Patterns and drivers of landscape change in rural landscapes in Europe

Authors and Affiliations: 

Anne Gravsholt Busck & Søren Bech Pilgaard Kristensen, University of Copenhagen

Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, Section of Geography


As part of the VOLANTE project (, patterns of landscape change in rural landscapes across Europe between 2002 and 2012 and related drivers have been investigated. In this paper we present results based on case studies in six countries: Denmark, the Netherlands, Romania, Austria, Greece and Italy. The case studies were purposively selected to represent a variety of situations and related drivers across Europe – eg. peri-urban settings with a great pressure on land and many non-agrarian activities.  The paper investigates landscape changes and drivers in depth within each case study and also analyses similarities and variations amongst the cases in order to understand the importance of the local context. The analysis focuses on describing the landscape changes and understanding the drivers of change – including both the influence of internal farm characteristics (such as the farm size, occupational status of the farmer, age and background of the farmer, and the farmer’s motivation for undertaking landscape changes) and the external context (such as access to agri-environmental schemes and changes in the Common Agricultural Policy - CAP).  The analysis combines quantitative data from a questionnaire survey and statistical analysis with qualitative data from in depth interviews. The results indicate that relatively more nature or landscape features have been added to the landscape by landowners than removed. Furthermore, the analysis revealed that full-time land owners were responsible for the largest proportion of landscape change and that the areas involved differed greatly. For most activities, a few landowners were responsible for a large proportion of the area involved. Also, the analysis underlined the variety of European landscapes as many landscape activities were strongly geographically biased. Studies of the local context are crucial in order to understand the variety of landscape changes - eg. the importance of changing political regimes in the Romanian case study, which represents the situation in an Eastern Europe. It was possible to detail the analysis of farmers’ motives for undertaking landscape changes in a Danish context. This analysis showed that the most important motive was ‘improving qualities on the property’, followed by ‘family / life-style considerations’ and ‘personal satisfaction’. The results are discussed in the context of other studies of landscape change  (Ingram et al 2013, Mills et al 2013, Sutherland  et al 2012, Zasada et al 2011, Farmbar-Bowers & Lane 2009, Kuemmerle et al 2009, Müller et al 2009, Præstholm & Kristensen 2007, Busck et al 2006,Siebert et al 2006).


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