Future Land Use Change - Working locally, thinking globally

Published on 25 February 2016 in Sustainability and Communities , Ecosystems and biodiversity

Photo (c) James Davidson


This research briefing summarises the main findings from research done in two Local Focus Areas (Ballater and Huntly) as part of the Aberdeenshire Land Use Strategy Pilot. These findings have been used by Aberdeenshire Council to provide their overall lessons learnt regarding the pilot to Scottish Government. In turn, the Scottish Government has used the results from the Aberdeenshire and Borders Pilots to help develop the Land Use Strategy 2016-2021. In addition to the named authors, Carol Kyle, Rachel Creaney, Andrea Baggio, Laura Poggio and Marie Castellazzi are also co-authors of this briefing.

Key Points

Overall, we found that Local Focus Area participants were supportive of more integrated land use planning and better coordination between different policy drivers.

Bundled benefits were clearly understood

Participants were clear about the many benefits that their local land and waterways provide.  Ecosystem services are not restricted to nature reserves but support local land based businesses. Ecosystem services were best understood as interconnected, such that landscapes produce bundles of ecosystem services.  Therefore, participants wanted to emphasis the feedback loops between ecosystem services.  There were also discussions about how different people understand and appreciate the benefits that ecosystem services provide in different ways.

Land management versus land use change

Ecosystem services delivery depends both on land use but also on the land management regime. It also requires managing the behaviour of those who use land and water to improve the delivery of bundles of ecosystem services. The pilot took a strategic screening tool approach that focussed on land use change in 2050. Stakeholder evaluation of these landscapes of the future (based on regional level spatial datasets) illustrated a mismatch with local knowledge about land management impacts in specific sites. The strategic regional approach allowed local people to illustrate how their personal interest connected with wider regional, national and international issues.

Ecosystem services sustain rural communities

Participants were very keen to connect ecosystem services into the wider rural context and debate about regional sustainability. The derived benefits from healthy ecosystem services (e.g. a rural workforce sustaining the local economy and social networks) were very important. The participants were very aware of, and interested in, the fact that their livelihoods and health were dependent on the state of the environment. They were not surprised by the results of the scenario modelling and the threat of climate change, and were already aware of the need to steward the land against future threats.

Landscapes under threat from climate change

Scenarios were a useful way to explore the future for these local areas and illustrate an increased risk to the ecosystem from climate change. Whilst there was some debate over the assumptions made by the models and the scenarios, the combination allowed participants to think about future change in a structured way. Under all three future scenarios of change, the modelled impacts on water quality, soil erosion and carbon loss increased suggesting that the impact of climate change will be negative; and draw attention to the need to continue the focus on mitigating the climate change impacts of the land use sector.  However, the discussion brought out many interesting ways to mitigate climate change based on changes in management rather than land use change. Furthermore, there was also emphasis on looking at non-land based rural mitigation measures.

Common ground, diverse perspectives

Working with local residents in two different communities highlighted the diversity of views within communities of place and illustrated where there is common ground for a regional solution.  The ability to discuss land use issues in a diverse forum was greatly appreciated by participants, who noted that they often found common ground where they least expected it. It also helped individuals learn more about other sectors with connection to the local landscape and to better understand their needs, preferences and practices.  The influence of public opinion on land use choices, be these local communities or neighbouring land managers or more diffuse ‘publics’, was discussed in both LFAs. This highlights the complex influences on integrated land use delivery.

Complex, multi-scale systems are hard to predict

Participants were aware of the complexities surrounding managing a system that connected global drivers of change with the variety of different individual land manager preferences.  Our model suggested there might be very little land use change in either area despite the potential for the area of prime land to expand in the Huntly region. The discussions illustrated that biophysical-climate constraints and opportunities were only one part of the decision making process, and that change in ownership could have the most impact on land use change in the medium term. 

Working across scales

There were many references to the intersections between local action and actions taken by regional, national and international actors.  Many participants hoped that there was a feedback loop from the state of the ecosystem services and the drivers on the system. However, many participants felt there was a disconnection in the system, whereby the drivers acted on them as local land managers and land users, but they were unable to influence these drivers of change in return.  There was a clear interest in having an influence on future land use policies, including the revision of the Land Use Strategy.

Implications for future research and practice

The work illustrates that a range of stakeholders, not just the usual suspects, can and will engage in discussions about future land use change.  However, participants wanted to know how their views will influence land use choices and policies in order to stay engaged.  It seems more relevant for people to relate to land management, than longer-term land use change. In future, research should integrate land management practices with predictions of possible land use changes. These are not simply different scales, but different foci. Considering both land use change and land management styles requires thinking about the social psychology and economic aspects of individual decision making.

Research Undertaken

Three workshops were held from Autumn 2013 to Autumn 2014 in both the Ballater and Huntly areas of Aberdeenshire. Over 150 possible organisations were identified using interest-influence matrices, resulting in 53 participants attending one or more workshops. These participants came from a range of organisations including land managers, business interests that relied on the local landscape, local and national NGOs and relevant public bodies.  The workshops asked participants to identify benefits from the local land and waterways; explain how they made decisions about changing land use; critique potential solutions to policy options; and develop a systems model connecting drivers of land use change with land manager decision making to indicate potential land use changes in the area and their consequences for some ecosystem services.  In the final workshop, the outcomes of three possible future scenarios (based on those developed for the National Ecosystem Assessment) were explored using multi-criteria analyses to consider their economic, environmental and social impacts. The materials and science utilised in these workshops were generated through the Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme (Ecosystem Services Theme) 2011-16.  For more information on the regional pilot research, see the main Pilot website. This briefing builds on a previous appraisal of applying the ecosystem approach.

Policy Implications

The Local Focus Area work within the Aberdeenshire Pilot Study illustrates that a range of stakeholders, not just the usual suspects, can and will engage in discussions about future land use change. However, they need to know how their views will influence land use choices and policies in order to stay engaged. It seems easier for people to relate to land management, than longer-term land use change; yet targets for climate change mitigation might be more effectively met through the latter.  Working at the local scale does not mean only considering local issues or actions, as participants highlighted a whole suite of changes they would like to see involving national and international governance and trading arrangements; putting the focus back onto national and international actors as well as local issues.


Kirsty Blackstock Kirsty.Blackstock@hutton.ac.uk

Justin Irvine Justin.Irvine@hutton.ac.uk

Anja Byg Anja.Byg@hutton.ac.uk

Alessandro Gimona Alessandro.Gimona@hutton.ac.uk

Inge Aalders Inge.Aalders@hutton.ac.uk


Sustainability and Communities , Ecosystems and biodiversity

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