Page Last modified 19 Apr 2016
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The richness and diversity of rural landscapes in Europe is a distinctive feature of the continent. There is probably nowhere else where the signs of human interaction with nature in landscape are so varied, contrasting and localised. Despite the immense scale of socio-economic changes that have accompanied this century's wave of industrialisation and urbanisation in many parts of Europe, much of this diversity remains, giving distinctive character to countries, regions and local areas.

Landscapes can be divided into natural and cultural types. Chapter 9 is dedicated to the former by presenting a view on Europe's relatively small but valuable percentage of natural and semi-natural ecosystems. However, there are practically no areas in Europe that can be considered 'natural' in the sense that there is no human influence whatsoever, and few where there is no human presence. Even the Nordic subalpine birchwoods, or the tundra and taiga of Russia, which are often thought of as 'untouched', have been subject to some human impact. Other areas, such as the openfields or bocage landscapes have sometimes replaced former forest landscapes and are not only influenced by but are in fact the very result of centuries-old human landuse. The term 'cultural landscapes' characterises this distinctive interrelationship between nature and people and encompasses a group of mostly rural landscapes. By prevailing over the remaining natural types of land-cover, cultural landscapes play a significant role for the state of Europe's environment. The interrelationship between nature and people varies from place to place, due to differences in physical conditions, such as topography, climate, geology, soils and biotic factors, and the type of human use or occupancy that can range from minimal to intensive. Landuse patterns have evolved around two significant factors: the type and accessibility of natural resources and the dynamics of demographic processes. Both factors are closely interlinked through a network of economic, ecological, social and cultural components. By acting as visual documents for the complex nature of these linkages, landscapes often represent aesthetic values in the perception of our environment.

The complexity of factors that contribute to the shaping of Europe's cultural landscapes is reflected in the diversity of values that are attached to them. Since these differences of perception set natural limits to any generalised approach of landscape evaluation, this chapter will only highlight some of the most obvious environmental aspects of cultural landscapes. Despite the many close links between this chapter and that on 'nature and wildlife' (Chapter 9), the values and problems of cultural landscapes are so much more based on economic and social aspects that they need to be set distinctively apart. However, conserving landscapes also helps protect the species and habitats within them and, taking action to protect species and habitats, contributes to safeguarding the richness and diversity of the landscape.

This chapter reviews the values which are attached to cultural landscapes, presents a typology of European landscapes, explains why landscapes are currently under stress, and describes landscape conservation measures underway at national and international levels. Given the existing discrepancy between the large variety of European landscapes and the lack of internationally harmonised approaches to describe and classify them, this chapter cannot be more than a first and incomplete attempt to tackle the subject. In particular, the large-scale map of European landscape types presented below must be considered as an indicative representation of the distribution of the main categories of landscape across Europe which has been developed for descriptive rather than analytical purposes. A prevailing theme throughout the chapter, however, is the importance of landscapes to the future of Europe's environment and their due place and importance in international efforts to safeguard the environment of this continent.

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