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Status Report on Landscape

1. Population growth, living space requirement, transport, tourism (drivers)  

The landscape reflects geophysical, social and economic development. Landscapes are shaped, in particular, by:

  • settlement and infrastructure development,
  • the ways in which land is used by agriculture and forestry.

Population growth and the increased need for living space and mobility are the driving forces behind the expansion of settlement area:

  • Switzerland's population increased from around 3 million to 8 million between 1970 and 2012. The average living space per person rose from 34 m2 to 44 m2 between 1980 and 2013.
  • The growing demand for mobility can be seen, for example, in the increasing number of passenger cars on the road. In 2010, 79% of Swiss households had at least one car. Around 6,600 kilometres of new roads were built in Switzerland between 1972 and 2012.

2. Soil sealing, structural change in agriculture (pressures)  

Soil sealing is increasing and the soil is losing a considerable number of its ecological functions as a result.

The expansion of buildings, roads and leisure facilities takes place, for the most part, at the cost of agricultural area, which has declined steadily in recent decades. Meadows and pasture land and ecologically valuable structures in low-lying locations, which are particularly suited to cultivation, are under pressure from other land uses.

The rationalisation of agriculture results in the more intensive use of the remaining land and the variety of agricultural land use declines.

Light emissions have been increasing globally for years. It has not been possible to observe night darkness with an intensive starlit sky on a single square kilometre of the Swiss Central Plateau since 1996.

3. Varied landscapes, cultural landscapes, the growth in residential areas, landscape fragmentation (state)  

Switzerland has a rich stock of extremely varied landscapes, some of which are natural and cultural landscapes of global significance: the Jungfrau-Aletsch-Bietschhorn region in the cantons of Bern and Valais has been on the UNESCO list of World Natural Heritage sites since 2001, as has Monte San Giorgio in the canton of Ticino since 2003 and the Sardona Tectonic Arena in Glarus since 2008. The mire-rich Pre-Alpine landscape of Entlebuch in Lucerne was added to the list of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in 2001, followed by the Val Müstair Biosphere - Swiss National Park - in 2010.

Human beings have created different kinds of landscape for centuries. Despite a 2.2% decrease between 1996 and 2009, at 37% of the total area of Switzerland, agricultural land remains the predominant form of land use in Switzerland.

Urban sprawl - the unregulated growth of settlements in undeveloped areas - has increased significantly since the 1950s. The appearance of the landscape is being increasingly transformed from an open landscape to a heavily developed and engineered one.

The fragmentation of the landscape by transport routes and settlements has increased significantly since the 1980s. The size of the areas that have not been fragmented has declined as a result.

Small structures like hedges and trees, stone mounds etc. play an important role in shaping the landscape and provide habitats for animals and plants. Although a general decline in these small structures can be observed, the state of Switzerland's watercourses has actually improved in recent years.

Alpine pastures have declined since the 1980s and are rapidly declining.

Switzerland has a total of 10,234 km2 of area which is largely left to develop naturally (forest wildernesses and alluvial sites). This corresponds to 24.8% of its total area.

4. Impairment of opportunities for recreation and experiencing nature, insufficient habitat connectivity (impacts)  

The increasing urban sprawl, landscape fragmentation and the loss of beauty and diversity are reducing the recreational value of landscapes for both the people who live and work in them and for tourists. Hence, the landscape as capital and a location factor may be undermined in the long term.

The continuous fragmentation of the generally diminishing area available to near-natural habitats for plants and animals means that their populations are being divided into small isolated groups. A few years of high mortality or low reproductive success could be sufficient to wipe such populations out entirely.

The intensification and one-sided rationalisation of the landscape is causing the continuing loss of valuable small structures such as tree groups, small wooded areas and forest edges, which are of high ecological value and play an important role in shaping the landscape. The success achieved in stemming the consequences of this trend through the introduction of ecological compensation areas is limited.

The agricultural areas in the mountain region are shrinking as meadows and pastures that are no longer used are becoming overgrown with bushes and trees. In the long term, this development leads to the loss of the species communities associated with these landscapes and of landscape diversity. However, biodiversity can increase in the short term and the original vegetation of the natural landscape becomes re-established in the forest.

The acceleration of such changes increases the pressure on landscape quality. A high level of building activity, buildings that are not very adapted to local environments and extensive monoculture areas adversely affect the character, beauty and diversity of a landscape. As a result, landscapes lose their typical local and regional characteristics and the services they provide in relation to regional identity diminish.

5. Inventories, parks and ecological compensation  (measures)  

The Federal Council enacted the Federal Inventory of Landscapes and Monuments of National Importance (BLN) in 1977. The landscapes and monuments protected by the BLN reflect the variety of land-use forms typical of the regions and the cultural diversity of Switzerland in general, and should, therefore, be conserved. Today, the areas protected under the BLN are generally less fragmented than other rural areas.

Switzerland's mire landscapes are among the country's most beautiful and ecologically valuable landscapes. They are also protected by law (Mire Landscapes Ordinance), however the quality of mire biotopes continues to deteriorate.

The federal authorities support regional initiatives for the establishment and operation of parks of national importance by providing financial support and awarding the park label. Through these measures, they aim to promote regions that have particularly attractive natural and landscape values and to achieve sustainable development.

With the Swiss Landscape Strategy (Landschaftskonzept Schweiz, LKS), the Federal Council  sets out mandatory goals for the landscape-relevant activities of the federal authorities. Nature and the landscape must be conserved and protection-related concerns taken into account in the context of the fulfilment of federal tasks, legislation and the creation of strategies and sectoral plans. To achieve this aim, the FOEN formulates over 700 position statements on federal tasks annually and compiles policy implementation guides and standards in cooperation with other authorities and associations involved in the area of spatial planning.

Other important landscape-related instruments include the Swiss Biodiversity Strategy, the Forest Policy 2020, the Agriculture Policy for 2014-2017 and the agglomeration programmes. The Swiss Landscape Strategy (LKS) is being updated in coordination with these spatially-relevant strategies and policies. Thanks to the ecological compensation scheme, the federal authorities can finance measures that serve in the maintenance, regeneration and interconnection of near-natural habitats in intensively used and densely populated cultural landscapes.

The Swiss parliament ratified the European Landscape Convention in September 2012. This convention of the European Council provides an important basis for the protection of the landscape at European and national levels.

Contact: info@bafu.admin.ch
Last updated on: 27.01.2015

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Neue Ansätze zur Erfassung der Landschaftsqualität - Zwischenbericht Landschaftsbeobachtung Schweiz (LABES). 2013
Landscape fragmentation in Europe - Joint report of the European Environment Agency EEA and the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). 2011


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