New Science to Enable the Design of Agricultural Landscapes that Deliver Multiple Functions - AgLand

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Sustainable Agriculture Sciences-H

Abstract

The UK's land assets, and the goods and services they provide, are a finite and precious resource that is fundamental to our prosperity, and are intrinsically linked to our cultural heritage, and well-being. Over the next 50 years we expect to see unprecedented competition for land-use driven by a number of factors, including continuing growth in population and incomes, the impact of climate change and environmental degradation, new technologies (e.g. GM), and changing public attitudes and values. Around 70% (17.2 million hectares) of the UK land area is farmed, with 11.7 million ha of highly productive arable and improved grassland. UK agriculture is highly mechanised and efficient, contributing around £8.5 billion (0.6%) Gross Value Added to the UK economy annually and employing around 475,000 people. It is therefore certain that many future land-use conflicts will revolve around competition and trade-offs between food and biomass production, and other ecosystem goods and services required by society. The recently announced 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP) outlines the UK Government's commitment to the protection and management of our environmental assets to deliver multiple benefits for society. Specifically, it states that future policy will support farmers to 'deliver benefits ....and achieve outcomes at the landscape and catchment level'. This will include habitat management and creation at the landscape scale to create resilient ecological networks, as recommended by Sir John Lawton in his 2010 review. Similarly, the BEIS Industrial Strategy seeks to 'put the UK at the forefront of the global revolution in farming to deliver benefits to farmers, the environment and consumers whilst driving growth, jobs and exports'. This will require farming systems that are sustainable and support the delivery of other ecosystem benefits. To put these new, cross-departmental policies into practice will require a more holistic landscape-scale decision-making framework than i currently available, underpinned by evidence from a high quality, cross-disciplinary research base.

New Science to Enable the Design of Agricultural Landscapes that Deliver Multiple Functions (AgLand) will address this need and provide new knowledge, data and metrics, and a research infrastructure of study landscapes to enable evidence-based landscape planning. It will also aim to build cross-sectoral consensus and identify knowledge gaps to inform the design of future Landscape Decisions SPF initiatives. AgLand will build upon the research infrastructure, including new metrics and models, validated using existing NERC and BBSRC strategic investments (i.e. ASSIST, S2N and Wessex BESS), and will deliver this aim through the following objectives:

1) Develop and validate new metrics to describe the composition, structure and function of agricultural landscapes using earth observation techniques and existing national datasets;
2) Construct models describing the relationship between these landscape measures and key abiotic and biotic processes, and quantify how they vary across spatial scales;
3) Validate these models using data from previous UKRI and Defra investments ('study landscapes');
4) Quantify likely change in demand for and supply of natural capital and ecosystem services, including food production, within intensively farmed landscapes taking account of alternative trajectories of land-use change;
5) Using this knowledge, create tools to support cross-departmental policy makers in the design of future 'multi-functional landscapes' to optimise, at multiple scales, the delivery of food production together with other key ecosystem functions linked to livelihoods and well-being.

Planned Impact

Landscape decision making is complex and involves many stakeholder groups often with competing demands for services from the same landscape. AgLand will provide new knowledge, data and metrics, and a research infrastructure of study landscapes to enable evidence-based landscape decision-making and to inform future research priorities. This knowledge will help build consensus between stakeholder groups and will enable new thinking on the design of future 'multi-functional landscapes' to optimise food production, protect the environment and key ecosystem functions linked to livelihoods and well-being. Beneficiaries of the AgLand outputs will be:

1. Policy-makers - A key aim of the Landscape Decision SFP is to support cross-departmental policy decisions on how to design and manage future landscapes to deliver both sustainable food production, and a wide range of other ecosystem goods and services required by society. Defra's 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP) outlines the UK Government's commitment to the protection and management of our environmental assets to deliver multiple benefits for society. Specifically, it states that future policy will support farmers to 'deliver benefits....and achieve outcomes at the landscape and catchment level'. Policy-makers in Defra and BEIS, and the devolved administrations, are therefore likely to be amongst the main beneficiaries of the project findings.
2. Policy-implementers & regulators: These stakeholders will include statutory bodies, such as NE, EA and Forestry Commission, and their equivalents in Scotland and Wales. They will be tasked with implementing the new Agriculture Bill to deliver the objectives of the 25 YEP, and be required to monitor and report on progress towards these stated outcomes at the landscape and catchment scales.
3. Farmers, Farm Advisors and Agri-businesses, as well as national bodies such as the AHDB, Agricultural Industries Confederation, and NFU are both vitally important stakeholders as land management practitioners, and beneficiaries of goods and services provided by rural landscapes. CEH and RRes have strong links with this sector though a long track record of knowledge provision, data products and decision support tools to underpin sustainable food production and protect the environment. Examples include the CEH Land Cover plus series of maps (Crops, Pesticides and Fertilisers), our collaboration with Agrimetrics to develop mobile apps for benchmarking farm crop yields against regional data, and Rothamsted partnerships with AHDB and the Yield Enhancement Network. These stakeholders will benefit from the new knowledge, data and metrics generated by AgLand through the development of new decision support tools to support their businesses.
4. Landowners and Trusts - Large landowners, such as the National Trust, have strategies and plans to restore and protect the natural environment and reverse the declines in wildlife at the landscape scale. Agriculture is a key component of their activities and by working with their farmers the Natural Trust is testing approaches to landscape scale land management to deliver healthy, resilient and productive land. New knowledge, metrics and tools generated by Agland that can support decision making under land-use change will benefit these organisations in achieving such goals.
5. NGOs that represent a wide range of public interests in landscape planning and management will also be beneficiaries of AgLand. They include NGOs with interests in biodiversity and conservation (e.g. RSPB, Butterfly Conservation, Woodland Trust, Wildlife Trusts), together with organisations with wider interests, (e.g. the Ramblers, CPRE). These organisations are often at the forefront of landscape management initiatives (e.g. Living Landscapes) and will benefit from the new spatial models and tools to inform the planning of multi-functional landscapes.

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