Food, Farming and Countryside Commission

Scotland’s Land Use Strategy

By Professor Lorna Dawson, James Hutton Institute


A strategy for how land is used is essential for understanding change in multifunctional sustainable landscapes. As the commitments to climate change in the UK are increasing, a land use strategy provides a potentially dynamic tool to catalyse landscapescale management, especially if the CAP incentives are harmonised with a landscape-level policy.

Scotland’s Land Use Strategy (LUS) is a key commitment of Section 57 of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. The revised Land Use Strategy builds on the experience of the two Regional Land Use Pilots in Aberdeenshire and the Scottish Borders, which independently tested two innovative approaches to local land use decision-making.

The key aim of the pilots was to use the Ecosystem Approach to create a framework which summarises policy and environmental information for users and indicates where certain types of land use change might be either beneficial or detrimental in line with policy goals and climate change mitigation. This work was set in the context of the five main policy areas of the Land Use Strategy — see overleaf.

The Aberdeenshire pilot built their ‘approach’ around an interactive web tool that was designed to stimulate discussion by exploring different options of land use change and their consequences. For example, this showed where expanding woodlands would improve water quality the most. The tool aids decisions about land use change to better deliver policy objectives and highlight trade-offs. It aimed to rank and map areas according to suitability for the proposed change (e.g. woodland expansion) but where other benefits (e.g. recreation opportunities) or problems (e.g. poor water quality) can be identified.

The Aberdeenshire project concentrated on one major example of land use change: afforestation along with three ecosystem services — nutrient retention, soil/sediment retention and carbon storage. Using the web tool, the user could explore the effect of altering the weighting of related groups of criteria on suitability for the land use change in question, and so produce a map to visualise the effect of the change. Results were then discussed with a range of land managers in a series of interactive workshops which were held across the region.

The Scottish Borders pilot placed significant emphasis on stakeholder engagement and on detailed mapping of key ecosystem services, using available data sources and state-of-the-art assessment methodologies. Over 40 stakeholder meetings were held across 7 sub-catchments of the Tweed, chosen to reflect the range of current and future land use and land management challenges. These were used to assist prioritising ecosystem services for mapping; validation of methods and for discussing emerging results. A series of maps were generated to demonstrate: 1) existing Natural Capital, 2) opportunities for enhancement/ expansion of target Ecosystem Services, 3) maps showing potential constraints/conflicts between services, and 4) maps detailing where expansion of services could lead to co-delivery of other multiple benefits.

One of the strengths of the Borders pilot was the development of a publically available, mapbased tool which can be used for targeting the delivery of ecosystem services through co-ordinated action on the ground. Tweed Forum partners continue to promote the approach, for example through opportunity target mapping within conservation projects, and through mapping woodland planting opportunities to deliver multiple benefits, including Natural Flood Management and Diffuse Pollution control.

What both pilots showed was the need for a strategy for how we use land; which could underpin the agri-environment schemes of the future and help catalyse landscape-scale management to meet climate change targets. Currently the Land Use Strategy in Scotland is a series of voluntary guidelines, and much could now be gained by reviewing what the Welsh Government have since achieved with the legal framing of objectives and roles for delivery. To fulfil its potential the Scottish Government will need to renew its commitment to such an integrated strategy, as momentum has faltered.