, LV, ME, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, RS, SI, SK, TR and UK.
Between 2006 and 2009, soil sealing, or imperviousness, increased in all EEA-39 countries by a total of 4 364 k m 2 . This corresponds to an annual average increase of 1 454 k m 2 , or 0.027 % of the total EEA-39 area. During this period, the rate of increase in soil sealing relative to country area varied from 0.001 % to 0.48 %. In 2009, the percentage of a countries' total area that was sealed also varied greatly, with values ranging from 0.15 % to 15.23 %. The highest sealing values, as a percentage of country area, occurred in small countries with high population densities, while the lowest sealing values could be found in large countries with low population densities.
The most problematic situation occurs in countries where there is already a high percentage of sealing and where the annual rate of increase relative to country area is high.