Exploring long-term trends in land use change and aboveground human appropriation of net primary production in nine European countries


Profound changes in land use occurred during the last century in Europe, driven by growing population, changes in affluence, and technological innovation. To capture and understand these changes, we compiled a consistent dataset on the distribution of land-use types and biomass extraction for nine European countries (Albania, Austria, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Sweden, and the United Kingdom) since the late 19th to early 20th century, when national statistical publications became available. We then calculated a range of indicators within the “human appropriation of net primary production” (HANPP) framework for the nine countries and for the sum of all countries on a yearly basis from 1902 to 2003. We find that cropland and grazing land contracted in all countries except Albania in the observed period, while forestland increased. Crop yields increased in all countries, most strongly during the second half of the 20th century. In some countries, biomass extraction on grazing lands increased to a similar extent. Overall, HANPP was high but declined slightly from 63% of the net primary production of potential vegetation in 1902 to 55% in 2003. This is the result of increasing crop yields on shrinking cropland and grazing land, which was only partly offset by increasing biomass extraction on expanding forests and by expanding settlement areas. HANPP trends on croplands were mostly uniform across countries, but differed substantially on grazing lands. While political differences, e.g., between communist and capitalist countries, did not directly affect HANPP dynamics, economic and population growth were related to increases in biomass extraction for long periods of time in much of the sample, and only in recent decades did the collapse of the Eastern Block’s Comecon market, EU agricultural policy, and world market developments coincide with a stagnation of biomass extraction.

Land Use Policy