Virtual farmland: Grasping the occupation of agricultural land by non-agricultural land uses

Anna Verhoeve, Valerie Dewaelheyns, Eva Kerselaers, Elke Rogge, Hubert Gulinck

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    Abstract

    Planners and decision-makers entitled for rural land use planning seem to be challenged by the growingmultidimensional nature of rural areas. The emergence of non-agricultural land uses in land allocatedfor agriculture is an important aspect of this multidimensional nature of rural areas. The overall goalof this study is to map and better understand unplanned land uses taking place within the agriculturalterritory allocated by spatial policy in Flanders (northern region of Belgium). We used a two-stagedmethodology. First, by a GIS analysis on official datasets, parcels allocated as farmland but without aregistered agricultural use, were identified as being part of an information gap. The results indicate that15% of the statutory agricultural area is not factually used for agriculture. Next, using orthophotographsand Google Streetview images, we identified for six representative municipalities the actual land usestaking place parcels with an inconsistently determined land use. The fraction of 15% was then furtherdifferentiated into apparent farmland (33%), domestic gardens (36.3%) and nonagricultural economicactivities (5.5%). Based on the in-depth survey, it can be estimated that over 10% of the statutory farmlandin Flanders is not farmland in reality. Based on these results, the paper introduces the concept ‘virtualfarmland’ as statutory agricultural land with non-agricultural land uses.This concept is applicable elsewhere and can be a powerful concept to theorize and make progress inmonitoring the so far little known occupation of statutory agricultural land by unplanned nonagriculturalland uses. Especially in regions with a strong competition for land, the quantification of virtual farmlandprovides a scientific basis to weigh and to integrate different spatial claims.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalLand Use Policy
    Issue number42
    Pages (from-to)547–556
    Number of pages10
    ISSN0264-8377
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

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