Farming land shrinks as built-up areas expand

The Swiss construction boom has caused strong demand for land Keystone

Surfaces set aside for urbanisation and infrastructure have increased in Switzerland by nearly a quarter over 24-year period according to the Federal Statistical Office, slowly taking over land previously used for agriculture in most cases.

This content was published on November 22, 2013 and agencies

The office looked at the data covering the period between 1985 and 2009, which show that urban development and infrastructure now account for 7.5% of all land use. The increase is equivalent to slightly more than the surface of Lake Geneva, or 584 square kilometres.

One third of the new urban zones was taken from arable land, another third from uncultivated pastures, 13% from orchards, vineyards or horticultural surfaces and 8.7% from pastures.

Around half the areas in residential and infrastructure zones are given over to buildings and the land they are built upon. Another 17% are related to transport, while 14% are used for construction sites, rubbish tips or quarries for example. The rest is split between industrial and leisure zones.

Between 1985 and 2009, 1.1 square metres of arable land vanished every second in Switzerland.

Construction increased at a faster rate than the population, which rose 20% over the same period, and the job market. There are 407 square metres to live on and for infrastructure for each of the country’s inhabitants, a result higher than the 400 considered to be sustainable by the government.

Not all agricultural land was turned over to urban sprawl. The biggest share of rezoned areas, more than a third, was given over to parks and leisure zones such as golf courses.

Forest surface also increased during the same period, especially at altitudes between 1,800 and 2,000 metres, either because alpine pastures were no longer being used or because of rising temperatures. Glaciers lost around 390 square kilometres, a quarter of their surface.

Switzerland’s territory covers nearly 42,000 square kilometres, of which one quarter roughly is considered unproductive including mountains, glaciers, lakes and so forth, while nearly another third is covered by forests. More than a third of the country’s surface is farming land.

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Sort by

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Weekly top stories

Keep up to date with the best stories from SWI on a range of topics, straight into your mailbox.


The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.