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The expansion of urbanised centres is threatening the very last natural relics in Alpine lowland areas. Many Alpine valleys have already lost most of their biodiversity value due to urban sprawl.
Humans first settled in elevated areas of the most accessible alpine valleys which offered the best conditions for housing and farming. These settlements eventually grew and slowly spread to the side valleys. 

Valleys of the easily reachable Rhone, Rhine, Inn, and Adige rivers have already lost most of their biodiversity value.

Natural habitats in the valley bottoms - riverbeds, floodplain forests, wetlands, alpine steppes - have been destroyed by expanding settlements. The transport infrastructure associated with this urban sprawl is a major barrier for many species in the Alps, preventing the establishment of ecological networks.  

Now, the Alps have reached a new level of urbanisation. The average living space occupied by a person has doubled since 1950. Even with minor population growth, there has been a sharp rise in the number of residential properties.

The continual expansion of cities, towns, villages, and hamlets are now threatening even the more remote areas in the Alps.

While the majority of Alpine communities lie below 1000 m, some cities, mostly tourist centres, are situated at higher altitudes. Holiday homes are being built almost everywhere. Apartment complexes or residential tourist buildings are significantly contributing to the rising level of urbanisation.

What We Do

The European Alpine Programme coordinates WWF's conservation work across the Alps. Check out Our Solutions page to read more about what WWF is doing to conserve Alpine nature.

Urban Sprawl

Urban Sprawl in Bellinzona, Switzerland 
© Sergio Savoia

About 14 million people are distributed over approximately 6,000 communities in the Alps.

Infographic for the Alpine ecoregion. Nearly 150 million people cross the Alps every year.
© Infographic for the Alpine ecoregion. Nearly 150 million people cross the Alps every year. © WWF European Alpine Programme

Population density in permanently settled areas in the Alps reaches up to >16,000 inhabitants/km2 (Principality of Monaco).