How can the decisions taken across agriculture, forestry, water management, biodiversity and planning all support each other to benefit the natural environment, support sustainable local businesses and create healthy rural and urban communities?
The Land Use Strategy for Scotland is the first of its kind in the world, taking a holistic approach to land use management, and recognising that different sectors are inextricably linked. It places climate change at the centre of the principles to guide actions.
Agriculture and associated land use is the third largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland.
The Committee on Climate Change has warned the Scottish Government that the lack of emission reductions in sectors like agriculture puts the Scottish climate change targets at risk.
Forests are important carbon sinks, and the Scottish Government is committed to increasing forest cover. This also has benefits for biodiversity and resilient silvi-culture. But a warmer wetter climate can also pose significant risks to tree health through extreme weather events or increased spread of pest and diseases.
Source Committee on Climate Change
A quarter of Scotland is covered by peat – an important carbon sink which also prevents flooding, filters water and provides important habitats.
The condition of peatlands is important for how well it captures and stores carbon. Peatlands that dry out will release carbon and contribute to climate change. Some peatland management practices have contributed to this through drainage, heavy grazing or inappropriate burning. The Scottish Government has targets for on-going restoration of degraded peatlands.
Soils are a critical resource not only for food production and biodiversity but also for managing water and storing carbon.
Climate change will impact soil wetness, soil temperature and soil degradation, including loss of organic matter, erosion and compaction as a potential result of changing rainfall patterns. This all impacts on how well the soil performs:
Source Scotland's Environment Web
All land use decisions play a role in how well we can manage increased rainfall and changes in rainfall patterns and extreme weather events. Hard flood defences can disrupt natural processes and increase flooding in other parts of a catchment.
Scottish Government policy favours Natural Flood Management, which includes restoring and enhancing natural features and characteristics to slow and contain flood water.
A key research need across land use is to analyse the early impacts of climate change, and assess how different measures can contribute to reducing emissions and managing the impacts.
To achieve this we promote cross-sectoral dialogue and research that can directly inform land use policy options. We also provide systematic evidence reviews to understand the state of confident knowledge across traditional disciplinary boundaries.
Our work is helping to tease out where tangible change might be achieved in modern farm business practice.
Our projects explore new farming techniques and their practical application, models to track emissions intensity and life cycle analysis.
We are involved in testing and demonstrating sustainable forestry practises.
We provide applied research on how forest expansion and restocking can support outcomes including carbon sequestration potential, biodiversity, shelter for animals, timber production and increased resilience to extreme weather events.
How can policy help protect and maintain the critical resource soils are to Scotland?
Research in this area looks at how soil protection and management is a feature of a range of policy areas and how they can work together.
Our research on peatlands ranges from facilitating workshops to identify priorities, through practical management and restoration techniques to understanding the accounting process.
Our projects have looked at a wide range of issues from the potential abatement from peatland restoration, exploring potential methods for measuring the extent of peatland that has been drained in Scotland, to analysing the practical implications of a revision to the International Inventory for Wetlands under the IPCC.
Our study on the current state of science on the impact of burning on peat and peat soils was a timely contribution to the review of the Muirburn Code in Scotland.
Our suite of indicators of climate change risks, impacts and actions gives a detailed picture of the health of the natural environment as the climate changes.