Indicator Specification

Land take

Indicator Specification
  Indicator codes: CSI 014 , LSI 001
Published 05 Jan 2011 Last modified 11 Dec 2019
14 min read
This page was archived on 11 Dec 2019 with reason: Other (New version data-and-maps/indicators/land-take-3 was published)
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.

Assessment versions

Published (reviewed and quality assured)
  • No published assessments


Justification for indicator selection

Land is a finite resource and the way it is used is one of the principal drivers of environmental change because of the significant impacts on quality of life and ecosystems as well as on the management of infrastructure that land use can have. In Europe, the proportion of total land use occupied by land used for production (agriculture, forestry, etc.) is one of the highest on the planet and conflicting land-use demands require decisions that involve hard trade-offs. Land use in Europe is driven by a number of factors such as the increasing demand for living space per person, the link between economic activity, increased mobility and the growth of transport infrastructure, which usually result in urban uptake. Urbanisation rates vary substantially, with coastal and mountain areas among the most affected regions in Europe as a result of of the increasing demand for recreation and leisure.

The impact of urbanisation depends on the area of land taken and on the intensity of land use, for example, the degree of soil sealing and the population density. Land take by urban areas and infrastructure is generally irreversible and results in soil sealing, i.e. the loss of soil resources due to the covering of land for housing, roads or other construction work. Converted areas become highly specialised in terms of land use and support few functions related to socio-economic activities and housing. Urban land take consumes mostly agricultural land, but also reduces space for habitats and ecosystems that provide important services such as the regulation of the water balance and protection against floods, particularly if soil is highly sealed. Land occupied by man-made surfaces and dense infrastructure connects human settlements and fragments landscapes. It is also a significant source of water, soil and air pollution.

In addition, lower population densities — a result of urban sprawl — require more energy for transport and heating or cooling. The consequences of urban life styles, such as air pollution, noise, greenhouse gas emissions and impacts on ecosystem services are felt within urban areas as well as in regions far beyond them.

However, land use trends for the 2006-2012 period remain the same as in the previous assessment periods (1990-2000 and 2000-2006) and most have slowed down.

Scientific references

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

Key policy question

How much is agricultural, forest and other semi-natural and natural land being taken for urban and other artificial land development?

Specific policy question

What are the drivers of land take for urban and other artificial land development?

Specific policy question

Where has the most significant uptake of land by artificial land occurred?



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


Data specifications

EEA data references

Data sources in latest figures



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.

Further work

Short term work

Work specified here requires to be completed within 1 year from now.

Work description

  In order to be able to estimate and evaluate the potential environmental impact of the transport infrastructure development and the increase of built-up areas, the main improvements foreseen for this indicator are: a) Implementation of a reliable spatial database of linear transport structures over European countries corresponding to types previously used in statistical datasets. Regarding the statistics already used, complete the national transport infrastructure statistics for certain countries. b) Update by comparable spatial data on transport for all countries, namely length according to various infrastructure types. c) Compare the statistical results of built-up changes with the results obtained through the analysis of spatial data. d) Data collection and analysis at national level. Storage of historical data is needed to allow calculations over time, instead of momentary status descriptions only.

Resource needs

Update and identification of new transport segments in spatial databases

More frequent update of land cover based information

Transport data in real size (direct and indirect land take)



In progress


2015/12/15 12:00:00 GMT+1

Long term work

Work specified here will require more than 1 year (from now) to be completed.

General metadata

Responsibility and ownership

EEA Contact Info

Eva Ivits-Wasser


European Environment Agency (EEA)


Indicator code
CSI 014
LSI 001
Version id: 2
Primary theme: Land use Land use

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled every 6 years


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