The Land Capability for Agriculture (LCA) classification for Scotland has been used since the 1980s to inform decision-making on land use management, planning and valuation.

This report explores the potential for a new research tool to estimate land capability under future climatic conditions – the Land Capability of Scotland research platform. Development in this project has been based on the original LCA guidelines. The platform is a set of computing tools (not PC based) for data integration, calculation, analysis, mapping and visualisation, allowing models to be run to estimate land capability constraints and generate digital maps.

The Land Capability research platform is designed to be a ‘risk and opportunities assessment’ tool operated by researchers; the Land Capability of Scotland research platform does not replace the existing published LCA classifications.

The platform has initially been developed to produce estimates of Land Capability for Agriculture under different climate change projections and has further potential to support research on a broad range of land uses and benefits, such as forestry and ecosystem services.

  • The original LCA guide has been successfully coded and computing structures implemented, integrating multiple spatial data sets and modelling tools to estimate the individual constraints that determine the LCA and its overall classification.
  • A key challenge is the ability to model soil water balance appropriately. A soil water balance model was implemented within the platform, but further work is required to better calibrate the model and validate the estimates. 
  • Initial analysis between two baseline periods indicates that climate change has already altered land capability and is likely to further impact it in both positive and negative ways in the future. 
  • Reduced water availability is likely to be a key determining factor. Initial analysis suggests that soils, especially those with a low water holding capacity, are likely to become drier and with greater frequency. 
  • This implies an increased risk of crops, grassland and vegetation experiencing difficulties in accessing water. The LCA and constraint maps indicate where this may occur.
  • There is a substantial risk that land currently classed as prime agricultural land (classes 1 – 3.1) may experience reduced production capability due to dry soils in an increasing number of years with drought conditions.
  • Conversely, potentially areas such as the north-west Highlands may experience increased precipitation totals in some years, meaning soils there becoming wetter.
  • There is likely to be increased annual variability in land capability associated with increasing climatic variability and extreme events, such as wet seasons or years followed by dry ones.
  • The platform development has been a ‘learning by doing’ iterative process, and further improvements are possible. The research platform will continue to be used and developed in the Scottish Government’s 2022-2027 Strategic Research Programme.

This report was commissioned to analyse the indicators available to monitor Scotland’s soil health. Soil health is essential: the benefits range from food production to filtering water, reducing flood risk and regulating climate.

The second Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme (SCCAP) identifies soil health as a priority research area, following concerns over a perceived lack of data or gaps in understanding Scotland’s soils. This study summarises previous work on Scottish soils, explores existing datasets, and identifies metrics to support the monitoring of soil health and the vulnerability of Scottish soils to climate change.

 Key findings
  • Scotland has a significant, world-leading soil knowledge base and a broad data resource portfolio. However, the existing evidence base does not contain tools identified as appropriate for monitoring change in Scottish soils.
  • Thirteen indicators with potential to measure soil vulnerability to climate change in all soil types were identified.
  • A total of 41 existing datasets that contain baseline and/or resurvey data for Scottish soils have been identified. Resampling of some of these long-term national datasets has potential to support further development of the 13 identified indicators (Table A10).
  • A critical knowledge gap exists regarding the dependencies of the 13 identified indicators (i.e. factors they are reliant on), their interactions and hence whether a reduced core set of indicators could be identified at a future stage. This is compounded with critical gaps in our understanding of the interactions between soil properties. This knowledge gap has a major impact on soil biological diversity and therefore functioning of the soil system.
  • No single indicator measures the full range of relevant properties encompassing all soils or climatic conditions.


Snow cover is a key aspect of what defines the character of the Cairngorms National Park (CNP). It underpins the ecology, hydrology and economy, which are all dependent on how much snow falls, and where and how long it stays.

In this summary assessment we compared historic temperature and precipitation data (1918-2018) with observed snow cover days (1969-2005) to identify how temperature affects snow days. We then modelled future snow cover days using the best available data generated by the UK Met Office to identify some possible trends for the Cairngorms National Park. 

Modelling snow cover based on climate projections is challenging, and we currently only have daily climate data projections for the high emissions scenario. However, our initial results show a reduction in snow cover as the observed warming trend continues and accelerates. Successful global efforts to reduce emissions may moderate this impact, whilst even higher emissions rates (e.g. due to ecosystem carbon releases) may further increase impacts.

Key findings
  • There has been an overall decline in observed snow cover in the Cairngorms National Park (1969-2005). This trend conforms to those seen across other mountain areas and the Arctic and is in keeping with the observed global warming trend.
  • There is a clear observed decrease in the number of days of snow cover at all elevation levels over the 35 winters between 1969/70 and 2004/05, with higher elevations having a larger proportional decrease.
  • In the near-term, our estimates indicate the potential for a continuation of snow cover at the current range of variation, but with a substantial decline from the 2040s. These findings are in line with results from the UK Meteorological Office and Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2019).

Soils are one of the world’s biggest stores of carbon. The level of carbon storage depends on several factors, including the type of organic matter, climatic conditions and land management practices, both past and present. This report explores how the level of storage over time could be measured, and how this could help improve land management practices through a payment system.

Key points
  • Agricultural soils (across pasture and arable) account for more than 10% of Scotland’s estimated soil carbon. Changes in land management practices affect the balance between soil carbon accumulation and loss, with conversion from grassland to cropland as the largest single change that releases soil carbon on Scottish agricultural land. 
  • Evidence suggests there is large potential for increasing carbon storage in agricultural soils through changes in management practices. Any increase in carbon in the soil is likely to have a positive impact on soil quality, whilst the climate change mitigation benefit may be modest but positive in the longer term.     
  • Mechanisms for support through payments exist, but they are largely focused on wider benefits such as preventing soil erosion and there are none that currently specifically enable  soil carbon sequestration.

The boundary between productive land and hill land in Scotland has moved over time, in response to climate and also to market demand. Scotland’s climate is changing, and this will mean changes for those areas of Scotland that sit on the margins of productive agriculture.

In this context sustainable soil management is a specific challenge as Scotland adapts to a changing climate.

This report examines the four dominant ways that farmers will adapt to climate change, and their impact on different services.

Key findings:
  • It is likely that land use change will result in the intensification of land management. The result would be a reduction in most aspects of natural capital including soil carbon, water quality and biodiversity. An increase in arable cropping from current levels and a switch to winter cereals could increase soil erosion and flood risk.
  • An exception would be the potential increase in forestry and woodland, though the benefits ofplanting depend greatly on what is planted and where it sits within the landscape or catchment.
  • It is particularly difficult to assess the likely changes in livestock numbers. This makes it difficultto assess the greenhouse gas emissions from their rearing, as it is not possible to predict thebalance of their removal to allow arable cropping, the increase in extensive livestockmanagement which would affect emissions intensity, and the intensification of management oncurrently more marginal ground.
  • One approach to assessing the risk of autonomous adaptation would be to model the impacts of a set of scenarios of change so that comparison could be made with changes expected from other drivers; if potential impacts are large in comparison then greater attention would need to be given to strategies to avoid or mitigate impacts. 

We derive a wide range of benefits from how we use the land; it underpins our economic prosperity, supports the provision of essential supplies of food and clean water. Its sustainable management is essential to how we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to a changing climate. 

‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ schemes have been developed in a broad range of areas that seek to support good environmental management. Common to all the schemes is that they take a voluntary approach to offering financial incentives to land-managers for actions that maintain or enhance services that are not routinely bought and sold or provided through regulation.

The characteristics of different ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ schemes vary considerably. For the purposes of meeting climate change needs, ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ has substantial potential but with several key issues:

  • The degree to which participation by actors, particularly providers can be facilitated.
  • The type of scheme (inputs or outcomes based), the structural arrangement for the relationships between actors and how well it fits with the objectives.
  • How well the scheme balances the need for supply of other ecosystem services (and biodiversity).