German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN)


Landscapes of conservation importance


Allmende landscape (Source: P. Finck)
Allmende landscape (Source: P. Finck)

Landscapes are an important part of the environment we experience but have so far received too little attention as conservation targets in Germany. Effective conservation and development of cultural landscapes is, however, the focus of various international projects and programmes. These include the Council of Europe Landscape Convention and the recognition of cultural landscapes as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Nationwide landscape demarcation, classification and assessment provides an important basis for identifying conservationally important landscapes in Germany.

Cultural landscapes may be defined as the result of interaction between nature and human land use. The main difference between a landscape and a physiographic region (Naturraum as used in Meynen & Schmithüsen 1953-62) is that a landscape is largely shaped by the actual use made of the land.

Landscape Classification 2004

The criteria used for landscape demarcation include physiographic boundaries, current land use as indicated by data from the CORINE Land Cover satellite imaging project, and other locally applicable landscape boundaries. Landscapes are classified into landscape types using characteristic features that are easy to spot in the field. Qualities that are not readily apparent are not used for classification purposes. The German land surface can be divided in this way into 858 separate landscapes including 59 conurbations. These landscapes are classified into  24 landscape types based on relative prominence of certain features. Each landscape is also assigned to one of three major geographic subdivisions: Lowlands/Plain, Uplands, and Alps and Alpine Foothills (Gharadjedaghi et al. 2004).

Landscape Classification 2011

The 2004 classification was based on Corine Land Cover data with 2000 as the reference year (above). Land cover data is now available for with 2006 as the reference year (CLC 2006) (below). 

Land uses changed so much in some landscapes (about 11% of the total) between the two reference years that the landscapes concerned have been reclassified. The most striking change is the decline in grassland-dominated landscapes in Schleswig-Holstein and west of Berlin.

Landscape assessment

Kaiserstuhl area (Source: P. Finck)
Kaiserstuhl area (Source: P. Finck)

Landscapes of conservation value are identified in a two-stage assessment process. Only data that is available for the entire country with the same information density and timeframe is used for assessment purposes. 

Each landscape is first assigned a 'type' rating according to its landscape type classification. This general rating is then refined by giving the landscape a 'unit' rating based on its individual character.

Three factors went into the unit rating in 2006: landscape fragmentation, importance for habitat and species conservation based on the percentage of land accounted for by protected areas (national parks, nature conservation areas, Natura 2000 sites and core zones of biosphere reserves), and the percentage of land accounted for by historical old forest. The type and unit rating are combined to give an overall rating on a five-point scale (see table). 

The landscape assessment ratings were updated in 2011. The update included revised data on landscape fragmentation. The data available at the time on the proportion of land accounted for by protected areas (as of 2010) was also incorporated. Additionally, the ratings took in the proportion of land in each landscape that was of national significance to the ecological network. The figures on  land of national significance for the ecological network were determined from Länder habitat maps.

Landscape assessment ratings
Landscapes of special conservation importanceThese are mostly landscapes which, besides special habitats, already contain a large share of protected areas, host endangered flora and fauna, and feature an above-average share of unfragmented spaces with little traffic.
Landscapes of conservation importanceThese landscapes feature a smaller share of protected areas than those in the top category, or have a similar share of protected areas but are subject to greater fragmentation by roads and railways.
Landscapes of conservation importance with deficitsThese landscapes contain a share of protected areas that is only around the national average but a different share of unfragmented spaces.
Landscapes of low conservation importanceThis category covers landscapes with a below-average share both of protected areas and of unfragmented spaces.
ConurbationsConurbations, based on the demarcation of conurbations applied by the German Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning.

Landscape Assessment 2006

The 2006 rating assessment yielded 402 individual landscapes (about 49 percent of the German land surface) that could be regarded as conservationally important. Of these, 91 (12.3 percent of the land surface) ranked as Landscapes of Special Conservation Importance, 90 (9.6 percent) as Landscapes of Conservation Importance, and 221 (26.8 percent) as Landscapes of Conservation Importance with Deficits (see map).

Landscape Assessment 2011

In the 2011 revision of the landscape ratings, 89 landscapes (12.3 percent of the land surface) ranked as Landscapes of Special Conservation Importance, 99 (10.8 percent) as Landscapes of Conservation Importance, and 273 (31.6 percent) as Landscapes of Conservation Importance with Deficits (see map below). As a result of the new assessment method, which includes not only of the proportion of protected land in each landscape but also that of other mapped habitats of conservation value, the percentage of the German land surface accounted for by landscapes in the top three categories increased to 55%.


For further information please contact:

Peter Finck
FG II 2.1

Last Change: 17/02/2021