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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2003

Assessing village authenticity with satellite images: A method to identify intact cultural landscapes in Europe

Angelstam P, Boresjo-Bronge L, Mikusinski G, Sporrong U, Wastfelt A


The village with its characteristic zones of different land use from the center to the periphery is a basic unit of Europe's cultural landscapes. However, loss of the authentic pre-industrial village structure characterized by a fine-grained structure of arable land and wooded grasslands is a threat to both cultural heritage and biodiversity in many rural landscapes. Therefore, it is important that the extent and rate of change of such authentic villages in a landscape can be monitored. We studied to what extent loss of authenticity with increasing time after abandonment can be assessed by quantitative analysis and visual interpretation of satellite images. The study was carried out in the Bieszczady Mountains, SE Poland in 1999. Using Landsat Thematic Mapper data from 1998, both the grain size of landscape elements (size of fields) and land-cover composition (encroachment of shrub and forest) were quantitatively described 6 type villages representing different stages of deterioration of the authentic village structure. Historical maps were used to delineate the border of the villages and the former extension of forest and open land was measured. The present land use and the degree of abandonment expressed as grain size and forest encroachment were mapped using satellite data. Deterioration occurred along 2 transformation paths: abandonment and ultimately becoming forest, or intensified agriculture, respectively. To validate these results we classified 22 other villages in a 1000 km(2) area by visual interpretation of the original satellite images into 1 of 4 types. We then collected historical data on human population changes over the past six decades. The classification of village authenticity was clearly related to the rate of human population decline. We address the importance of validating and applying this approach for rapid assessment of the authenticity of cultural landscapes in European regions being subject to ongoing as well as expected future change, related to expansion of the European Union. Finally, we argue that the village represents a scale at which integration of natural and social sciences is possible

Published in

AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment
2003, Volume: 32, number: 8, pages: 594-604

      SLU Authors

    • Angelstam, Per

      • Department of Conservation Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
      • Mikusinski, Grzegorz

        • Department of Conservation Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

      UKÄ Subject classification

      Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

      Publication Identifiers


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