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Sound and independent information
on the environment

You are here: Home / Environmental topics / Land use

Land use

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Europe is one of the most intensively used continents on the globe, with the highest share of land used for settlement, production systems and infrastructure. Land is a finite resource: how it is used constitutes one of the principal reasons for environmental change, with significant impacts on quality of life and ecosystems, as well as on the management of infrastructure. More

Key facts and messages
Land and ocean sinks have taken up more than half of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions since 1800, but these natural sinks are vulnerable to climate and land-use change and are highly likely to take up less CO2 in future. more
Land-use change and intensification are causing further fragmentation and homogenisation of forests and agro-ecosystems. Although some decline in freshwater nutrients has been observed, eutrophication of terrestrial ecosystems continues to be... more
Land use trends since 2000 remain the same as in the previous decade but most have slowed down somewhat. Urban areas, infrastructure and forest cover are still increasing at the expense of agricultural land. Farmland is often managed more intensively... more
Land is a finite resource and the way it is used is one of the principal drivers of environmental change, with significant impacts on quality of life and ecosystems as well as on the management of infrastructure. In turn, environmental change... more
Land uptake by urban development and transport infrastructure has been slightly faster than in the previous decade. This continues the trend of landscape fragmentation and increases other environmental impacts. Urbanisation rates vary substantially,... more
Land use decisions involve trade-offs between the current high attention to food and energy security, and more policy emphasis on multi-functionality taking into account ecosystem and natural resource management objectives. The diversity of... more
The understanding of the relationship between land use and environmental impacts must be improved. There is a need to assess inherent trade-offs and feed-backs between land use and ecosystem services, including indirect land use effects (Europe’s... more
Current land use trends are likely to continue though possibly at a lower rate, with built-up area increasing at the expense of agricultural land uses and natural areas. Within agriculture, arable land for food and energy crops is likely to... more
Certain regions of Europe are affected by soil salinisation, acidification, landslides or desertification, with considerable economic and environmental consequences. Soil degradation is accelerating in many parts of Europe, exacerbated by human... more
Soil erosion by wind and water, largely the result of unsuitable land management, deforestation, overgrazing, construction activities and forest fires, affects around 17% of Europe’s land area. Erosion rates and extents are expected to continue... more
Soil is being lost due to intensive soil sealing – about 4% of Europe’s total land area is sealed and the demand for urbanisation and transport infrastructure is rising. In addition, it is estimated that around 18% of agricultural soils... more
Industrialisation and poor management have left thousands of contaminated sites throughout Europe, resulting in human health impacts and environmental problems including groundwater contamination. While some countries have made significant progress,... more
Analysed land stock across the 36 European countries was 5.42 million km2. 1.3 % of this area (68 353 km2) changed land-cover type from 2000-2006. more
The three largest land types in Europe are forests (35 %), arable land and permanent crops (25 %), and pastures and mixed mosaics (17 %). About 4 % of Europe is covered by artificial surfaces. more
Land covered by artificial surfaces (e.g. for residential areas, industrial and commercial sites) increased by 6 258 km2 (3.4 %) from 2000-2006. more
Forested land increased by 1 114 km2 from 2000-2006. more
43 % of the total area occupied by Natura 2000 sites in the EU-27 countries is located in mountain areas. more
Some authors estimate 36 % of European subsoils as having high or very high susceptibility to compaction. Other sources report 32 % of soils being highly vulnerable and 18 % moderately affected. (The use of heavy machinery in agriculture can... more
Salinisation stands for the accumulation of basic substances mainly from minerals in water and fertilizers which makes soils unsuitable for plant growth. It affects approximatly 3.8 million ha in Europe. The main driver is the inappropriate... more
Water basin management should be more closely integrated with spatial planning. Costs can fall on those who do not benefit – for example, water pollution from agriculture in one territory that flows downstream to others. Also, benefits may... more
European Environment Agency (EEA)
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Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100