Mapping and modelling past and future land use change in Europe’s cultural landscapes


Cultural landscapes are valued for their landscape character and cultural heritage. Yet, these often low-intensity, multifunctional landscapes are at risk of disappearance. Understanding how cultural landscapes might change under alternative futures is important for identifying where to target actions towards persistence of cultural landscapes. This study therefore aims to identify past and future land use changes in the European Union’s (EU’s) cultural landscapes. To do so, we overlay past and projected plausible future land change trajectories with the spatial distribution of cultural landscapes in the EU. Our results highlight a clear co-occurrence of specific land change trajectories and cultural landscape types. Past and future urbanization and agricultural abandonment are the land use change processes most strongly affecting small-scale, low-intensity agricultural landscapes that are valued by society. De-intensification is overrepresented in landscapes with a low management intensity. Past intensification was overrepresented in small-scale landscapes with a high value to society, while future intensification might concentrate on landscapes with a low intensity. Typical cultural landscapes show a strong variation of changes under different scenario conditions in terms of future landscape change. Scenario analysis revealed that some of the threats to cultural landscapes are related to agricultural policies, nature policies and other spatial restrictions. At the same time, these policies may also alleviate these threats when properly designed and targeted by accounting for the impacts they may have on cultural landscapes. Considering cultural landscapes more directly in decisions to be made for the post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy period is needed, and could be achieved by a focus on landscape quality beyond the current focus on specific greening measures.

Land Use Policy, 80 332-344
Christian Levers
PhD student
Tobias Kuemmerle
Tobias Kuemmerle
Professor & Head of the Conservation Biogeography Lab