Land improvements include anything that increases the dollar value or the usefulness of the property. Such improvements include extension of utility service lines, filling or draining low areas, building raised areas, creating roads and other access as well as erecting homes, outbuildings and other fixed, permanent structures.
Land held in common typically remains unimproved. Privately held land, however, becomes more or less valuable according to the improvements made to it. The two most common improvements historically were home building and containment. Home building could be anything from a grand stone castle to a lowly woven withy. Containment included fences, walls and hedgerows. Roads, paths and gates add value by increasing accessibility. Landscaping, including both ornamental and kitchen gardens as well as wooded and pasture areas for propagation of wild game and domestic animals, all increase land value.
The addition of water features such as ponds, canals and watercourses ensured viability in case of attack and provided resources for such occupations as fishing, milling and manufacturing. Attempts to improve local health led to the draining and filling of swamp land to eliminate disease-causing pests. This also increased available arable land.
The need to keep water resources pure lead to installation of septic systems, sewer lines and water treatment plants. Clean, fresh water is then returned via city owned water lines. Land improvements take otherwise marginal land and convert it to more lucrative purposes.
Analyze the cost of improvements versus the financial benefit, and weigh that against the potential environmental impact. Hilly, rolling or rocky land that is otherwise unsuitable for agriculture or animal husbandry might be ideal for home building or business with just a few changes. Be careful to avoid destroying habitat or blocking migration patterns if at all possible. Plan your improvements to minimize destruction of habitat and include features which allow migratory animals to continue their chosen patterns.
One major effect of land improvements is the upward pressure on land costs. This steady rise in the price of land has forced many small farmers out of business. Forestry and mining have also felt the impact, as the removal of these resources has lead to habitat destruction, deforestation and contamination of groundwater sources. Cleanup of these environmental disaster areas is expensive, and restoration even more so.
Study all potential environmental effects to prevent or eliminate habitat destruction and species endangerment. Provide access for migratory animals, participate in reforestation and soil conservation efforts and set aside mandatory green space to alleviate negative impacts on local wildlife. Zoning laws can also be used to prevent land use that requires too much expensive intervention to be sustainable.
Divert water away from land to drain it. Build canals, French drains and other diversion projects to create arable land from previously unusable swamp, or flood an area for production of rice, crawfish and catfish. Land with a significant groundwater source can be essential to a small farmer, hobby homesteader or angler.
Create ponds and lakes. Divert and deepen stream channels. Add canals or dry creekbeds for control of groundwater runoff. Depending upon water quality, a large fresh groundwater source can even be used to serve a bottled water business.
Fill deep gorges or terrace hills. Decreasing the grade of a hill can control or eleiminate runoff across roads and improve accessibility in icy conditions. Building causeways over dry washes can prevent flooding, mudslides and road washouts.