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About Europe-LAND

Europe-LAND is a European research project, funded by the Horizon Europe program of the European Union. Running over 48 months, 13 partners from 12 EU member states (Germany, Greece, Estonia, Denmark, Portugal, Italy, Romania, Poland, Latvia, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic).

Furthermore, two associated partners (Finland, Lithuania) are involved in Europe-LAND.

Credit: Pixabay

Facilitate targeted interventions for land-use in Europe by broadening our understanding of what drives and motivates land-use decisions, in order to gain a national, regional and pan-European vision that supports policy objectives such as climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as biodiversity conservation.

Cornflower in field
Credit: Pixabay
plant growing out of earth
Credit: Roman Synkevych, unsplash

In Europe–LAND, we will pursue a set of national-level analyses (e.g. harmonization of fragmented data) and land-use surveys, implemented by eight local case studies as demonstrators, as well as comprehensive capacity-building to Identify, develop, test and implement integrated tools to improve the understanding of the drivers behind land-use decisions as well as stakeholders’ awareness and engagement regarding climate change and biodiversity challenges in Europe.

Europe-LAND will measure how actors at various organisational levels use land and what drives their behaviour. This behaviour will be further explored by analysing the decision-making behind the behaviour, the factors influencing the decision-making, and the role of climate change and biodiversity challenges when deciding how to make use of land. We will mal future expected land-use patterns, also comparing past and current situations as well as future trends. Adding an additional qualitative dimension through an empirical analysis of the Europe-LAND case studies, we will construct and test a conceptual telecoupling framework to analyse land-use strategies. Finally, a dedicated toolbox will enable project stakeholders such as policy-makers, authorities, regulatory agencies, farm federations and agricultural organisations, spatial planning engineers, NGOS and further to identify in both spatial and temporal terms, how planned actions may affect current and future land use ion a given region.

Synthesising, promoting and upscaling of project results will be ensured through a solid set of information, communication and upscaling as well as capacity-building to bridge the gap between theory and practical innovations. Europe-LAND will motivate stakeholders to actively engage in the project’s capacity-building actions to gain new knowledge, increase awareness of climate change and biodiversity challenges and learn about innovative approaches towards a more sustainable land-use and land management across Europe.

wheat field
Credit: Kai Pilger, unsplash

Europe-LAND follows a methodological approach that allows linking national-level analyses with concrete local examples. By means of participatory approaches, the consortium will develop a comprehensive assessment framework based on ecological, climatic, social, economic, technical and political aspects, which aims to enable appropriate land-use planning and strategy in relation to climate change and environmental policy.

We divide our work into a set of work packages as depicted below:

  • WP 1: Project Coordination, Management, Administration (Lead: Hamburg University of Applied Sciences)
  • WP 2: Revealing agricultural land-use behaviour and its drivers in Europe (Lead: University of Copenhagen)
  • WP 3: The awareness behind land-use decisions related to climate change and biodiversity (Lead: Institute of Geography of the Romanian Academy)
  • WP 4: Mapping of future expected land use and land cover patterns consistent with long-term objectives (Lead: University of Latvia)
  • WP 5: Supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts and biodiversity policy design (Lead: Slovak University of Agriculture in Nitra)
  • WP 6: The EUROPE-LAND Toolbox: Exploring the dynamics of future land use (Lead: Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)
  • WP 7: Information, Communication, Upscaling and Capacity-Building (Lead: Hamburg University of Applied Sciences)

Resembling a cross-cutting element, eight case studies from different parts of Europe have been selected, comprising Biosphere Reserves and LTSER platforms. Whereas Biosphere Reserves resemble sites for testing interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and managing changes and interactions of socio-ecologic systems, the Long-Term Ecosystem Research is another essential component of world-wide efforts to better understand ecosystems. Europe-LAND’s case studies which provide an adequate coverage of various European regions, serve to illustrate a wide range of land-use contexts and variables from which valuable lessons can be drawn for sustainable land-use. Click on the tabs below to learn more about each case study region.

LTSER Region Eisenwurzen, Austria (AUT)

The Eisenwurzen study region, spanning 5,904 km2, exhibits diverse landscapes, ranging from lowlands in the north to alpine mountains in the center (up to 2,445 m a.s.l.). With a continental climate, temperatures vary from -1.1°C to 9.6 °C, and annual precipitation ranges from 730 mm to 2,202 mm. Land use is varied, featuring intensive crop production in the north and significant forest and grasslands in hilly and mountainous areas.

Comprising 91 municipalities and 311,243 inhabitants, the region has concentrated settlement areas in the north and south, with socio-economic centers around Steyr and Wieselburg. Notable for its tourism centered on nature experiences, the region hosts two national parks (Kalkalpen and Gesäuse) and the nature and geopark Steirische Eisenwurzen. Historically rooted in iron mining, the region's tourism emphasizes the 'Eisenstrasse' (iron road) and mountain hut traditions, recognized as UNESCO cultural heritage since 2018. Challenges include emigration from mountainous areas, abandonment of remote agricultural lands, and a shift towards organic production. Climate change impacts the region, extending the growing season while posing challenges through increasing extreme events affecting agriculture.

Krkonoše Mts. National Park, Czechia (CZE)

The Krkonoše Mountains, straddling the Czech-Polish border, are an isolated mountain island in the middle of the lowlands and hills of central Europe. The laws and processes of nature in combinations with centuries-long economic exploitation of the landscape by man, have created an exceptionally varied mosaic of environments - Krkonoše forests (dominant ecosystem, especially spruce stands), meadows and wetlands on the foothills and slopes of the mountains, wildflower alpine meadows, alpine grasslands and the unique ecosystem of relict arctic-alpine tundra on the highest ridges. To preserve the great natural value, The Krkonoše National Park was declared in 1963. The mission of the Krkonoše National Park is, in addition to fulfilling the long-term protection goals, also the use of this territory for nature-friendly tourist acitivites, in ways that do not conflict with the long-term protection of the national park.

The nature and landscape of the Krkonoše Mountains have been marked by centuries of human presence. Once a hub for mountain farming, the decline of pastoralism in the mid-19th century led to the conversion of mountain huts into holiday cottages. Above 1000 m, isolated mountain huts and lodges are present, while residential buildings cluster in mountain resorts and scatter on slopes. Today, the Krkonoše Mountains are a popular area for summer and winter tourism. Its location, easy accessibility and good tourist infrastructure make it one of the five most visited national parks in the world. Despite the status of a national park, it is necessary to take care of the area. The management and intensity of care vary in different parts of the Krkonoše Mountains taking into account the designated protection zones.

Saaremaa County, Estonia (EST)

Saaremaa County, one of Estonia's 15 counties, spans 293,832 ha, including Saaremaa (2,673 km²) and smaller islands like Muhu, Ruhnu, Abruka, and Vilsandi. In 2022, it housed 31,292 people, 2.4% of Estonia's population. The West Estonian islands are low-lying plains with limestone as the base rock, featuring specific habitats like alvars and wooded meadows. Traditional management practices declined, leading to habitat overgrowth, now under restoration efforts. The region boasts protected areas and high nature value, with the highest percentage of ecological farming in Estonia. Consideration for a UNESCO biosphere reserve is underway.

Due to its unique nature, the region emphasizes sustainable economic activities, particularly ecological farming and tourism, to preserve natural value and support local income.

Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve, Germany (GER)

The Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve, one of Germany's largest protected areas with 1,291 km², was designated an UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1990. The northern part in the Uckermark is predominantly arable land with many lakes while the south-western part is characterized by sandy soils and forested landscapes. One third of the forest areas of the biosphere reserve is covered with near-natural mixed beech forests, frequently intersected by swamps and open landscape elements.

The region experiences a transitional climate between temperate-oceanic and sub-continental, with average annual temperatures of 8-9°C and annual rainfall between 480 mm – 580 mm, making it one of the driest regions in Germany. Conservation efforts have prevented substantial vegetation changes and facilitated an increase in large mammals, particularly wolves. Wetlands and water bodies play a crucial role in maintaining ecological balance and serve as a habitat for diverse plant and animal species, as well as an important natural carbon sink. Renowned as a birdlife haven, the Reserve's forests, wetlands, and water bodies attract both local and migratory species, making it a vital stopover point for migrating birds.

Białowieża Forest, Poland (POL)

The Bialowieza Forest, straddling the Polish-Belarusian border, is a unique forest complex covering 1,250 km² (580 km² in Poland). It's the last of its kind in European lowlands, boasting extensive old-growth forests and diverse ecosystems. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, it highlights the Central European mixed forests terrestrial ecoregion.

The forest supports complete food webs with large mammal and carnivore populations. Various factors, including protected areas, demographic challenges, economic development, protected area with restrict rules, tourism development, and soil quality, influence future land use. Stakeholders, such as forest authorities national park authorities b, local society, locals governments, inhabitants, NGOs, and tourists, have diverse interests. Past instruments at national and regional levels aimed to address social-environmental issues.

Castro Verde Biosphere Reserve, Portugal (POR)

The Castro Verde Biosphere Reserve, spanning 567.2 km² in inland south Portugal, features a spatial-temporal landscape mosaic, perfectly adapted to the ecological composition of the territory and the human activities that take place there Agriculture and livestock are vital to the region's cultural and environmental characteristics, with vast cereal crops and grasslands known as cereal steppes. This agro-ecosystem, rooted in a millennial relationship between humans and nature, faces endangerment due to ecological issues and economic factors. This region also includes a mining industry, particularly the Neves-Corvo mine, providing employment and boosting the local economy.

Despite vulnerability, the cereal steppes support rich biodiversity, hosting endangered steppic birds like the great bustard, little bustard, and lesser kestrel. The case study focuses on understanding the impact of agri-environmental measures on agricultural production and biodiversity in the reserve. Historical data analysis, including 30 years of the first Zonal Plan in Portugal, involves constructing a geodatabase from remote sensing images, land cover maps, and field parcel information. The study aims to estimate past, current, and future ecosystem services and biodiversity under different land use, management, and climate change scenarios. Participatory methodologies will identify future expectations, anthropogenic threats and human-wildlife interactions, contributing to awareness-raising actions.

Braila Islands, Romania (ROM)

Brăila Islands is located in south-eastern Romania, between the main branches of the Danube river. The study area covers about 97,000 hectares and includes two distinct areas: a predominantly agricultural area, the Big Brăila Island (over 71 000 hectares) and a wetland protected area, Balta Mică a Brăilei Natural Park (24 100 hectares).

Big Brăila Island experienced significant land use/cover changes over the communist period by converting wetlands into agricultural lands. Currently, arable lands represent over 72% of the total area, with the largest agricultural farm in Europe (over 56,000 ha) located here. Two communes share the area of the Island, with a population of around 3,500 inhabitants (2023). Agriculture is the main economic activity, with cereals being the dominated crops.

Balta Mică a Brăilei Natural Park is a wetland of international importance included on the RAMSAR list (since June 2001) and a Natura 2000 Site since 2008, with the landscape dominated by water (lakes, inland marches, water bodies) and forest ecosystems. The main activities are tourism, navigation, recreational/sports, fishing and pastoral activities. Over 90% of the total surface area of Balta Mică a Brăilei Natural Park is state property, the rest being private.

LTSER Trnava, Slovakia (SK)

LTSER Trnava is situated in south-western Slovakia, encompassing one city (Trnava) and 22 rural municipalities across a total area of 364 km². Trnava serves as the administrative center for the county and is a hub for population, trade, and industry. The LTSER itself characterizes an area marked by intensive industrial and agricultural activities, giving rise to specific environmental challenges such as a high degree of environmental contamination and degradation processes affecting agricultural land.

One notable environmental concern is the utilization of the most fertile soils for the construction of industrial parks, posing a significant threat to the ecological stability of the region. The area faces a low degree of ecological stability, highlighting the need for sustainable practices and environmental management.