Indicator Assessment

Fragmentation of natural and semi-natural areas

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-152-en
  Also known as: SEBI 013
Published 04 Dec 2015 Last modified 25 Oct 2017
8 min read
  • European ‘core natural/semi-natural’ lands became more fragmented in most countries and on average between 2000 and 2006. Their 1 km2 surroundings developed towards a ‘mixed natural’ and/or ‘some natural’ mosaic pattern with agriculture and/or artificial lands. During this time period, the loss of the core natural landscape pattern, due to the spread of artificial and/or agricultural areas, occurred particularly in parts of southern (southwestern Spain, southern Portugal, Sicily), western (Great Britain), central (western Austria) and eastern (western Romania) Europe.
  • In 2006, 35% of European forest lands were fragmented i.e. distributed as a mixed landscape mosaic pattern where forest is intermingled with natural/semi-natural non forested lands, agriculture and artificial lands in their 1 km2 surroundings. On average in Europe, between the years 2000 and 2006, forests in a ‘core natural’ landscape pattern became more fragmented towards a mixed landscape mosaic pattern, even if this trend was not observed for more than one third of European countries.
  • Although more than 40% of European landscape units reported a net forest area increase during between 2000 and 2006, only in one third of the units did this gain result in a significant increase in forest connectivity. In most countries, the trend of the units in a high connectivity range was either stable or showed a decrease during this period. Landscapes with poorly connected woodlands represented more than 60% of the EU in 2006.

Spread of artificial and/or agricultural surfaces into previously ‘core natural/semi-natural’ landscapes

Note: The map shows the spread of artificial and/or agricultural surfaces into previously ‘core natural/semi-natural’ landscapes for the period 2000-2006. Reporting is made per province (NUTS 2/3), both in terms of absolute area (ha) and proportionally to the ‘core natural’ pattern cover in 2000. For example, one province in the West of Spain had its ‘core natural’ pattern reduced by 1.5% to 3% due to fragmentation by agricultural and/or artificial lands, from a cumulative area of more than 10 000 ha.

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National forest landscape pattern profiles in 2006 and trends in ‘core natural’ pattern, 2000-2006

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Data sources:

National distribution of forest connectivity for year 2006 and forest connectivity change in the period 2000-2006

Note: The map show the proportion of landscape units per connectivity range reported by country for the year 2006. The trend (medium/low increase/decrease or stable) in the proportion of units in a high connectivity range (above 50%) is given for the period 2000-2006 per country. Species dispersing is 1 km.

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National profile of forest connectivity change in landscapes with a net forest area gain

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Patterns of natural/semi-natural landscapes (Figure 1)

In Europe, the landscape mosaic pattern is changing due to two opposing landscape processes that are driven by either anthropogenic or natural factors. Such changes have an impact on the supply of ecosystem functions and services such as habitat provision, species dispersal, pollination, pest control or climate mitigation. Anthropogenic driven fragmentation factors are mainly the expansion of agricultural areas, transport infrastructures, settlements and the occurrence of fires. Defragmentation processes occur mainly due to natural factors like the increase of woody vegetation, which follows land abandonment. Spatially explicit information on the pattern of natural/semi-natural lands is also relevant to help to build a green infrastructure for Europe, which aims, amongst others, to develop networks of green, natural features, address impacts of urban sprawl and fragmentation, increase connectivity and improve landscape permeability.

Between 2000 and 2006, the natural/semi-natural lands of a few countries developed more towards an unfragmented ‘core natural’ landscape pattern, when considering their 1 km2 surroundings. However, this was not the case in most countries, nor on average at European scale. The loss of the ‘core natural’ landscape pattern towards ‘mixed’ and/or ‘some natural’ landscape mosaic patterns, due to the spread of artificial and/or agricultural areas, occurred particularly in parts of southern (southwestern Spain, southern Portugal, Sicily), western (Great Britain), central (western Austria) and eastern (western Romania) Europe (Figure 1).

Patterns of forest landscapes (Figure 2)

In 2006, 65% of the European Union (EU 28 except Greece) forest lands were in a ‘core natural’ pattern and 35% were intermingled with natural/semi-natural non forested lands, agriculture and artificial lands in their 1 km2 surroundings (Figure 2). 13% of woodlands showed strong fragmentation as a consequence of mainly intensive land uses (‘some natural’ forest pattern). Between 2000 and 2006, on a broad scale, the forest share of the ‘core natural’ pattern tended to decrease on average over Europe, even if a positive trend was found for more than one third of European countries (Figure 2).

Forest connectivity (Figures 3 and 4)

The lack or loss of forest connectivity reduces the capability of organisms to move and can interfere with pollination, seed dispersal, wildlife migration and breeding. The European territory was gridded (25 km x 25 km) by landscape units containing forest. In most countries, the trend of units in a high connectivity range (>50%) was either stable or showed a decrease during the period 2000 to 2006 (Figure 3). Landscapes with poorly connected woodlands (<30%) represented more than 60% of the European Union in 2006, exhibiting the lowest shares in Slovenia, Finland and Sweden and the highest in the United Kingdom, Denmark and Ireland (Figure 3). While the causes of isolation may be natural and/or anthropogenic in origin, such landscapes deserve more attention in the future for species particularly vulnerable to the effects of fragmentation and, even more so, in the context of climate change.

At a broad scale in the European Union, more than 40% of the landscape units reported a net forest area increase during the period 2000-2006 (Figure 4). In one third of the landscape units, this gain resulted in a significant increase in connectivity, while for nearly two thirds of the units it had no significant impact. This occurs when new forest areas are planted too remotely from other woodlands or when they only enlarge an existing wood patch. This finding supports the attention to forest spatial pattern and fragmentation related issues in sustainable forest management plans, which concern the landscape planning of forest operations, such as clearings and re/afforestation measures.

Supporting information

Indicator definition

This indicator shows the proportion of and trends in natural and semi natural areas, on the basis of land cover maps produced by the photo-interpretation of satellite imagery.


Percentage change of area


Policy context and targets

Context description

The indicator is intended to address the question of ecosystem integrity by providing a measurement of 'disintegration' of the countryside across Europe.

Land use in Europe has changed substantially during the past century. The changes in land use have, in turn, affected the size of natural and semi-natural patches of land and have introduced fast growing fragmentation of the wider countryside. This indicator gives information on the trends in surface area of natural and semi natural areas at pan-European level, through the calculation of values derived from land cover maps.

Land cover maps are developed from satellite imagery based on the spectral properties of each pixel within a scene. For this indicator we use data from the Corine Land Cover database (CooRdinate Information on the Environment - Corine).

By calculating the areas belonging to these land cover classes, information on the extent of fragmentation that has occurred in the natural and semi-natural areas is obtained, within the limitations of the CLC data (see Section on main disadvantages).

Relation of the indicator to the CBD Strategic goals and EU targets

Natural and semi-natural areas represent an important integrity component of any given ecosystem, by supporting the full range of ecosystem services and the majority of species and habitats to be found in this type of ecosystem. If the size of such areas decreases, the integrity of the whole ecosystem is at risk. This in turn might affect the potential of the given ecosystem to deliver goods and services.


EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy - target 2

Related policy documents

  • EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy
    in the Communication: Our life insurance, our natural capital: an EU biodiversity strategy to 2020 (COM(2011) 244) the European Commission has adopted a new strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the EU by 2020. There are six main targets, and 20 actions to help Europe reach its goal. The six targets cover: - Full implementation of EU nature legislation to protect biodiversity - Better protection for ecosystems, and more use of green infrastructure - More sustainable agriculture and forestry - Better management of fish stocks - Tighter controls on invasive alien species - A bigger EU contribution to averting global biodiversity loss


Methodology for indicator calculation

Figures 1, 2, 3 and 4 use data from Corine Land Cover (CLC) for the years 2000 and 2006. Hence, they have the same geographical coverage and class definition as CLC itself. Please note that the CLC map provides broad patterns of land cover/uses with a minimum mapping unit of 25 hectares and therefore enables the observation of broad patterns of change.

Patterns of natural/semi-natural landscapes (Figure 1)

For the calculation, natural/semi-natural lands include the following CLC classes: Forests (3.1), Scrub and/or herbaceous vegetation (3.2), Open spaces with little or no vegetation (3.3), Inland wetlands (4.1) and Maritime wetlands (4.2).

Three landscape patterns enable the landscape fragmentation in European countries and the trend in the period 2000-2006 to be described. They are based on a mosaic index (Estreguil et al., 2012, 2013) that is defined according to the composition in terms of natural/semi-natural, artificial surfaces (CLC class 1) and agricultural areas (CLC class 2) in the 1km2 surroundings of each natural/semi-natural land pixel (1 ha): (1) ‘core natural’ pattern, where natural/semi-natural lands are distributed in relatively ‘unfragmented’ large patches (with at least 80% natural neighbourhood), (2) ‘mixed natural’ pattern, where they are fragmented by agricultural and/or artificial land, still in a natural/semi-natural context (with at least 60% natural neighbourhood), and (3) ‘some natural’ pattern, where they are embedded in predominant agricultural or artificial context (less than 60% natural neighbourhood).

Patterns of forest landscapes (Figure 2)

For the calculation, forest lands include the CLC classes Broad-leaved forest (3.1.1), Coniferous forest (3.1.2) and Mixed forest (3.1.3), as well as young plantations with 500 subjects per hectare and transitional woodland where canopy closure is greater than 50%. Natural/semi-natural non-forested lands include CLC classes 3.2 and 3.3 (natural/semi-natural non-wooded vegetation), wetlands (CLC class 4), young plantations (<500 subjects/ha), other transitional wooded land, clear cuts, burnt areas and forest nurseries.

Similarly to the patterns of natural/semi-natural lands, forest lands are described according to three pattern types based on a mosaic index (Estreguil et al., 2012, 2013), which describes how much forest land (1 ha) is likely ‘unfragmented’ or adjacent to mainly natural/semi-natural lands in their immediate (1 km2) surroundings (‘core natural’ pattern, with at least 80% natural neighbourhood) and how much is fragmented by agriculture and/or artificial lands, still in a natural context (‘mixed natural’ pattern, with at least 60% natural neighbourhood) or embedded as islets and linear features in predominantly agricultural or artificial lands (‘some natural’ pattern, less than 60% natural neighbourhood).

The trend of the ‘core natural’ pattern share for 2000-2006 is shown according to these intervals: below -1% (--), between -1% and -0.1% (-), between -0.1% and 0.1% (=), between 0.1% and 1% (+) and above 1% (++).

Forest connectivity (Figures 3 and 4)

Forest connectivity is measured at landscape level as a function of forest availability (forest area), forest topology, distance and landscape suitability between forest patches for a given species dispersal capability. A forest connectivity index (Estreguil et al., 2012, 2013) is calculated per landscape unit of 25 km x 25 km for forest dwelling species dispersing on average 1 km. Landscapes including woods have a varying connectivity index that ranges from above 0% (few woodlands and highly isolated) to 100% (all woods maximally connected). The shares of landscapes in three different connectivity ranges (<30%, 30-50%, >50%) are shown per country in Figure 3. The change of forest area is studied at landscape level in relation to the change in connectivity for the period 2000-2006 (Figure 4).

Further information

JRC EFDAC (European Forest Data Centre) Map viewer at (go to map viewer and select Forest Pattern Query)

JRC Forest Action Web site:

Methodology for gap filling

No methodology for gap filling has been specified. Probably this info has been added together with indicator calculation.

Methodology references



Methodology uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Data sets uncertainty

No uncertainty has been specified

Rationale uncertainty


Data set resolution: the main disadvantage of using the CLC data set is that fragmentation occurring below the threshold of minimum resolution of 25 Ha is not detectable. The CLC data, however, is the best currently available to cover large areas of Europe in a harmonised way.



Biodiversity relevance: the indicator does not provide direct information on the impact of habitat fragmentation on the status of species populations, but can contribute to the forest ecosystem assessment and semi-natural landscapes.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • SEBI 013
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled every 6 years
EEA Contact Info


Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage