ETC DI Report 2023/X: Quantification of landscape features in agricultural areas using Copernicus products: An overview of recent developments

26 Jun 2023

Stefan Kleeschulte (s4e), Karl Ruf (s4e), Ana Isabel Marin (UMA), Christoph Schröder (UMA), Gergely Maucha (Lechner), Barbara Kosztra (Lechner), Gerard Hazeu (WENR), Berien Elbersen (WENR), Elisabeth Schwaiger (UBA), Michael Weiss (UBA), Andrea Hagyo (EEA)

Agricultural areas cover almost half of the terrestrial area of Europe. Bringing back nature in these areas is crucial for reversing biodiversity loss. In the agricultural landscapes, landscape features are fragments of natural or semi-natural vegetation. Compared to their relatively small size, they have a significant role in supporting wildlife species and ecosystems. They provide habitats and food resources for wildlife species. They serve as corridors and stepping-stones for species within agricultural landscapes between bigger areas of (semi-)natural ecosystems. At the same time, they deliver multiple ecosystem services beneficial for agricultural production.

However, landscape features have been disappearing along with the intensification of agriculture since the 1950s in Europe, contributing to biodiversity loss and loss of ecosystem services. Removal of small landscape features for agricultural land parcel consolidation is one of the most frequently reported agricultural pressures for habitats and species under the Habitat Directives (Article 12 and Article 17 Member States’ reports and assessments; EEA, 2020). Among various impacted species, reptiles and smaller mammals are especially affected by the resulted fragmentation, which reduces landscape connectivity and leads to a loss of habitat area essential for food supply, shelter and breeding sites (EEA, 2020).

EU strategies and policies, including the Habitat Directives, the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) aim to maintain, restore and re-create landscape features. Regular mapping and quantification of landscape features is therefore necessary to monitor changes.

This report summarises the work done by the ETC/ULS and ETC DI in support of the development of an indicator on landscape features in agricultural areas based on Copernicus data. It includes the description of the agricultural area mask as reference area, the overview of definitions and ecological value of landscape features, an overview of available pan-European spatial data, a description of the indicator development, an assessment of landscape features in different types of European landscapes (including some considerations of their role in different landscape types), as well as definitions and mapping of agroforestry in relation to mapping of landscape features.