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 is 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.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description FWAG South West ELMs test and trials team 
Organisation Farm and Wildlife Advisory Group South West
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We have set up a working group to explore the potential to use the new metrics of landscape structure and quality generated in the AgLand project to quantify Natural Capital and Ecosystem Service delivery on the farms used in the ELMs trial. The farms have been mapped using a new tool for defining habitat quality on a finer resolution than existing land use categories.
Collaborator Contribution We are exploring opportunities to use the data on distribution of habitats mapped on the ELMs study farms to inform the farm typologies that will be integral to meeting AgLand objectives.
Impact Outputs will be generated in the summer / autumn of 2020
Start Year 2019
 
Description Landscape Pioneer collaboration 
Organisation North Devon Biosphere Foundation
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution AgLand has been interfacing with the North Devon Biosphere and the Landscape Pioneer ELM trial for Defra. AgLand outputs will be shared with the Landscape Pioneer to ensure local feedback.
Collaborator Contribution The North Devon Biosphere team have shared documents with AgLand on the development of the Landscape Pioneer ELM trial and met with AgLand researchers at Rothamsted Research North Wyke to discuss co-working to ensure dissemination of AgLand research outputs.
Impact Plans of exposure of AgLand outputs at planned Pioneer Landscape stakeholder events
Start Year 2019
 
Description ELMs webinar 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact AgLand was invited to present as part of a webinar publicising the activities of the FWAG South West ELMs test and trials. An audience of over 100 people joined the presentation and contributed to a discussion. There was particular interest in how new science could inform the quantification of ecosystem services.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Landscape decisions workshops (Cambridge July) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Workshop organised as part of Isaac Newton Institute Programme on "Mathematical and statistical challenges in landscape decision making". Representatives from AgLand attended and contributed to discussions, feeding in relevant information on the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.newton.ac.uk/event/ebdw01
 
Description Working week at Isaac Newton Institute 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Representatives from AgLand spent a week (22nd to 26th July) at the Isaac Newton Institute during the month-long programme, interacting with the various other quantitative scientists, during which they gave a joint brief presentation about both ASSIST and AgLand, presenations about our own interests in this area, and I gave a brief presentation about the landscape structural metrics in the FragStats software. We also encouraged links to be made with AgLand from some of the "SPF NERC Landscape Decisions mathematics and statistics challenges: large grants call" proposals that were being developed during the INI programme, and contributed ideas to the "Research Priorities for Landscape Decisions" presentations that were given in the second workshop above.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019