Monday, June 13, 2011

EU farm land increasingly sealed

In the European Union (EU) about 1,000 km² were annually subject to land take for housing, industry, roads or recreational purposes between 1990 and 2006. This is exceeding the size of Berlin. About half of this surface is actually sealed by buildings, roads and parking lots.

4.1 %, 4.3 % and 4.4 % of the EU territory was classified as artificial surface in 1990, 2000 and 2006 respectively. This corresponds to a 8.8 % increase of artificial surface in the EU between 1990 and 2006. In the same period, population increased by only 5 %. In 2006 each EU citizen disposed of 389 m² of artificial surfaces, which is 3.8 % or 15 m² more compared to 1990.

Unsustainable land use trends can be observed in Cyprus, Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal where land take is growing considerably faster than population growth. Furthermore, there are several new Member States also affected by unsustainable land use trends due to continuing land take and at the same shrinking populations. Policy targets for land take. Quantitative limits for annual land take exist only in six Member States: Austria, Belgium (Flanders), Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. In all cases the limits are indicative and are used as monitoring tools.

This can be read in a recent EU report, Overview of best practices for limiting soil sealing or mitigating its effects in EU-27. The reports continues: 
Only very few Member States have defined national policies which explicitly address these issues....In view of rising energy prices, food and biomass production within the EU are gaining impor-tance and the demand for productive soils is growing. Despite several initiatives it can be concluded that soils are not adequately protected in the EU. Soil quality is rarely respected along planning processes and compensation of soil losses hardly realised.
Economic growth is still highly depending on land take and soil sealing (see graph). In order to decouple economic growth from land take and soil sealing, it is suggested to strictly follow the prevent, limit and compensate principle for soil sealing. Several elements of this logic are already being realised in some Member States as described in the section above and in the country profiles of this report. However, limitations to soil sealing are primarily based on voluntary agreements and non binding measures.

The graph shows the area of "artificial surface" per capita. It shows that the artificial surfaces are increasing not only in absolute numbers, but also per person, with a few exceptions (those marked in red). This means that there is certainly no "decoupling" going on regarding soils.

The report calls for EU wide regulations with the logic that "It can be expected that single Member States will refrain from applying stricter regulations to protect their soils from sealing as this could represent a market disadvantage."  This kind of argument is in my view flawed. And if it really is correct perhaps the solution is to change and challenge the market logic rather than to call for EU wide regulations of everything?
The continued sealing and conversion of agriculture land to "built land" is troublesome, and I have written about it before, for instance calling for a soil convention:

Time for a soil convention!

and I explained how delicately we live in: 

Earth as an apple

Other postings are about the increasing competition over resources:

increasing shortages and growing inequality - a lethal mix

The fight over resources

Shortages of resources will be a permanent feature of our lives


The Commission's Soil Thematic Strategy has identified soil degradation, including soil sealing, as a serious problem at EU level. To protect European soils the Commission presented a proposal for a Soil Framework Directive in 2006, with the support of the European Parliament. However due to opposition from some Member States the proposal is currently stalled in the Council.

For more information on the Thematic Strategy for soil protection:
For more information on the EU policy on soil protection:


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