Land take in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-19-en
Also known as: CSI 014 , LSI 001
Created 09 Aug 2019 Published 13 Dec 2019 Last modified 13 Dec 2019
23 min read
Despite a reduction in the last decade (land take was over 1000km2/year between 2000-2006), land take in EU28 still amounted to 539km2/year between 2012-2018. The net land take concept combines land take with land return to non-artificial land categories (re-cultivation). While some land was re-cultivated in the EU-28 in the period  2000-2018, 11 times more land was taken. Between 2000 and 2018, 78 % of land take in the EU-28 affected agricultural areas, i.e. arable lands and pastures, and mosaic farmlands. From 2000 to 2018, land take consumed 0.6 % of all arable lands and permanent crops, 0.5 % of all pastures and mosaic farmlands, and 0.3 % of all grasslands into urban areas. In proportion to their area, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Albania saw the largest amount of land take between 2000 and 2018. The  re-cultivation of land increased from 2012 to 2018, led by Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Belgium.   The main drivers of land take during 2000-2018 were industrial and commercial land use as well as extension of residential areas and construction sites.  

Key messages

Despite a reduction in the last decade (land take was over 1000km2/year between 2000-2006), land take in EU28 still amounted to 539km2/year between 2012-2018.

The net land take concept combines land take with land return to non-artificial land categories (re-cultivation). While some land was re-cultivated in the EU-28 in the period 2000-2018, 11 times more land was taken.

Between 2000 and 2018, 78 % of land take in the EU-28 affected agricultural areas, i.e. arable lands and pastures, and mosaic farmlands.

From 2000 to 2018, land take consumed 0.6 % of all arable lands and permanent crops, 0.5 % of all pastures and mosaic farmlands, and 0.3 % of all grasslands into urban areas.

In proportion to their area, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Albania saw the largest amount of land take between 2000 and 2018.

The re-cultivation of land increased from 2012 to 2018, led by Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Belgium.  

The main drivers of land take during 2000-2018 were industrial and commercial land use as well as extension of residential areas and construction sites.

 

How much were land take and net land take in Europe during the 2000-2018 period?

Land take during 2000-2018 and during the Corine Land Cover observation periods (2000-2006, 2006-2012, 2012-2018)


Note:
For visualisation purposes, the initial 100 m spatial resolution Corine Land Cover dataset was re-sampled to a 10 km2 grid. The observation periods can be visualised by activating the 'layers' icon and selecting the respective periods.

Data sources:

More information

This web map viewer shows land take in the EEA-39 countries for the periods 2000-2006, 2006-2012, 2012-2018 and 2000-2018. Select the 'Land take: extend below' layers icon in the upper right corner to switch between the various periods.

The land take indicator addresses the change in the area of agricultural, forest and other semi-natural land taken for urban and other artificial land development. Land take includes areas sealed by construction and urban infrastructure, as well as urban green areas, and sport and leisure facilities.

For visualisation purposes, the original 100 m spatial resolution data sets were re-sampled to a 10 km2 grid. The datasets were produced using the Corine Land Cover accounting layers.

The main drivers of land take are grouped in processes resulting in the extension of:

  • housing, services and recreation;
  • industrial and commercial sites;
  • transport networks and infrastructures;
  • mines, quarries and waste dumpsites;
  • construction sites.

Note: the reported land take change relates to the extension of urban areas and may also include parcels that were not sealed (e.g. urban green areas, sport and leisure facilities). This is, in particular, the case for discontinuous urban fabric, which is considered as a whole. Similarly, monitoring the indicator with satellite images leads to the exclusion of most linear transport infrastructures, which are too narrow to be observed directly.

Yearly land take and net land take in EU-28 and EEA-39 regions

Chart
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Table
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See the interactive Land take data viewer for more details. 

The indicator addresses the 7th Environment Action Programme target to reach 'no net land take by 2050' and the Land Degradation Neutrality target of the United Nations Development Goals (SDG 15.3).

Although still claiming agricultural and semi-natural areas, average land take in the EU-28 slowed down in the period 2000-2018. Starting at 1 022 km2/yr between 2000 and 2006, land take had decreased to 860 km2/year by the period 2006-2012 and amounted to only 539 km²/year from 2012 to 2018 (interactive Land take data viewer). In some cases, artificial land was returned to other land categories (re-cultivation).

The balance between taken and re-cultivated land is net land take — the concept behind the EU ’no net land take’ target (Figure 1). While some land was re-cultivated in the EU-28, 11 times more land was taken from 2000 to 2018 (i.e. 780 km2/yr of land taken, or a total of 14 049 km2 land taken vs. a total of 1 269 km2 of re-cultivated land). Although land take slowed in the EEA-39 region (Figure 1) during the period 2000-2018, when a total of 18 014 km2 of land was taken compared with 1 437 km2 of land re-cultivated, 12.5 times more land was taken than was re-cultivated.

Land take intensity is calculated as the area of land converted to urban areas (artificial surfaces) as a percentage of the total urban area in the year 2000. In the EU-28, land take intensity in the period 2000-2018 was 6.7 % of the area of artificial surfaces in 2000. The intensity of urban sprawl decreased from 2.9 % between 2000 and 2006 to 1.5 % between 2012-2018. In the EEA-39 region during the period 2000-2018, 7.7 % of the total urban area expanded to cover agricultural and semi-natural areas (1 percentage point more than in the EU-28). 

While land take was concentrated around large urban agglomerations between 2000 and 2018, there was a change in the spatial distribution of land take processes during the various observation periods (Figure 2). Between 2000 and 2006, land take was greatest in the coastal regions of the Iberian Peninsula and Albania, and around the capital regions of Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain. From 2006 to 2012, land take in the coastal regions and in the United Kingdom did not increase significantly, while significant land take emerged in Poland following large highways and in Turkey in a scattered pattern. Between 2012 and 2018, land take was remarkably low in the Iberian Peninsula, but it increased again in Turkey and peaked in the United Kingdom. 

What types of land were affected by land take in Europe?

Yearly land take per major land cover category in the EU-28 for all Corine Land Cover observation periods

Land take per major land cover categories
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Land take intensity during 2000-2018, in % of the land cover in 2000
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Arable land and permanent crops, in % of 2000 values
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Forests and transitional woodland shrub, in % of 2000 values
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Natural grassland, heathland ans scleophylous vegetation, in % of 2000 values
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Pastures and mosaic farmland, in % of 2000 values
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Wetlands, in % of 2000 values
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Table: Land take intensity during 2000-2018, in % of the land cover in 2000
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Table: Land take per major land cover categories
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Land take drivers in the EU-28 and EEA-39 regions during the periods 2000-2018 and 2012-2018

Land take drivers in EEA-39 and in EU-28 - 2000-2018 (km²/year)
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% of total land take in given year and extent
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Table
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See the interactive Land take data viewer for more details. 

In the EU-28, 78 % of land take occurred on agricultural areas (i.e. arable land and pastures, and mosaic farmlands (see the interactive Land take data viewer)) between 2000  and 2018. Of this, 50.5 % of land take was concentrated on arable lands and permanent crops, 27.2 % happened on pastures and mosaic farmlands, 14.3 % showed urban expansion into forests and transitional woodlands, and 6 % was into grasslands.

Land take intensity varied between the various land cover types during the 18 year period: the intensity of urban areas expanding into arable lands and into pastures and mosaic farmlands steadily decreased. From 2000 to 2006, 1.4 % of urban areas expanded into arable lands, decreasing to 0.8 % between 2012 and 2018. The percentage of urban sprawl converted into pastures and mosaic farmlands decreased from 0.9 % between 2000 and 2006 to 0.4 % during the period 2012-2018. Land take intensity was low and remained stable over forests and grasslands during this time. The spread of urban areas into forests and grasslands was below 0.5 % and below 0.3%, respectively, during all periods.

In the EU-28, between 2000 and 2018, 394 km2/yr of arable land, 212 km2/yr of pastures and mosaic farmlands, 111.7 km2/yr of forests and transitional woodlands, and 48 km2/yr of grasslands were converted to urban areas (see the interactive Land take data viewer). This is equal to 0.6 % of arable land lost during the period 2000-2018 (compared with the land cover area in 2000). Urban sprawl converted 0.5 % of pastures and mosaic farmlands and 0.3 % of grasslands into artificial surfaces. Forests were comparably stable as only 0.1 % of the total forested area in 2000 was converted to urban areas.

Here a paragraph will be added on how much land that was taken was sealed and how much land take happened on productive lands.

How do land take and re-cultivation compare among European countries?

Land take intensity within NUTS3 regions


Note:
The intensity of land take is calculated as land take in the given period as a percentage of the area of artificial surfaces in 2000. For easier comparability, land take is summarised within NUTS3 regions.

Data sources:

More information

The land take indicator addresses the change in the area of agricultural, forest and other semi-natural land taken for urban and other artificial land development. Land take includes areas sealed by construction and urban infrastructure, as well as urban green areas, and sport and leisure facilities.

The main drivers of land take are grouped in processes resulting in the extension of: 

  • housing, services and recreation;
  • industrial and commercial sites; 
  • transport networks and infrastructures;
  • mines, quarries and waste dumpsites; 
  • construction sites.

The data are derived from the Corine Land Cover accounting layers.

Land take and re-cultivation in EEA-39 countries

2000-2018
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2012-2018
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Table 2000-2018
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Table 2012-2018
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See the interactive Land take data viewer for more details. 

Figure 6 presents land take per country in the EEA-39 between 2000 and 2018 as a proportion of the country area. This helps to compare countries of different sizes. For more information see the interactive Land take data viewer. Land take during those 18 years was especially high in Cyprus, the Netherlands and Albania. With a yearly land take of 940 m2/km2, the  impact of urban sprawl on Cyprus was the greatest in Europe. Its land take intensity (i.e. land take as a percentage of artificial surfaces in 2000) was 21 %.

Converting land to urban areas with a yearly rate of 894 m2/km2 and a 19 % increase compared with 2000, land take in the Netherlands was also significantly higher than in other European countries. Yearly land take in Albania was somewhat lower (586 m2/km2) but compared with 2000, the 56 % increase in artificial surfaces in Albania was the largest in the EEA-39. Denmark was the only Nordic country with a high yearly land take. The other Scandinavian countries, together with Switzerland and Latvia, and Slovenia and Bulgaria in southern Europe had the lowest annual rate of land take of less than 65 m2/km2.

In the most recent observation period (2012-2018), the proportion of areas converted to urban land in Malta was the largest in Europe, with a yearly rate of 486 m2/km2. While between 2000 and 2018, the United Kingdom's land take was in line with that of other European countries, it was the second highest in Europe in the period 2012-2018. During the 2012-2018 observation period Cyprus, Luxembourg and the Netherlands kept converting significantly higher amounts of land to urban areas than other countries. They were joined by Turkey where a strong land take was also observed. With a yearly rate of above 312 m2/km2 (411 m2/km2 in the case of Cyprus), these countries exceeded recent land take rates elsewhere in Europe. 

Although Luxembourg had one of the highest land takes in Europe between 2000 and 2018, the re-cultivation of urban areas to semi-natural land was also the highest there, with a yearly rate of 82 m2/km2. In the last observation period (2012-2018), both the Netherlands and Luxembourg increased their re-cultivation of land to around 90 m2/km2, along with the UK and Belgium, for which the figure was around 70 m2/km2.  

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

The land take indicator address the change in the area of agricultural, forest and other semi-natural land taken for urban and other artificial land development. Land take includes areas sealed by construction and urban infrastructure, as well as urban green areas, and sport and leisure facilities.

The main drivers of land take are grouped as processes resulting in the extension of:

  • housing, services and recreation;
  • industrial and commercial sites;
  • transport networks and infrastructures;
  • mines, quarries and waste dumpsites;
  • construction sites.

Note: The reported land take change relates to the extension of urban areas and may also include parcels that were not sealed (e.g. urban green areas, and sport and leisure facilities). This is, in particular, the case for discontinuous urban fabric, which is considered as a whole. Similarly, monitoring the indicator with satellite images leads to the exclusion of most linear transport infrastructures, which are too narrow to be observed directly.

Units

The units of measurement used in this indicator are km2.

Results are presented as the change in the proportion of the area of the country (m2/km2) and as the percentage (%) and area (km2) of the various land cover types taken by urban development.

 


Policy context and targets

Context description

The 7th EAP and the EU Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe promote ‘No Net Land Take’ in the EU by 2050, aiming to mitigate the effect of urban sprawl. ‘No Net Land Take’ is addressed in the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) target of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), aiming to maintain the amount and quality of land resources. LDN is promoted by Target 15.3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which, by 2030, strives to combat desertification and to restore degraded land and soil. Land and soil are also bound to goals that address poverty reduction (SDG 1), health and well-being through reduced pollution (SDG 3), access to clean water and sanitation (SDG 6), the environmental impact of urban sprawl (SDG 11) and climate change (SDG 13). The EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 calls for restoring at least 15 % of degraded ecosystems in the Union and expanding the use of Green Infrastructure, e.g. to help overcome land fragmentation.

Policy decisions that shape land use involve trade-offs between many sectoral interests, including industry, transport, energy, mining, agriculture and forestry. These trade-offs are eventually implemented through spatial planning and land management in the Member States. Although the subsidiarity principle assigns land and urban planning responsibilities to national and regional government levels, most European policies have a direct or indirect effect on urban development. In particular, the effective implementation of the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Directives has shown that they can improve the consideration of environmental aspects in planning projects, plans and programmes, contribute to more systematic and transparent planning and improve participation and consultation. The far-reaching consequences of European and other policies for spatial impacts are, however, only partially perceived and understood. Tackling these challenges needs the completion of a comprehensive knowledge base and better awareness of the complexity of the problems as currently expressed in the discussion on a ‘territorial impact assessment’ instrument (Territorial, 2010). Initiatives towards such an integrated approach, as requested in the Community strategic guidelines on cohesion 2007–2013 (COM(2005)0229), imply compliance with the precautionary principle, the efficient use of natural resources and the minimisation of waste and pollution, and need to be vigorously pursued and, in particular, implemented.

At the European level, the 1999 European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP), a non-binding framework that aims to coordinate various European regional policy impacts, already advocates the development of a sustainable, polycentric and balanced urban system with compact cities, and the strengthening of the partnerships between urban and rural areas; parity of access to infrastructure and knowledge; and wise management of natural areas and cultural heritage. The 2008 Green Paper on territorial cohesion and the 2007 EU Territorial Agenda and Action Plan by the Territorial Agenda of the EU and the Action programme for its implementation (COPTA, 2007) build further on the ESDP. Specific actions relevant in the field of ‘Land’, in particular are action 2.1d: ‘Urban sprawl’ and action 2.2 ‘Territorial impact of EU policies’.

The importance of multi-functional land is also massively reinforced by the emerging policy and scientific consensus on the importance of land management practices for mitigating and adapting to climate change, as stated by the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change Activities on Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF). However, it may often be difficult to estimate greenhouse gas removals by, and emissions from land use and forestry resulting from LULUCF activities (UNFCCC). EU climate change policy addresses land use in its White paper for climate change and adaptation, using measures aimed at increasing the resilience of land-based production and ecosystems in general (COM(2009)469). 

Targets

While many European and national policies address land and soil to some extent, binding targets, incentives and measures are largely missing at the European level. The European Court of Auditors recommends to establish methodologies and a legal framework to assess land degradation and desertification, and to support the Member States to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030 (ECA, 2018).

Although, there are no quantitative targets for land take for urban development at the European level, different documents reflect the need for better planning to control urban growth and the extension of infrastructures (policies relating explicitly to land use issues, and especially physical and spatial planning, have generally been the responsibility of the authorities in Member States). The European Commission's Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe (COM(2011) 571) introduces for the first time a 'no net land take by 2050' initiative that would imply that all new urbanisation will either occur on brown-fields or that any new land take will need to be compensated by reclamation of artificial land.

Meeting the 7th EAP objective for no net land take by 2050 would require investments in land recycling, as well as halting land take. Land recycling is one way to achieve a growing urban population that consumes less land per capita. Land recycling can be achieved by constructing between buildings (densification), by constructing on brownfields (i.e. already used sites, known as grey recycling), or converting developed land into green areas (green recycling) (EEA, 2018b). Setting up green infrastructure is an important means to re-establish and maintain unsealed areas, thus to allow patches and networks of urban ecosystems to function in more sustainable cities (Chapter 3 and Chapter 17 for the role of green infrastructure). However, currently there is no legal framework or incentive to recycle urban land, despite available funding for land rehabilitation under the EU Cohesion Policy.

Demand for new urban areas may be partly satisfied by brown-field remediation. Its environmental advantages are clear: relieving pressure on rural areas and green-field sites, reducing pollution costs, more efficient energy use and natural resource consumption, facilitating economic diversification and emerging habitat (housing) requirements. Europe has several examples of regional strategies for economic regeneration and brown-field development (The OECD Territorial Outlook 2001) and the recycling of artificial surfaces in several countries reaching 30 % or more if compared with the total land take area (CORINE Land Cover 2006 results). Stronger links between EU urban and soil policies could encourage this further.

Related policy documents

  • 7th Environment Action Programme
    DECISION No 1386/2013/EU OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 20 November 2013 on a General Union Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. In November 2013, the European Parliament and the European Council adopted the 7 th EU Environment Action Programme to 2020 ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’. This programme is intended to help guide EU action on the environment and climate change up to and beyond 2020 based on the following vision: ‘In 2050, we live well, within the planet’s ecological limits. Our prosperity and healthy environment stem from an innovative, circular economy where nothing is wasted and where natural resources are managed sustainably, and biodiversity is protected, valued and restored in ways that enhance our society’s resilience. Our low-carbon growth has long been decoupled from resource use, setting the pace for a safe and sustainable global society.’
  • COM(2010) 2020 final, Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth
    European Commission, 2010. Europe 2020: A strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. COM(2010) 2020 final. 
  • European Landscape Convention
    European Landscape Convention
  • European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP)
    European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP). Towards Balanced and Sustainable Development of the Territory of the European Union. Informal Council of Ministers responsible for Spatial Planning in Potsdam, May 1999.
  • Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe COM(2011) 571
    Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe.  COM(2011) 571  
  • Sixth Environment Action Programme (decision No 1600/2002/EC)
    DECISION No 1600/2002/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 22 July 2002 laying down the Sixth Community Environment Action Programme

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

The indicator is currently calculated from the Corine Land Cover Accounting Layers for the years 2000, 2006, 2012 and 2018 (https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/data/corine-land-cover-accounting-layers#tab-european-data ). Changes from agricultural (CLC class 2xx), forest and semi-natural/natural land (CLC class 3xx), wetlands (CLC class 4xx) or water (CLC 5xx) to urban areas (CLC class 1xx) are grouped according to the following methodology:

Land take = LCF2 (21+22) + LCF3 (31+32+33+34+35+36+37+38) + LCF13 (development of green urban areas over previously undeveloped land) - part of LCF38 (conversion of sport and leisure facilities from previously developed land).

For the Land Cover Flow (LCF) descriptions, see the table below. Net land take is calculated taking into account the 'reverse land take process', i.e. when urban areas are converted to semi-natural land. This can happen as, for example, land cover changes from mineral extraction site to forest. Net land take is hence the result of land take minus reverse land take.


Definition of the Land take indicator explained with Corine Land Cover changes included:

The table explains the land cover flows (LCFs), or land cover change categories, which contribute to the definition of the land take indicator.




Methodology for gap filling

Not applicable

Methodology references

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

Both for facilitating computation and visualising spatial change, land accounts are processed using a grid of 1x1 km. Each cell contains the exact Corine Land Cover values but spatial aggregations are made of entire grid cells, which may lead to some very limited marginal uncertainty for the border of a given national or regional land unit.

Data sets uncertainty

Corine Land Cover maps the extension of urban systems that may include parcels not covered by construction, streets or other sealed surfaces. This is particularly the case for discontinuous urban fabric and recreation areas. Furthermore, monitoring the indicator with satellite images leads to the exclusion of small urban features in the countryside and most of the linear transport infrastructures, which are too narrow to be observed directly. Therefore, differences might exist between Corine Land Cover derived results and other statistics collected with different methodologies such as point or area sampling or farm surveys. This is often the case for agriculture and forest statistics. In the future, gaps will be filled using a new high-resolution database of transport infrastructure and calculations based on established coefficients for each type of transport.

Rationale uncertainty

Newly urbanised areas (land uptake) may also comprise non-artificial surfaces (private gardens or public green areas). Thus, there may be variations in their environmental conditions and provision of habitats or ecosystem services.

Data sources

Metadata

Topics:

information.png Tags:
, ,
DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 6 years

EEA Contact Info

Eva Ivits-Wasser

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