Creating a realistic and practical approach for land use change
The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in the UK has set several challenging targets relating to biodiversity, woodland and water in its 25 Year Environment Plan. To meet these targets, land use change from agriculture to semi-natural is critical. Consequently, Defra and its agencies commissioned RSK and ADAS to help meet these targets by developing a practical approach to support decision making with respect to land use change enabling multiple environmental benefits relating to biodiversity, water quality and flood risk management. The project was funded by the Environment Agency and supported by Natural England and the Forestry Commission.
In delivering land use change, it is imperative to consider the need to deliver biodiversity gains, increased and enhanced woodland environments, improved water quality and flooding risk reductions. Therefore, the strategy aims to maximise the benefits of land use change across all these policy outcomes synergistically.
For the pilot project, a prototype framework for targeting change from agriculture in two case study catchments was developed with the flexibility for application to any catchment in England in the future. The data sets used in the framework all had national coverage. Many were open source but could be replaced with local data if available. A scoring system based on the national data sets was developed that considered the three environmental policy outcomes separately, with the option of aggregating them to give an overall benefit score.
Costs were also estimated for each option to enable cost–benefit analysis. The scoring system was applied in a bottom-up manner to fine-scale mapping. This can be aggregated to any spatial unit of analysis for decision making. The objective of this task was to inform the targeting of land use change to maximise the benefits for all the environmental policy outcomes.
Defra now wishes to develop the tool RSK and ADAS have delivered further and to test its performance in specific catchments throughout England. However, the framework is still a prototype and thus requires comparison against ground-truth data to test its performance for targeting the most appropriate units and recommending the most beneficial uses. Workshops with stakeholders would also be valuable to help steer its development. The Environment Agency and ADAS are actively looking for partners with which they can collaborate to take the tool to the next level.