Assessment of site-specific drivers of farmland abandonment in mosaic-type landscapes: A case study in Vidzeme, Latvia


Farmland abandonment, which causes changes in rural life and farming practices, can be observed throughout Europe. Over the last decades natural afforestation has decreased the area of farmland used for agricultural production, thereby leading to landscape homogenization and polarization. This process is explicitly evident in mosaic type landscapes consisting of highly complex land cover patterns, soil composition and topography. The aim of the study was to determine the site-specific driving forces of farmland abandonment at landscape scale in relation to agro-ecological and geographic factors, in a post-Soviet country in Eastern Europe. An extensive field survey approach with statistical analysis was developed to model landscape change in a case study area in the western part of Vidzeme Uplands, Latvia. The results showed that land quality, proximity to forest edge and distance from farm were strong determinants of farmland abandonment in the mosaic type landscapes and that these parameters can be used to determine probability of occurrence of farmland abandonment. Land quality, a composite indicator, was a robust factor associated with farmland abandonment, in contrast to specific factors like soil texture. The developed model can be employed to assess risk of farmland abandonment in mosaic type landscapes, thus providing valuable information and application as a tool for agricultural policy makers and rural planners.

Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment