The European countryside has changed substantially over the past decades as a result of European policy, agricultural technology changes, and global markets. We studied how the landscape has changed in six case study areas in five countries, and assessed what the impact is on the provision of landscape services in the past 25 years. We classified land cover changes as land use transitions for the case study areas (in Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, Greece and Romania). Also specific landscape features such as hedgerows, tree rows, and terraces were included. The change in landscape service provision has been assessed based on the observed transitions, and are discussed in the context of Holmes’ land users occupancy framework, the modes of occupancy (use of rural space) of land owners and managers together with the socio-economic context define the outcome of the landscape transition process.
In the cases studied, we observe a large variation in influence of various EU policies, and in transition processes and societal context reflected in drivers of change. In the past 25 years the observed changes in land use are relatively small, with a dominance of urbanisation and afforestation processes.
The landscape services change as a result of the landscape transitions. We selected landscape services which are common in most case studies and relevant in the wider European context: food & feed production, timber, residential, tourism, natural habitat and enjoyment of the scenery. The specific landscape services affected by land use change in the cases studied are clearly reflected in a decline in food and feed production services, whereas appreciation of the scenery effects are positive in the cases with low urbanisation pressure, and negative in places with higher (peri-)urbanisation pressure.
If we use Holmes’ framework for land transitions we observe a general trend from Production towards consumption for Lesvos (GR) and Roskilde (DK), a shift towards production, intensification and increased production for Heerde (NL) and the two Romanian cases.
The policies and subsidies are mostly used to extensify production, take landscape measures etcetera. This does not stop the intensification, which may partly be attributed to the CAP and the pricing structure in the EU. That land use policy is a major driver for landscape transitions taking place is also shown by e.g. Klijn (2004) and Plieninger (2006). The EU-CAP leads to intensification and land abandonment– and both result in a decline in biodiversity. Despite all landscape measures taken, the question is whether landscape services will come near to what existed several decades ago, since habitat functions and possible enjoyment of the scenery has in the longer run declined.
Although there are many EU policies that lead to land use change, the associated landscape transitions and resulting changes in the suit of landscape services are more dependent on local societal and environmental context. Policies affecting land use should better take into account landscape services.
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