Land use change

Human land use, and its influence on land cover, is a major driver of the distribution and functioning of ecosystems, and thus in the delivery of ecosystem services. Our need for space, whether it is to produce food, to live, to recreate, to work or to provide energy all compete for land as a resource. Land use is also the prime cause of the loss or fragmentation of natural habitats and their species. The landscape to a large extent reflects the choices that we make when using land and sea.

For analysing the relationship between land use changes and their impacts on biodiversity, land cover and land and sea use information is needed at different spatial and temporal scales – from local to global and from historic records to future models. Such information is also a prerequisite for spatial planning at local and regional levels.

Recent EEA statistics illustrate how significantly land use trends in Europe change our environment. In the EU, around 1 500 ha of mainly agricultural land are converted every day to infrastructure and urbanisation. This is equivalent to converting the entire agricultural land area of the Netherlands every 3–4 years. As a result, soils are covered by hard surfaces, rain water has less chance to infiltrate, noise levels are increased, and species find fewer habitats to survive.

Better spatial planning could minimize the impacts of land use changes that threaten biodiversity and ecosystems. Examples of responses to those threats are the implementation of Green Infrastructure via integrated spatial planning approaches or Integrated Environmental Management Plans in urban areas. Impact analysis calls for the thorough application of Environmental Impact Assessments for individual projects such as a dam, motorway, airport or factory, and of Strategic Environmental Assessments for plans, programmes and policies. Towards our seas, the Integrated Coastal Management and Maritime Spatial planning highlight the need for intelligent planning on land and water.

Further reading





Selected links:

Corine Land Cover changes

Environmental Assessment - EIA and SEA 

Integrated Coastal Management

Land use information at the EEA

Maritime spatial planning

PRELUDE: PRospective Environmental analysis of Land Use Development in Europe

Urban environment