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Climate change, drought risk and land capability for agriculture: implications for land use in Scotland

Abstract

Land capability classification systems define and communicate biophysical limitations on land use, including climate, soils and topography. They can therefore provide an accessible format for both scientists and decision-makers to share knowledge on climate change impacts and adaptation. Underlying such classifications are complex interactions that require dynamic spatial analysis, particularly between soil and climate. These relationships are investigated using a case study on drought risk for agriculture in Scotland, which is currently considered less significant than wetness-related issues. The impact of drought risk is assessed using an established empirical system for land capability linking indicator crops with water availability. This procedure is facilitated by spatial interpolation of climate and soil profile data to provide soil moisture deficits and plant available water on a regular 1-km grid. To evaluate potential impacts of future climate change, land capability classes are estimated using both large-scale ensemble (multi-simulation) data from the HadRM3 regional climate model and local-scale weather generator data (UKCP09) derived from multiple climate models. Results for the case study suggest that drought risk is likely to have a much more significant influence on land use in the future. This could potentially act to restrict the range of crops grown and hence reduce land capability in some areas unless strategic-level adaptation measures are developed that also integrate land use systems and water resources with the wider environment.

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Acknowledgments

Research was funded by the Scottish Government under the ‘Environment: Land Use & Rural Stewardship’ Programme. Data from the UK Met Office observed climatology and UKCP09 future projections were made available under licence from Defra via the UK Climate Impacts Programme. Data from HadRM3 were provided by the British Atmospheric Data Centre through the Climate LINK project. Profile data from the Scottish Soils Database were supplied by the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute.

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Correspondence to Iain Brown.

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Brown, I., Poggio, L., Gimona, A. et al. Climate change, drought risk and land capability for agriculture: implications for land use in Scotland. Reg Environ Change 11, 503–518 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-010-0163-z

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Keywords

  • Land capability
  • Climate change
  • Drought risk
  • Soil moisture
  • Land use