Knowledge Platform

Landscape management and landscape services

In the CLAIM-approach, agricultural landscapes are characterized by the structure and composition of land use and land cover. Landscape structure includes the diversity and complexity of the spatial (and temporal) structure of the land use/cover; whereas landscape composition refers to the relative prevalence of land use/land cover (e.g. crop types, forest) and landscape elements (e.g. solitary trees, dry stone walls, hedgerows). The structure and composition of agricultural landscapes is determined by the interplay between landscape management and the biophysical characteristics of the environment.

Often, landscape structure and composition is the result of a co-production of human and natural processes, where humans adapt their management to the spatial and temporal variation in the environment and the environment is modified by human intervention. Subsequently, the structure and composition of landscapes affects the capacity of landscapes to deliver landscape services to society. Agricultural landscapes hold the potential to deliver many landscape services, such as services that support agricultural production and regulate environmental conditions for society as a whole (e.g. pollination, flood protection, pest control, water retention, and erosion prevention), agricultural output itself, and cultural services related to the visual quality of landscapes. The boxes and relations in CLAIM analytical framework that are addressed in this factsheet are highlighted in the figure below.

Landscape management and services
Figure 1. Analytical Framework. Source: Zanten et al. 2014.

Agricultural management and landscape change

Since the 1950s, intensification and scale enlargement in the agricultural sector have changed the structure and composition of agricultural landscapes across Europe. Initially, the intensification and scale enlargement of farming was mainly driven by the large scale application of synthetic fertilizers, mechanization and the production support subsidies of the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Since the 1990s, however, the globalization of commodity markets and CAP reforms were an incentive for increased cost-efficiency of farming practices, which resulted in some areas in further intensification and scale enlargement, and land abandonment in other places.

Thus, changing agricultural management practices and subsequent landscape change have very diverse effects across European agricultural landscapes. On the one hand, intensification and scale enlargement – often associated with an increase of monocultures, fertilizer input and removal of green infrastructure – takes place on fertile soils. On the other hand, abandonment and extensification – often associated with re-wilding and demographic decline in landscapes – takes place in less favored agricultural areas.

Landscape change and landscape services

Generally speaking, landscape change always affects the capacity of landscapes to deliver landscape services. For example, when a landscape is gradually converted from a small-scale mosaic of land uses with predominantly grazing livestock into an intensive dairy farming landscape with large plot sizes, the agricultural output will most likely rise. In contrast, the capacity to deliver cultural services, supporting and regulating landscape services will most likely decrease. Several studies report on the following trends: In European landscapes that are undergoing intensification and/or scale enlargement, landscape changes pose a significant threat to cultural landscape services and regulating services that support agricultural production, such as pollination, erosion prevention and natural pest control. Also, these unsustainable agricultural practices often cause negative externalities to societies (which are sometimes referred to as dis-services) such as water and air pollution. In landscapes that face extensification and abandonment, landscape change causes a decrease in agricultural output (i.e. provisioning landscape services) and sometimes – depending on attitudes towards re-wilding – a decrease in the capacity to deliver cultural services.

Further reading

Stoate, C., Báldi, A., Beja, P., Boatman, N.D., Herzon, I., van Doorn, A., de Snoo, G.R., Rakosy, L., Ramwell, C. (2009). Ecological impacts of early 21st century agricultural change in Europe--a review. Journal of Environmental Management 91(1): 22-46 .

Tscharntke, T., Klein, A.M., Kruess, A., Steffan-Dewenter, I., & Thies, C. (2005). Landscape perspectives on agricultural intensification and biodiversity and€“ ecosystem service management. Ecology Letters 8(8): 857–874.

Van Zanten, B.T., Verburg, P.H., Espinosa, M., Gomez-y-Paloma, S., Galimberti, G., Kantelhardt, J., Martin Kapfer, M., Lefebvre, M., Manrique, R., Piorr, A., Raggi, M., Schaller, L., Targetti, S., Zasada, I., Viaggi, D. (2014). European agricultural landscapes, common agricultural policy and ecosystem services: a review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 34(2): 309-325.