Characterizing European cultural landscapes: Accounting for structure, management intensity and value of agricultural and forest landscapes


Almost all rural areas in Europe have been shaped or altered by humans and can be considered cultural landscapes, many of which now are considered to entail valuable cultural heritage. Current dynamics in land management have put cultural landscapes under a huge pressure of agricultural intensification and land abandonment. To prevent the loss of cultural landscapes, knowledge on the location of different types of cultural landscapes is needed. In this paper, we present a characterization of European cultural landscapes based on the prevalence of three key dimensions of cultural landscapes: landscape structure, management intensity, and value and meaning. We mapped these dimensions across Europe at a 1-km resolution by combining proxies on management intensity and landscape structure with new indicators such as social media usage and registered traditional food products. We integrated the three dimensions into a continuous “cultural landscape index” that allows for a characterization of Europe’s rural landscapes. The characterization identifies hotspots of cultural landscapes, where all three dimensions are present, such as in the Mediterranean. On the other hand, Eastern and Northern European cultural landscapes are mostly characterized by only one of the dimensions. Our paper can help to identify pressures to cultural landscapes and thus to target measures for the conservation of these landscapes, to link similar landscapes in different regions, and to inform policy design on the most important characteristics of cultural landscapes at a regional scale.

Land Use Policy, 62 29-39
Christian Levers
PhD student
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab