Intensively cultivated areas in the upper part of the Guadalentin catchment (southeast Spain) show a systematic spatial pattern of surface rock fragment cover (R(c)). The objective of this paper is to quantify and to explain this spatial rock fragment cover pattern. Therefore, a map of an intensively cultivated area of 5 km(2) was digitised, and for each pixel total topographic curvature was calculated. Next, rock fragment cover was determined photographically at 35 sites with a range of total slope curvatures. A linear relation between total curvature and rock fragment cover was found, except for narrow concavities. It was hypothesised that this pattern can be explained by a significant net downslope movement of rock fragments and fine earth by tillage. The displacement distances of rock fragments by tillage with a duckfoot chisel were measured by monitoring the displacement of tracers (painted rock fragments and aluminium cubes) on 5 sites having different slopes. The rate of tillage erosion for one tillage pass with a duckfoot chisel, expressed by the diffusion constant (k), equals 282 kg/m for up and downslope tillage and only 139 kg/m for contour tillage. Nomograms indicate that mean denudation rates in almond groves due to tillage erosion (3 to 5 tillage passes per year) can easily amount to 1.5-2.6 mm/year for contour tillage and up to 3.6-5.9 mm/year for up- and downslope tillage for a field, 50 m long and having a slope of 20%. These figures are at least one order of magnitude larger than reported denudation rates caused by water erosion in similar environments. Hence tillage erosion contributes significantly to land degradation. The downslope soil flux induced by tillage not only causes considerable denudation on topographic convexities (hill tops and spurs) and upper field boundaries but also an important sediment accumulation in topographic concavities (hollows and valley bottoms) and at lower field boundaries. Kinetic sieving (i.e. the upward migration of rock fragments) by the tines of the duckfoot chisel also concentrates the largest rock fragments in the topsoil in such a way that a rock fragment mulch develops in narrow valleys and at the foot of the slopes. These results clearly indicate that tillage erosion is the main process responsible for the observed rock fragment cover pattern in the study area, Since the study area is representative for many parts of southern Spain where almond groves have expanded since 1970, the results have a wider application. They show to what extent intensive tillage of steep slopes has contributed to the increase in soil degradation, to changes in hillslope morphology (i.e. strong denudation of convexities, development of lynchets and rapid infilling of narrow valley bottoms) and to the development of rock fragment cover patterns which control the spatial variability of the hydrological and water erosion response within such landscapes.