Landscape Ecology

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 41–54

Analysis of land-cover transitions based on 17th and 18th century cadastral maps and aerial photographs

  • Sara A.O. Cousins


This paper explores the possibility of using non-geometric cadastral maps from the 17th and 18th century together with aerial photographs from 1945 and 1981 to analyse land-cover change in south-east Sweden. Habitats rich in plant species in the European rural landscape seem to be correlated with a long continuity of management. Accurate spatial data from historical data sources are fundamental to understand patterns of vegetation and biodiversity in the present-day landscape. However, traditional methods for rectification of non-geometric maps using corresponding points from orthophotos or modern maps are not satisfying, as internal inaccuracies will remain in the maps. This study presents a method to rectify the maps by local warping, thereby eliminating geometrical irregularities. Further, the land-cover changes were calculated and presented as transition matrices. The extent of arable fields and grasslands were analysed in relation to soil characteristics and continuity of management. The results show a dynamic relation between grassland and arable field, albeit the overall proportions remained almost the same between 17th and 18th centuries: 60% grassland to 32% arable field. The most substantial changes in land-cover were prior to 1945. Today there is 18% grasslands left in the study area, while 56% of the land-cover is arable field. Approximately 8% of present-day land-cover is semi-natural grassland 300 years of age or more. Compared to 300 years ago there is only 1% grassland left on peat and 2% on clay. In contrast, grassland covers associated with bare bedrock have been fairly stable in size. All semi-natural grasslands with a long continuity of management were situated on shallow soils, less than 50 cm depth. The major conclusions from this study are that (i) correctly rectified, old maps are very useful to address questions of land-cover changes in historical time, (ii) general trends in land use over 300 years in this hemi-boreal landscape seem to underestimate the full dynamics of land use change, and (iii) only a small proportion of the semi-natural grassland area had a 300 year continuity of management.

bedrock continuity grassland land use change rectification soil species richness transition matrices 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sara A.O. Cousins
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Physical GeographyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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