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Spatial planning instruments for cropland protection in Europe


The best agricultural soils are often located in the outskirts of cities and are particularly affected by urban growth. Spatial planning has the task of protecting these areas from overbuilding. In most countries, this is not only about securing the food basis, but also about maintaining open spaces for flood protection, biodiversity and recreation. A combination of binding instruments from spatial planning and other policy areas appears most effective.


The development of settlements has led to a considerable loss of cultivated land in large parts of Europe. Not only the basis for food production disappears, but also deep soils, which are important as seepage areas for flood protection or as gene pools for biodiversity. In addition, recreational areas close to the city are being lost. In this project the spatial planning instruments for the protection of agricultural land in Switzerland and selected European countries are examined.

The countries studied pursue different approaches to protect their cultivated land. This is partly due to the national planning systems and the division of competences between the levels of government. In all countries studied, the protection of cultivated landscapes also pursues other objectives, such as the preservation of open spaces and near-natural landscapes.

Various groups of planning instruments are identified: Some countries set national targets for maximum land use. Expert commissions or advisory bodies are also set up. In various countries, agricultural priority areas are being eliminated at regional or national level in order to preserve particularly fertile soils. In Germany and Austria, soil function assessments are used at regional level to protect the cultivated land.

Overall, effective and long-term protection of arable land is best achieved through the nationwide implementation of several instruments to control settlement development and to conserve arable land, which are increasing and are bindingly prescribed. High-resolution, area-wide soil data provide a central basis for a qualified consideration of spatial interests.