Optimising multifunctional land-use decisions through robust combined models: a pollination-crop yield-landscape aesthetics case study

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Sch of Biological Sciences

Abstract

Making land-use decisions is complicated because there are many competing demands (environmental, social and economic) placed on our landscapes. The decisions we make at small scales can have much larger and longer-term consequences. For instance, in arable landscapes, converting field margins to crop to maximise crop yield in a given field (economic benefit), will reduce pedestrian access beside crops (social benefit) and reduce resources supporting landscape-scale biodiversity (environmental benefit). Lower biodiversity can in turn reduce pollination service and therefore crop yield, not only in the original field, but also in surrounding fields. The consequences of a land-use choice in one field can therefore spread far beyond that field and affect many different benefits. This means that it is essential to assess the impacts of land-use decisions on all of these benefits simultaneously, in order to make the most informed land-use decisions at the landscape scale. Although many statistical models allow us to measure individual benefits in great detail across the landscape, very few combine multiple benefits, and those that do, typically do not consider the feedbacks between different benefits due to their additive model structure. Furthermore, these existing combined models rarely account for the time-dependent aspects of benefits derived, which can be significant for land-use choices such as woodland creation, which takes decades to reach their full biodiversity benefits.

Our project will combine physical science expertise in building spatially-explicit time-dependent computer models with expertise in ecology, sociology and economics to develop the first modelling framework that combines multiple interacting landscape-scale benefit models, to identify land-use choices that maximise the ecological, social and economic benefits provided by the landscape over time. The project will use pollinators and the benefits they provide in agricultural landscapes as a case study for model development, because agricultural land-use interventions for supporting pollinators affect environmental (by supporting biodiversity), social (by affecting the scenic quality of farmland), and economic (by determining pollination service to crops) benefits simultaneously. Our model will therefore combine and interlink three individual benefit models - a pollinator abundance biodiversity-benefit model, an aesthetic value social-benefit model and a monetary crop value economic-benefit model - into a single cohesive whole. It will also account for how the benefits provided by interventions such as flower strips and hedgerow creation can change over time. We will test the model on a series of real agricultural landscapes incorporating varying amounts of pollinator interventions to identify the optimum proportions of interventions required to maximise the environmental, social and economic benefits provided by the landscapes over time.

The outcomes of this project are directly relevant to designing future UK agri-environment schemes, and we will work with project partners to demonstrate the potential of the combined model framework to inform real-world land-use decisions. The modelling framework can then be expanded in future to include other benefits (e.g. abundance of other species, water quality/quantity etc.) and identify optimum solutions for other land-use systems with competing environmental, social and economic demands (e.g. new developments balancing housing needs with green infrastructure).

Planned Impact

The project will benefit the following groups:

- Statutory agencies involved in agri-environment scheme design and implementation, such as Defra (project partner), Natural England, Natural Resources Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage. These organisations use limited resources to advise and incentivise landowners to deliver multiple public benefits from their land in the most efficient way. Our pollinator-crop yield-landscape aesthetics case study will yield products directly relevant to the design of Defra's new Environmental Land Management Scheme for England, by identifying region-specific proportional targets for pollinator interventions, which optimise the balance of environmental, social and economic benefits. These targets will be directly transferable to lowland agricultural regions in Wales and Scotland with similar land-cover and the combined model can be run on any input UK landscape, providing a powerful tool for these agencies to use to compare the predicted benefits derived from different land-use scenarios.

- Farmers and farm advisors. Project results will be of particular interest to farmers interested in maximising yields though wildlife-friendly farming approaches and/or in diversification into the tertiary sector by providing additional recreational activities on their land. More generally, the project results can be used to show farmers ways to deliver environmental and social benefits without negatively impacting on crop production. Our pollinator-crop yield-landscape aesthetics case study will yield regional proportional targets for pollinator interventions that account for the habitats already present in those regions. These results will be summarised in a short video and a simple online tool, allowing farmers to look-up the recommended proportions of interventions for their particular farm, based on their regional location and the current habitat proportions their farm already provides. Our project partners, NFU, aim to help farmers to increase biodiversity and aesthetic benefits and augment these minimum recommendations with additional interventions.

- Individual landowners with a strong focus on delivering social and biodiversity benefits (e.g. National Trust, Wildlife Trusts, RSPB) within farmed landscapes. Our combined model would allow these landowners to quantify the current environmental and social benefits their land provides and to assess the potential benefit increases provided by additional short and long-term interventions. This would allow them to identify future strategies that provide maximum benefits for minimum cost and so help them to justify any bids for additional funding that they may require to carry out these interventions.

- General public. There is extensive and growing public interest in UK pollinators. The project team will create a dedicated webpage for the project, within the project team's existing pollinator research webpages. The webpage will include accessible summaries of the project aims and results to raise awareness among the general public of the importance of the project and its findings for both pollinators and people.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description 1. The project built a combined-benefit model capable of simultaneously assessing the landscape-level bee abundance benefits, visual aesthetic benefits and cropland income benefits from introducing agri-environment interventions (specifically widened grassy field margins, florally enhanced field margins and reduced hedgerow cutting) into agricultural landscapes.

2. The project developed a way to relate predicted bee abundance from a validated process-based foraging bee model with crop pollination service as measured in the field, including obtaining lower/upper limits to represent the level of uncertainty around this conversion.

3. The project demonstrated how such combined benefit models must use a tailored approach to uncertainty quantification/propagation, where each benefit model is assigned an uncertainty quantification methodology that is most appropriate for the dominant process contributing uncertainty to the measurement of that particular benefit.

4. The project identified strong synergies between the bee abundance benefits of agri-environment interventions and their visual aesthetic benefits - the more enhanced margins and hedgerows the greater the benefits to both, although there was a bias towards greater floral enhancement for maximum visual aesthetic benefits. In contrast, bee abundance benefits were highest for an equal proportion of grassy:florally enhanced margins, due to this better satisfying their need for nesting habitat in addition to floral resources.

5. The project identified that hedgerow enhancement is the preferred agri-environment intervention for maximising cropland income. The more hedgerows enhanced, the greater the predicted economic benefit to the farmer, due to their assumed payment rate and their benefits for crop pollination service. In contrast, margin enhancement was identified to be economically disadvantageous for farmers, due to the assumed payment rates not sufficiently compensating for lost crop area, with floral enhancement being the least disadvantageous due to its higher payment rate.

6. When all three benefits were combined (bee abundance, visual aesthetic and cropland income), the small economic disadvantages for the farmer were outweighed by the far greater bee abundance and visual aesthetic benefits from the agri-environment interventions. We noted that the small economic disincentives predicted by our simulations could easily be lessened and potentially neutralised in real life due to smart placement of interventions and their additional pest-control benefits not included in our modelling.

7. From a whole-scheme point of view, a 1:2 ratio of grassy:floral margin enhancement with high levels of hedgerow enhancement was predicted to be the most cost-effective combination of interventions for delivering net benefits.

8. The project identified significant differences in the level of benefit delivery per intervention cost between landscapes and the drivers of this are still under investigation. In particular, the simulations predicted that targeting highly arable landscapes with little semi-natural habitat would produce the biggest percentage change in bee abundance per intervention cost.
Exploitation Route The findings could potentially contribute towards regional targeting of pollinator agri-environmental interventions and potentially assist land managers in choosing the most beneficial combination of interventions for their land. This is particularly relevant in the context of Defra ELM (environmental land management) scheme development and we are engaging the ELM team through Prof. Tom Oliver on his Defra secondment and position on ELM modelling expert panel.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description Invited member of Defra ELM (Environmental Land Management) Modelling Expert Panel
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description How many trees should we plant and where? Modelling the landscape-level benefits and biodiversity consequences of woodland creation.
Amount £228,601 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/V007831/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2020 
End 12/2022
 
Title Method for relating bee abundances predicted by computer modelling to field measures of pollination service 
Description Set of rules developed by ELG to derive threshold estimates (along with lower and upper limits) for optimal pollination service to use within modelling in the case when there is no significant direct linear correlation between predicted bee abundance and field measures of pollination service. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Method allowed ELG to incorporate economic benefits to farmer within the multi-benefit analysis carried out for the project. Method was also subsequently adopted and used within the Global Food Security Funded Project 'Resilient Pollinators' to estimate the monetary contribution of different pollinator habitat types towards UK pollinator-dependent crop income. Method was also subsequently adopted and used within PhD project (University of Reading) assessing the impact of agri-environment scheme options on farm income via crop pollination across England. 
 
Title Model for Landscape Visual Aesthetic Scores in presence/absence of Agri-environment Interventions 
Description Cumulative Link Mixed Model fitted to the data from online survey respondents to obtain the probability of a landscape image receiving a given visual attractiveness score, given the type/condition of pollinator interventions present. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Model results enabled visual aesthetic benefits of agri-environment interventions to be included in multi-benefit analysis carried out by ELG as part of project. 
 
Description Crop yield/Pollination service data 
Organisation University of Reading
Department School of Agriculture, Policy and Development Reading
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution ELG developed methodology for relating field measures of pollination service/yield to model predictions.
Collaborator Contribution Partners in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development provided data on crop yield and pollination service measure from field studies of field bean and oilseed rape and contributed towards data analysis and gave input on methods development.
Impact Multidisciplinary collaboration spanning physical sciences, ecology and economics. Outputs: academic paper currently in preparation.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Defra 
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The project team compiled a short 2-page project introduction and questionnaire designed to collect information on the likelihood of various pollinator-focused agri-environment options being included in Defra's new Environmental Land Management Scheme and their potential payment rates.
Collaborator Contribution Defra staff contributed input via the questionnaire on which pollinator-focused agri-environment interventions are being considered for inclusion in Defra's new Environmental Land Management Scheme and which tiers they would belong to.
Impact Results of the questionnaire guided our selection of agri-environment interventions to trial within the project.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Going beyond Ecosystem Services to take a Multi-lens approach to Landscape Decisions 
Organisation United Kingdom Research and Innovation
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution ELG is a co-author on a paper (in prep) setting out the need to move beyond the ecosystem services concept and take a multi-lens approach in order to make better and more effective land-use decisions.
Collaborator Contribution Co-authors on a paper (in prep) setting out the need to move beyond the ecosystem services concept and take a multi-lens approach in order to make better and more effective land-use decisions.
Impact Multidisciplinary collaboration spanning physical sciences, environmental sciences, ecology/biological sciences, geography, social science and the perspectives of artists.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Landscape Visual Aesthetic Measures 
Organisation University of Huddersfield
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution ELG provided input on data analysis and model structure.
Collaborator Contribution Partners previously designed and ran surveys to collect responses of participants to landscapes containing different combinations of agri-environment interventions. For this collaboration, they fitted models to the survey results to determine visual aesthetic attractiveness scores for each agri-environment intervention combination and contributed these model fits to the project.
Impact Multi-disciplinary collaboration involving ecologists and social scientists. Outcome: academic paper in preparation.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Pathways to achieving net zero carbon emissions 
Organisation United Kingdom Research and Innovation
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution ELG is a co-author on an advisory document for Defra (in prep) outlining pathways to achieving net zero through better landscape decisions, including beneficial land-use choices and the need to embrace ethics and system change to successfully enact these.
Collaborator Contribution Co-authors on an advisory document for Defra (in prep) outlining pathways to achieving net zero through better landscape decisions, including beneficial land-use choices and the need to embrace ethics and system change to successfully enact these.
Impact Multidisciplinary collaboration spanning physical, environmental and biological sciences, geography, economics, ethics and art. Draft manuscript due to be completed 26th March.
Start Year 2019
 
Description Blog about paper on modelling UK pollinator natural capital 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Blog about paper on modelling UK pollinator natural capital. Led to interest in the model used and developing further collaborations on its use.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://methodsblog.com/2020/11/12/reliably-predicting-pollinator-abundance-with-process-based-ecolo...
 
Description Online presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Online YouTube presentation introducing the project at an accessible level for practitioners, policy-makers and other researchers.
Presentation has received 78 views to date (08/03/2021).
Link to presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GE4AjAqWMCA&t=2s
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020