European Environment Agency (EEA)

10 messages for 2010 – cultural landscapes and biodiversity heritage


Courtesy of Courtesy of European Environment Agency (EEA)

Key messages

  • Diverse climatic conditions, varied geology and morphology and centuries of pre- and post-industrial land use created Europe's diverse mosaic of cultural and natural landscapes, rich in biodiversity.
  • Europe's landscapes have become highly fragmented and homogenised, threatening their biodiversity and affecting their multifunctional role.
  • By managing its multifunctional culture-historical landscapes and related biodiversity sustainably, Europe can secure valuable ecosystems services while preserving its cultural and natural heritage.
  • Various legal instruments and initiatives address European biodiversity heritage at the landscape level. Incorporating these into regional and local planning and involving local communities is necessary to secure Europe's biodiversity heritage and maintain multifunctional landscapes.
  1. Europe's mosaic of cultural and natural landscapes results from centuries of human intervention

Europe's mosaic of landscapes is the product of intense human intervention over many centuries. These landscapes reflect the diversity of climatic, geological and morphological conditions in which human settlements developed. Human interventions
have in turn shaped natural habitats and diversity today, ranging from intensively managed agricultural crop fields in lowlands to low-input pastures in mountain areas, from urban settlements to remnants of natural habitats, such as alluvial forests along naturally flowing rivers (Emanuelsson, 2009; Ellenberg, 1988; Otero and Bailey, 2003; MCPFE, 2005; Map 1).

Compared to other large land areas of similar size (i.e. the Russian Federation, Australia and parts of North America), Europe's human population density is much higher, with direct impacts on the type of landscapes and the corresponding biodiversity.

The history of land utilisation and conversion in Europe dates back a long time, with large‑scale human impacts starting in Neolithic times (c. 3000–1100 BC). Hunting, cultivation (of cereals, crops and fruits) and settlements altered natural ecosystems and shaped Europe's landscape (Vos and Meekes, 1999). Until the 18th century, however, European landscapes preserved many remnants and structures of the remote past. Then, expanding industrialisation and technical development in the 19th century fundamentally altered European economies through the progression to mass production in factories. Corresponding changes in social relations were reflected in a different mentality towards using nature and rural landscapes in Europe.

After the Second World War, land use intensified in many parts of Europe and infrastructure development and urbanisation caused landscape fragmentation (Antrop, 2005; Emanuelsson, 2009; Pedroli et al., 2007).

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