Indicator Assessment

Land take

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-19-en
  Also known as: CSI 014 , LSI 001
Published 21 Feb 2011 Last modified 11 May 2021
20 min read
This page was archived on 24 Aug 2017 with reason: A new version has been published

Land take by the expansion of residential areas and construction sites is the main cause of the increase in the coverage of urban land at the European level. 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, the living space of a number of species, and fragments the landscapes that support and connect them. The annual land take in 36 European countries was 111 788 ha/year in 2000-2006. In 21 countries covered by both periods (1990-2000 and 2000-2006) the annual land take increased by 9 % in the later period. The composition of land taken areas changed, too. More arable land and permanent crops, forests, grasslands and open spaces and less pastures and mosaic farmland were taken by artificial development then in 1990-2000. 

Relative contribution of land-cover categories to uptake by urban and other artificial land development

Note: Origin of land uptake as % of total uptake

Data source:

The largest land cover category taken by urban and other artificial land development was agriculture land. On the average, almost 46 % of all areas that changed to artificial surfaces were arable land or permanent crops during 2000-2006. However, compared to the previous decade (1990-2000) in 21 countries covered both by Corine Land Cover (CLC) 1990-2000 and 2000-2006 it increased to 53 %. This dominant land take was particularly important in Denmark (90 %), Slovakia (85 %), Italy (74 %), Poland (67 %), Germany (65 %) and Hungary (65 %).

Pastures and mixed farmland were, on average, the next category being taken, representing 30.5 % of the total. It was approximately 6 % less then in 1990-2000. However, in several countries or regions, these landscapes were the major source for land uptake (in a broad sense), i.e. in Luxembourg (77 %), Albania (74 %), Ireland (70%), Bosnia and Herzegovina (70 %) and the Netherlands (60%).

The proportion of forests and transitional woodland shrub taken for artificial development during the period was slightly above 14 %. It was significantly higher in Finland (79 %), Norway (70 %), Sweden (61 %), Slovenia (61 %), Portugal (50%), Croatia (46 %) and Estonia (45 %).

The consumption of natural grassland, heathland and sclerophylous vegetation by artificial land take was 7.6 % of the whole area, but in Iceland (76 %) it was the largest taken class and significant proportions occurred also in Cyprus (23 %), Belgium (21 %) and Austria (20 %).

Open space with little or no vegetation contributed to taken land with 1.3 %. Larger proportions were in Iceland (8 %), Montenegro (7 %), Turkey (5 %), Norway (5 %) and Spain (3 %).

The least taken classes were wetlands (0.3 %) and water bodies (0.2 %). However, wetlands’ contribution in Estonia (6 %), Iceland (5 %) and Norway (3 %) was rather high.

In general, more forests, grasslands and open spaces were taken by artificial land development then in the previous decade. This meant a higher loss of natural ecosystems in 2000-2006.

Land accounts 2000-2006:

Annual land take by several types of human activity (2000-2006)

Note: Drivers of urban land development ha/year In some large countries, dates of satellite images for regions may differ by several years

Data source:

At the European level, housing, services and recreation made up a third of the overall increase in urban and other artificial area between 2000 and 2006. Compared to the previous decade (1990-2000), in 21 countries covered in both periods this driver decreased from 52 % to 31 %. However, the proportion of new land for housing was significantly higher in Albania (95 %), Kosovo (85 %), Bosnia and Herzegovina (75 %) and it was at least 50 % in Cyprus, Romania or Ireland. The building of new sport and recreation areas was an important driver in mountain or Nordic countries as Austria (43 %), Norway (43 %), Iceland (28 %), Finland (23 %) and Sweden (22 %), to less extent also in the Mediterranean countries as Cyprus (19 %) or Bulgaria (12 %).

The second largest area (29 %) was taken by construction sites. These sites represent transitional areas that will turn into other newly urbanised classes in future. Thus large coverage of construction sites indicates a potential of further artificial development. This driver increased almost 4 times compared to period 1990-2000 (in 21 countries). Construction was a dominant driver in the Netherlands (54 %), Lithuania (54 %), Slovakia (53 %), Slovenia (51 %), Spain (50 %) and Hungary (49 %).

Land take for industrial and commercial sites covered 16 % of the whole newly developed land. In 21 countries covered in both periods it decreased from 23 % (1900-2000) to 17 % (2000-2006). The construction of new industrial and commercial sites was particularly important driver in Luxembourg (43 %), Italy (41 %), Belgium (40 %), Latvia (33 %), Slovakia (30 %) and  France (25 %).

The proportion on newly created mines, quarries and dumpsites was 15 % in 36 European countries, but it was significantly higher in Serbia (51 %), Bulgaria (50 %), the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (40 %), Estonia (47 %), Latvia (33 %) and Montenegro (33 %). In 21 countries it remained stable at 14 % during both periods.

Although land take for transport infrastructures is underestimated in surveys that are based on remote sensing as Corine Land Cover, a more than double increase (from 3 % to 7 % in 21 countries covered by both periods) of the total new artificial cover supports importance of this driver. In fact, the proportions of land taken for transport were rather high in countries as Croatia (53 %), Slovenia (17 %), Portugal (17 %), Poland (15 %) and Sweden (11 %). Land take by linear features with a width below 100 m (majority of roads and railways) is not included in the statistics, which focus mostly on areal infrastructures (airports, harbours...). Soil sealing and fragmentation by linear infrastructures therefore need to be observed by other means.

Mean annual urban land take 2000-2006 per country as a percentage of 2000 artificial land

Note: Land cover changes in Liechtenstein remained below the detection level of Corine Land Cover change methodology. In some large countries, dates of satellite images for regions may differ by several years

Data source:

Mean annual urban land take as a percentage of total urban land take 2000-2006

Note: Land cover changes in Liechtenstein remained below the detection level of Corine Land Cover change methodology. In some large countries, dates of satellite images for regions may differ by several years

Data source:

Distribution of land take 2000-2006

Note: Map shows spatial distribution and intensity of land take for urban and other artificial land (lcf2 Urban residential sprawl + lcf3 Sprawl of economic sites and infrastructures) over particular territory in 2000 - 2006.

Data source:

CLC2000-2006 changes database

Green Potential Background in a 5km radius (2008)

Considering the contribution of each country to new total urban and infrastructure sprawl in Europe, mean annual values range from 21.4 % (Spain) to 0.001% (Malta), with intermediate values in France (12.9 %), Germany (10.1 %) and Italy (7.4 %). Differences between countries are strongly related to their size and population density (Figure 3).

The pace of land take observed by comparing it with the initial extent of urban and other artificial areas in 2000 gives another picture (Figure 4). From this perspective, the average value in 36 European countries covered by CLC 2000-2006 ranges up to an annual increase of 0.6% (in 21 countries covered by both periods it remains also 0.6 %). Urban development is fastest in Albania (5.0 % increase in urban area per year), Iceland (3.3 %), Spain (2.7 %), Cyprus (2.6 %) and Ireland (2.4 %). Compared to the previous period 1990-2000, Spain speeded up by 0.8 %, Ireland slowed down by 0.5 %, Portugal by 1.2 % (now 1.6 %), and the Netherlands by 0.3 % (now 1.3 %).

Land uptake by urban and other artificial development in 36 European countries amounted to 686 414 hectares in 6 years. It represents 0.1% of the total territory of these countries. This may seem low, but spatial differences are very important and an artificial sprawl in many regions is very intense (Figure 5).

Supporting information

Indicator definition

This indicator looks at the change in the amount of agricultural, forest and other semi-natural and natural land taken by urban and other artificial land development. It 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 units of measurement used in this indicator are hectares or km2.

Results are presented as average annual change, percentage of total area of the country (%) and percentage of the various land cover types taken by urban development (%).

Note: Surfaces relate to the extension of urban systems and may include parcels not covered by constructions, streets or other sealed surfaces. 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.



Policy context and targets

Context description

The main policy objective of this indicator is to measure the pressure from the development of urban and other artificial land use on natural and managed landscapes that are necessary 'to protect and restore the functioning of natural systems and halt the loss of biodiversity' (Sixth Environment Action Programme (6th EAP, COM(2001)31)). EU 6th EAP addresses land resources and land use mainly through the thematic strategies on natural resources, the urban environment and soil protection (plus the Commission's proposal for a soil framework directive). 

Other important references can be found in A Sustainable Europe for a Better World: A European Union Strategy for Sustainable Development (COM(2001)264), and the thematic documents related to it, such as the Commission Communication Towards a Thematic Strategy on the Urban Environment (COM(2004)60), Cohesion Policy and Cities: the urban contribution to growth and jobs in the regions (COM(2006)385), Europe 2020 (COM(2010)2020), general provisions on the European Regional Development Fund, the European Social Fund and the Cohesion Fund Council Regulation ((EC) No 1083/2006), as well as the concept of territorial cohesion. In the context of land use, it is relevant to mention the role of the European Landscape Convention (Council of Europe, 2000) that deals with the protection, management and planning of all landscapes in Europe. 

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 practice 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. 

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). 


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.

European policy, although it has no spatial planning responsibility, sets the framing conditions for planning. 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 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’.

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, and 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 recycling of artificial surfaces in several countries reach 30 % or more if compared with total area of land take (CORINE Land Cover 2006 results). Stronger links between EU urban and soil policies could encourage this further (e.g. following up respective 6th EAP thematic strategies).

Related policy documents



Methodology for indicator calculation

Summary European land take statistics for the 2006-2012 period are calculated on CLC seamless data coverage (version 18.5 released in June 2016). CSI014 was processed according to the 2016 EEA land accounting methodology and updated country boundaries. The Land take indicator for the 2006-2012 period is calculated for the EEA-39 countries. Summary European land take statistics for the 2000-2006 period were calculated for all EEA-39 countries including Greece, which was not available in previous CLC releases.

The indicator is currently calculated from Corine Land Cover 1990, 2000, 2006 and 2012 data mapped from Landsat, SPOT, IRS and RapidEye satellite images (CLC 2006-2012 change database version 18.5). 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 (CLC class 1xx) are grouped according to the land cover accounts methodology. Land cover change values are converted to grid cells, which are aggregated by countries. In addition to comparable results between countries, the use of the CLC geographic database allows the same indicator to be computed for smaller units such as regions or river basins. When the indicator refers to country surface, areas are calculated for consistency reasons from the same CLC database as used for the indicator; it may lead to small differences with official country surface numbers due to the use of a single geographical projection system. 

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)

Only polygonal transport areas are recorded in the indicator. Land uptake by linear transport infrastructure development will be integrated in a further step on the basis of a high resolution geographical database of transport infrastructures.

Methodology for gap filling

There is a need to map transport infrastructure or artificial areas currently under CLC's minimum mapping unit (25 ha or 100m) by combining CLC with high resolution datasets or modelling transport infrastructure coverage.

Methodology references



Methodology uncertainty

CSI014 has been processed according to the land accounting methodology. Both for facilitating computation and visualising spatial change, land accounts are processed using a grid of 1x1 km. Each cell contains the exact CLC 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.

Differences in CLC change mapping technology (1990-2000 and 2000-2006, 2006-2012):

In CLC1990-2000, changes were mapped by countries usually by intersecting CLC1990 and CLC2000 stock layers. The results were not always cleaned and non-changed parts might have remained in the CLC 1990-2000 changes dataset. On the other hand, isolated changes below 25 ha could not be mapped by this technology. In CLC2000-2006 and CLC2006-2012, changes were mapped directly. This way all changes exceeding 5 ha were mapped and non-changed areas were better excluded from CLC-Changes.

Data sets uncertainty

Geographical and time coverage at the EU level

Surfaces monitored with Corine Land Cover relate to 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, which are considered as a whole. 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 exist between CLC 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. However, the trends are generally similar. The gap will be filled in at a further stage on the basis of a new high-resolution database of transport infrastructure and calculations based on established coefficients for each type of transport.

28 EU member states are covered with all CLC 2000, 2006 and 2012 results. Land cover changes in Liechtenstein remained below the detection level of Corine Land Cover change methodology. In all countries, the number of years between two CLCs is 6 years.

Albania  6
Austria 6
Belgium 6
Bosnia and Herzegovina (1998-2006) 6
Bulgaria 6
Croatia 6
Cyprus 6
Czech Republic 6
Denmark 6
Estonia 6
Finland 6
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 6
France 6
Germany 6
Greece 6
Hungary 6
Iceland 6
Ireland 6
Italy 6
Kosovo under UNSCR 1244/99 6
Latvia 6
Liechtenstein 6
Lithuania 6
Luxembourg 6
Malta 6
Montenegro 6
Netherlands 6
Norway 6
Poland 6
Portugal 6
Romania 6
Serbia 6
Slovakia 6
Slovenia 6
Spain  6
Sweden 6
Switzerland 6
Turkey 6
United Kingdom 6

Representativeness of data on national level

At the national level, time differences between regions may happen in most countries and these are documented in the CLC metadata.

Rationale uncertainty

Newly urbanised areas (land uptake) may comprise also non-artificial surfaces (private gardens or public green areas) and thus they may vary in their environmental conditions and provisioning of habitats or ecosystem services.

Data sources

Other info

DPSIR: Pressure
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 014
  • LSI 001
Frequency of updates
Updates are scheduled every 6 years
EEA Contact Info