Different processes of agricultural management-induced landscape change are observed across Europe. Scale-enlargement and land consolidation projects increased field sizes, resulting in significant losses of historic landscape elements and decreased non-crop areas. Furthermore, intensified managed agricultural systems with high fertilizer inputs, have affected top soils and decreased farmland biodiversity. In other places, agricultural abandonment causes the re-wilding of landscapes. Both scale enlargement/intensification and abandonment often lead to the homogenization of European agricultural landscapes. At different spatial scales, we distinguish a number of direct and indirect drivers of landscape change both within and outside agricultural practice and policy.
Locally, agricultural management practices individual farmers and land management outside agricultural areas directly shapes the spatial structure and composition of the landscape. As noted, intensification and scale enlargement lead towards mono-functionality and therefore to homogenization of agricultural landscapes. On national and EU-level, directives prepared by the European Commission (EC) provide guidelines for member states to implement policies. The management of European agricultural landscapes is influenced by among others biodiversity oriented directives, the Water Framework directive, and national and regional policies (e.g. spatial planning). Perhaps the most influential EU-level driver is the common agricultural policy (CAP), which subsidy schemes protect the agricultural sector and provide an incentive for agricultural activities in sub-optimal conditions. Globally, commodity markets provide incentives for changes in agricultural production, but the effects of fluctuations of commodity prices are different throughout Europe. In addition, anthropogenic climate change affects rural development potentials and the capacity of the landscape to produce agricultural output.
Empirical Case Study Evidence
Several ad-hoc studies have provided either a descriptive analysis of landscape structure and composition (BG, PL) or a more in-depth analysis of processes of landscape change (FR, DE). The main results are presented below.
Crop or livestock practices
The Corsican case study (FR) used historic remote sensing data to reveal that the extensification of livestock practices over the past two decades resulted in an increase of overall vegetation levels; regrowth of forests (see Figure 1). In the Bulgarian case study (BG), a descriptive analysis points out the increasingly important role of vineyards in the landscape.
Green landscape elements
Several other case studies highlighted the effect of changing agricultural practices on the abundance of green infrastructure. In many places green landscape elements, such as hedgerows, tree lines, riparian vegetation or forest patches. In the Märkische Schweiz (DE), a spatially explicit variogram model was developed to predict patterns of future removal of green landscape elements. In addition, the Polish case study developed a farm optimization model that explored scenario's in which shelterbelts had been removed as a result of changing agricultural practices.
In Chlapowski Landscape Park (PL), a descriptive analysis of landscape characteristics was performed. Landscape indices were measured at community level in three communities in the case study area, such as a Shannon diversity index, a Landscape concentration index and the length of forest and tree line edges.
Conclusions & recommendations
When assessing the contribution of the agricultural landscape to regional human well-being and competitiveness through landscape services, it is important to first understand the land-change dynamics in the landscape of interest. As described above, diverse processes of landscape change are observed in the CLAIM case study areas and throughout Europe as a whole. More advanced methodology is available to explore future land change dynamics at different scales (see further reading).
Verburg, P.H., Schulp, C.J.E., Witte, N., Veldkamp, A. (2006). Downscaling of land use change scenarios to assess the dynamics of European landscapes. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 114(1): 39-56.