implications of a changing climate on agricultural land classification in England and Wales | Land Portal | Securing Land Rights Through Open Data

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December 2014
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The agricultural land classification (ALC) of England and Wales is a formal method of assessing the quality of agricultural land and guiding future land use. It assesses several soil, site and climate criteria and classifies land according to whichever is the most limiting. A common approach is required for calculating the necessary agroclimatic parameters over time in order to determine the effects of changes in the climate on land grading. In the present paper, climatic parameters required by the ALC classification have been re-calculated from a range of primary climate data, available from the Meteorological Office's UKCP09 historical dataset, provided as 5 km rasters for every month from 1914 to 2000. Thirty-year averages of the various agroclimatic properties were created for 1921–50, 1931–60, 1941–70, 1951–80, 1961–90 and 1971–2000. Soil records from the National Soil Inventory on a 5 km grid across England and Wales were used to determine the required soil and site parameters for determining ALC grade. Over the 80-year period it was shown that the overall climate was coolest during 1951–80. However, the area of land estimated in retrospect as ‘best and most versatile (BMV) land’ (Grades 1, 2 and 3a) probably peaked in the 1951–80 period as the cooler climate resulted in fewer droughty soils, more than offsetting the land which was downgraded by the climate being too cold. Overall there has been little change in the proportions of ALC grades among the six periods once all 10 factors (climate, gradient, flooding, texture, depth, stoniness, chemical, soil wetness, droughtiness and erosion) are taken into account. This is because it is rare for changes in climate variables all to point in the same direction in terms of ALC. Thus, a reduction in rainfall could result in higher grades in wetter areas but lead to lower classification in drier areas.

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