7 Land use change processes resulting from migration pressures

This section starts a process of examining the implications of the review undertaken so far, converting the understanding of migration pressures into actual or potential land use changes. While the connection between migration and land use change is complex and difficult – the land use responds to the pressures caused by migration in different ways in different places – it is an important and, so far, little studied aspect with potentially major implications for European land use, environmental and social policies. The problem with calculating projections, for example, is the current lack of data. Therefore, until better, more comprehensive and spatially resolved data becomes available it is necessary to interpret the available data and trends from the data presented in the above review qualitatively. It is also necessary to be quite flexible in considering what is likely to happen in the future and how current trends are likely to evolve, because of the complexity of the combination of push and pull factors in any one migration category as well as the combination of categories which may affect a particular area, as noted in the literature review sections. Data exists and some predictions have been made which are available in the references cited earlier and in the sets of maps produced by Eurostat, at least for where data is available (it is not comprehensive for the EU and often omits the Balkans as noted above).

In order to determine what kinds of land use changes are likely, it is necessary to be able to see how migration flows work spatially, to see where migrants come from and where they go to as well as what kind of migrants and what they do when they arrive, where they are likely to live and so on. There are some clear patterns which can be categorised as geographical or as motivational but which are inextricably linked together and so cannot be considered separately.

The literature review above shows that certain countries are experiencing migration from rural areas to urban areas: Eastern European countries, Portugal and Nordic countries, for example; others are experiencing counter-urbanisation from urban to rural areas: the UK, France, Spain, Italy (not necessarily French people but also British, Dutch and German to rural France, Spain and Italy, for example). This leads to several trends: urban growth as a result of migrants moving to urban areas, where they often live in low-rent accommodation to start with and often cause an increase in multi-occupancy in residential areas and urban densification. This may not be very visible as a land use change when mapped but is nevertheless significant. The counter urbanisation leads to the so-called “gentrification” of the countryside in regions around cities, within the commuting zone. It also leads to the regeneration of rural areas in France, for example, where old houses are renovated and dying villages are repopulated.

Although the impact of immigrants in urban and peri-urban areas is more noticeable, in some countries, such as Greece, the countryside also benefits with the migration process through a replacement process. With the rural exodus of people from countryside to city, immigrants replace some of these emigrants and undertake the hard and difficult agricultural jobs abandoned by the original locals, allowing a change from extensive (such as wheat production) to intensive agriculture (Labrianidis and Sykas, 2009).

European labour migration is primarily from Eastern Europe to Western Europe, especially the UK and Ireland. The people often come from rural areas back home (where the rural depopulation is worst) to both rural and urban areas in the receiving countries. They generally live in low-rent areas, often in places where people from their country already live, frequently in inner cities as opposed to suburbs. This leads to denser populations and an increase in multi-occupancy but these people are there to earn money and they do not normally receive benefits or live in public housing. There is also a turnover of people, some staying for longer periods or becoming permanent residents, moving into better housing as they prosper, while others come seasonally. These latter come often for agricultural, horticultural or forestry work and as such they indirectly contribute to the intensification of agricultural areas such as the Netherlands, Eastern England and parts of Ireland.

Non-EU migration is from a range of countries and as a result of a range of push-pull factors, mainly economic or political (especially with asylum seekers). These people may also be invited to countries to fulfil labour shortages for key jobs (highly skilled migration). Invariably these people move into inner urban areas or peripheral public housing estates and first generation immigrants from developing countries frequently end up in deprived areas with low incomes. They may displace earlier generations or groups of immigrants who move into better places and so create a wave effect which results in pressure to develop housing in peri-urban areas. There are distinct patterns of migration, with many countries of origin being former colonial countries of the various European empires of the last 200 years, so that there are distinct ethnic groups concentrating on some countries but those which did not possess empires tend only to have a few immigrants, mainly asylum seekers or refugees (Scandinavian countries for example).

International retirement migration has very distinct patterns and one of the most obvious land use change effects as a result. The suburbanisation of rural areas in Spain and Portugal is a clear example of this.

Figure 5* and 7* above show the patterns of movement of migrants around and into Europe, showing where the main pressures are. The next section considers how this pressure can be converted into predicted land use change.

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