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Status Report on Landscape

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

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

  • by the settlement and infrastructure development
  • and by 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.

  • The number of residents in Switzerland has increased from 3 million to 7.9 million since 1970.
  • The average living space per person rose from 34 to 44 m2 between 1980 and 2000.
  • The growing need for mobility can be seen, for example, in the increasing number of passenger cars on the road. Whereas in 1994, 75% of Swiss households had at least one car, this figure had increased to 81% by 2005.
  • Around 6,300 kilometres of new roads were built in Switzerland between 1972 and 2001.

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 occurs, for the most part, at the cost of land used for agricultural production, the area of 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 causes the more intensive use of the remaining land and the variety of agricultural land use forms declines.

Light emissions have been increasing globally for years. It has not been possible to observe night darkness with an intensive starlit sky on any 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. Monte San Giorgio (Ticino) and the Tectonic Arena Sardona (Glarus) have also been classified as World Natural Heritage Sites since 2003 and 2008 respectively. The mire-rich pre-Alpine landscape in Entlebuch (Lucerne) was also included in the list of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in 2001, while the Biosphere Val Müstair - Swiss National Park - followed in 2010.

Human beings have created different landscapes for centuries. Despite the 2.3% decrease between 1996 and 2009, at 37% of the total area of Switzerland, agriculturally-used land remains the predominant form of land use in Switzerland.

Landscape fragmentation - 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 technologised 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 pasture area has declined since the 1980s and is rapidly going wild.

Switzerland has a total of 10,234 km2 of wilderness areas (forest wilderness, Alpine wastelands and alluvial sites), which 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 reduce the recreational value of landscapes for the population who lives and works 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 shrinking 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. Only limited success was achieved in stemming the consequences of this trend through the introduction of ecological compensation areas.

The agricultural areas in the mountain region are shrinking because 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 established again here in the forest.

The accelerated changes increase the pressure on a landscape's qualities. 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 shape of a landscape. As a result, landscapes lose their typical local and regional characteristics and regional identity services decrease.


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, overall, the cultural diversity of Switzerland 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 aid 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.

The Swiss landscape concept adopted by the Federal Council sets out mandatory goals for the landscape-relevant activities of the federal authorities. In the fulfilment of federal tasks, legislation and the creation of concepts and sectoral plans, nature and the landscape must be conserved  and protective concerns taken into account. To achieve this aim, the FOEN formulates over 700 opinions on federal tasks and compiles policy implementation guides and standards jointly 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 2010 and the Agriculture Policy 2014-2017. Thanks to the ecological compensation scheme, the federal authorities can finance measures that serve in the maintenance, regeneration and connectivity of near-natural habitats in intensively used and densely populated cultural landscapes.


Contact: info@bafu.admin.ch
Last updated on: 05.07.2013

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