Sources of information
On climate and weather, greenhouse gas emissions, agricultural census, land use, soils, imports/exports, CAP, state of nature
Much of the scientific information used to devise models and policy on climate, soils and land use remains unavailable to the public. Scientific institutions get access to it by paying subscriptions to publishers, but the fees involved are too high for most individuals and charities. Not all is hidden – government departments and other public bodies publish a wide range of information through their web sites. This page lists such available sources.
This page was originally posted as a means to provide verifiable source material referred to when offering guidance at the Citizen’s Jury event at the Scottish Parliament, 29-31 March 2019.
From September 2020, all new and updated sources will be listed here. The page will be revised as new information becomes available or web links need to be re-routed. Updates will be referred to by date beneath the main headings.
Last update: 19 July 2021 – expanded section on climate, weather and climate change.
General information on environment
The Scottish Government, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) offer a wide range of information on land and water, for example Scotland’s Environment https://www.environment.gov.scot/ and https://www.sepa.org.uk/ (look at the list under ‘Environment’) and https://www.nature.scot/.
Climate, weather and climate change
[Sections under construction: July 2021]
Global warming and climate change
[in progress …]
A non-technical, ‘5-minute read’ covering many aspects of change is available at the tomorrow.io web site: Global warming current status: full review https://www.tomorrow.io/weather/blog/global-warming-status/ (Thanks to Peter Coll for recommending this article.)
Weather and climate (Atlantic region)
The Met Office keeps records of climate and assesses trends and the potential for change. They maintain a large web site – here are some links (but note that they are upgrading their web site and for some data you get redirected to the older site). The are also EU-wide and worldwide datasets – climate change is a hot topic, but it might be best to begin with those below.
- State of UK climate annual reports – https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/about/state-of-climate: the picture-summary is useful, but take care about some of the generalisations. For example, the increase in the last decade in what’s called ‘growing degree days’ (which is roughly the temperature conditions for good plant/crop growth) does not translate into higher crop yield because a warm summer is also usually a dry summer.
- UK and regional data series – long term records for e.g. Scotland E, N and W for certain variables such as temperature, sunshine and rainfall https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/summaries/datasets.
- Long term data for regional rainfall – https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadukp/
- Maps https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climate/uk/summaries/anomacts
Greenhouse gas emissions (GHG)
A highly technical subject. The UK and Scottish governments have formal targets to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which are considered to cause global warming. However, many countries including the largest industrial nations are doing little about it. Emissions related to rural land use are given in two broad categories: 1) Agriculture, including emissions from livestock, soils, etc. and 2) Emissions due to change in land use (Land use, land use change and forestry or LULUCF). Those from agriculture rank third behind industry and transport in terms of total emissions but reductions of agricultural emissions have stalled over the past decade. While agriculture loses gases to the air, some aspects of LULUCF take in and store gases, the most obvious being forestry (trees store carbon dioxide from the air). If aspects of land use change related to agriculture are included (e.g. land converted from grassland to ploughed land) then agricultural land use ranks second in Scotland.
- The Scottish Government’s latest summary is for the year 2016 and available at https://www.gov.scot/publications/scottish-greenhouse-gas-emissions-2016/pages/6/
- Annual summaries of progress for Scotland are also published by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the latest for 2018 available at: https://www.theccc.org.uk/2018/09/24/scotland-still-outperforms-the-uk-in-reducing-emissions-but-transport-and-agriculture-remain-significant-challenges/. This link goes to a summary from where the report can be viewed (link on right). Not too technical.
- The National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory keeps stock of changing emissions in different sectors. Main web page is at – http://naei.beis.gov.uk/emissions/. Trends from 1990 when the estimates began are given separately for Scotland.
- More detailed summaries (e.g. emissions from beef cattle, dairy cattle, fertiliser, dung, etc.) can be accessed at the UK Emissions data selector http://naei.beis.gov.uk/data/data-selector
Agriculture, land areas occupied and crop yield
The annual (June) agricultural census gives areas of the different types of crops and grass and the numbers of farm animals. In recent years it has been included as part of the Economic Report on Scottish Agriculture (see later). It is available online:
- Agriculture, Fisheries and Rural Statistics: Scottish Government web page leading to various annual summaries and publications – https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Agriculture-Fisheries
- Essential for trends – annual summaries from 1912 in the early years of which are data going back to the 1880s: https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Agriculture-Fisheries/Publications/histagstats.
- Towards the end of each year, the government publishes preliminary and then in December final estimates of yield and total output from the main field crops in Scotland (e.g. barley, wheat, oats, oilseed rape): https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Agriculture-Fisheries/Publications/harvestsummary. To begin, look at the excel files and diagrams giving crop area, yield per unit area and total production over the last couple of decades.
- See also https://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/correspondence/compliance-check-of-statistics-from-the-scottish-june-agricultural-census/
Land use and soils
Various datasets, most available to the public, can be viewed and downloaded from the James Hutton Institute’s web site and various sites on soils and environment. Here are some of them:
- Natural Resource databases at the James Hutton Institute – for an introduction see https://www.hutton.ac.uk/learning/natural-resource-datasets
- Land cover of Scotland – descriptions and maps of different types of land cover https://www.hutton.ac.uk/learning/exploringscotland/landcover-scotland-1988
- Land capability for agriculture https://www.hutton.ac.uk/learning/natural-resource-datasets/landcover/land-capability-agriculture
- Soil database and maps – start at National Soils Archive and follow links to maps etc. https://www.hutton.ac.uk/about/facilities/national-soils-archive
- General information on soils and Scotland from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA). Soil (including information on protection and pollution https://www.sepa.org.uk/environment/land/soil/. Also Scotland’s Soils: for a range of information, maps and downloads https://soils.environment.gov.scot/.
Links added 9 September 2020.
- For a general introduction to soil erosion in Scotland: Soil erosion and compaction in Scottish Soils: adapting to a changing climate. 2018. Lilly A, Baggaley NJ, Loades, KW, McKenzie, BM and Troldborg, M. Published by climateXchange. https://www.climatexchange.org.uk/research/projects/soil-erosion-and-compaction-in-scottish-soils-adapting-to-a-changing-climate/
- Estimation and mapping of risk: Lilly, A. and Baggaley N.J. 2018. Soil erosion risk map of Scotland (partial cover). James Hutton Institute, Aberdeen. Available at the Scotland’s Soils web page https://soils.environment.gov.scot/maps/risk-maps/map-of-soil-erosion-risk-partial-cover/
- Report from University of Aberdeen, James Hutton Institute, University of Dundee and SRUC, giving a more detailed account, including methods of field sampling and lab testing: Hallett, P., Hall, R., Lilly, A., Baggaley, B., Crooks, B., Ball, B., Raffan, A., Braun, H., Russell, T., Aitkenhead, M., Riach, D., Rowan, J., Long, A. (2016). Effect of soil structure and field drainage on water quality and flood risk. Published by CREW Scotland’s Centre of Expertise for Waters. https://www.crew.ac.uk/sites/www.crew.ac.uk/files/sites/default/files/publication/CRW2014_03%20Final%20report_0.pdf
- A comprehensive study by Cranfield University and James Hutton Institute on estimating the economic and ecological costs of erosion, concentrating on several catchments then extending the results to the whole country (online June 2020): Rickson, R.J., Baggaley, N., Deeks, L.K., Graves, A., Hannam, J., Keay, C and Lilly, A. (2019). Developing a method to estimate the costs of soil erosion in high-risk Scottish catchments. Report to the Scottish Government. Available online from https://www.gov.scot/ISBN/978-1-83960-754-7.
- And from Europe, a useful beginning: Agri-environmental indicator – soil erosion. Eurostat https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Agri-environmental_indicator_-_soil_erosion
Agricultural inputs – fertiliser and pesticide
The government carries out regular survey of fertiliser and pesticide usage for England & Wales and Scotland. The UK is well ahead of the pack compared to most countries in its recording of farm inputs.
- Fertiliser Usage on the gov.uk web site at https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/fertiliser-usage – links available to download annual reports of Fertiliser Practice, and go to the tables at the back for details of Scotland or England & Wales separately.
- Pesticide Use Survey by Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture – arable crops surveyed every two years, grass every four years, etc. https://www.sasa.gov.uk/pesticides/pesticide-usage/pesticide-usage-survey-reports
Economics of Scottish Agriculture, import-export, use of products
Economics of land use, farm business and imports vs exports are well resourced online, but the best way to check how much of the food you eat is grown locally is to look at the labels on the products in your shopping basket. Many of the products do not state clearly where the contents were grown or reared, but typically much more than half will be imported.
- Links to farm business etc. from https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Agriculture-Fisheries
- Economic Report on Scottish Agriculture, the standard annual account – https://www2.gov.scot/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Agriculture-Fisheries/PubEconomicReport
- Origins of Food consumed in the UK – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-statistics-pocketbook-2017/food-statistics-in-your-pocket-2017-global-and-uk-supply#uk-food-production-to-supply-ratio-1988-to-2017 – with links to other sites. Also ‘pocket books’ which may be hard to interpret – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/food-statistics-pocketbook-2017/food-statistics-in-your-pocket-2017-summary
- Food and Drink in Scotland: key facts 2009 contains a mass of statistics but it is well worth looking down the list of contents to check for data on diet, health, agricultural production and many other topics https://www.webarchive.org.uk/wayback/archive/20180517143714/http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2009/06/24144522/0
- There are several other sources giving summaries at UK and EU level: but worth checking where the they get their facts from.
EU farm payments scheme – Integrated Administration and Control System
The EU keeps a record of all fields that landowners submit for farm payments. The scheme is called the Integrated Administration and Control System or IACS. Each field is referenced to a spatial location. Over several years, it is possible to build an understanding of the sequence of crops and grass grown throughout in each field the country. The maps generated from these data are now used in research. More on IACS at:
- European Commission web site for a description of IACS https://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/direct-support/iacs_en
- The James Hutton Institute’s review of Greening is given below at ‘Common Agriculture Policy Greening’.
Common agriculture policy ‘greening’
Updated 5 February 2020 with new links
The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) has been under scrutiny for some time. Its main deficiencies are that it has at various times paid land owners simply for being there, paid in proportion to the land they own and has done little to solve the many environmental problems related to modern land usage. ‘Greening’ measures which were intended to improve environmental effects of land use also gained much negative publicity. There have been several recent reviews of CAP Greening:
- European Court of Auditors special report on CAP Greening, begins with an executive summary at http://publications.europa.eu/webpub/eca/special-reports/greening-21-2017/en/ from where the report itself can be downloaded. Concludes that CAP Greening does not work.
- James Hutton Institute – major review and analysis by Hutton staff published by the Scottish Government in 2017, including trends in environmental indicators, reports in several volumes. A web page of the Land Systems Research Team provides an overview and links to the the 4 detailed reports plus summary, which can also be accessed directly via the links below under the heading Hutton CAP Greening Reports. (Original Scottish Government page no longer accessible.)
- Scottish Government’s review of greening prepared by a small working group of people from farming, conservation and research, summary paper of 6 pages at https://www.gov.scot/publications/cap-greening-group-discussion-paper/
- Geoff Squire’s own analysis of the working group’s discussions at http://curvedflatlands.co.uk/eu/cap/greening-with-decision-trees/
Hutton CAP Greening reports The five reports are still accessible as follows:
- CAP Greening Review – Part 1 – Trends in Environmental Indicators. https://www2.gov.scot/Resource/0052/00523859.pdf
- CAP Greening Review – Part 2 – Distribution of Measures. https://www2.gov.scot/Resource/0052/00523860.pdf
- CAP Greening Review – Part 3 – Maps. https://www2.gov.scot/Resource/0052/00523861.pdf
- CAP Greening Review – Part 4 – Expert Panel Review. https://www2.gov.scot/Resource/0052/00523862.pdf
- CAP Greening Review – Summary. https://www2.gov.scot/Resource/0052/00523863.pdf
Tag cloud created from CAP Greening Reports, James Hutton Institute
Even if GHG reductions in Scotland or the UK as a whole have negligible effects on the global picture, there is still benefit in reducing agricultural emissions here because at the same time they reduce the nitrogen fertiliser applied to land, some of which is wasted and pollutes other land and water.
‘Who owns land’ in Scotland is becoming a subject of increasing interest. The following major report from the Scottish Land Commission was published March 2019.
- Scale and Concentration: Investigation into the issues associated with scale and concentration of land ownership in Scotland available at https://landcommission.gov.scot/pub/scale-concentration-investigation-into-the-issues-associated-with-scale-and-concentration-land-ownership-in-scotland/ plus a summary and detailed reports.
Natural environment, nature and biodiversity
Updated 2 November 2019 with link to new SoN report.
The natural environment and biodiversity are widely recorded by several organisations. One of the best places to start and to examine trends is the State of Nature Reports produced by a definitive group of leading conservation bodies. Anyone with particular interests can follow the links within. The latest report, for 2019, charts the continued losses, including extinctions, for many (though not all) species and habitats.
- State of Nature Report 2019. The latest definitive account of change in terrestrial, aquatic and marine wildlife in the UK. Available from: National Biodiversity Network State of Nature 2019. Summaries and reports are issued for the UK as a whole, Wales, Norther Ireland, Scotland and England.
- State of Nature Report downloadable from several organisations e.g. https://www.bto.org/research-data-services/publications/state-nature/2016/state-nature-report-2016
- More on Scotland’s biodiversity at Scottish Natural Heritage https://www.nature.scot/
There is much other data about land use and its effects on the economy and environment. The list above concentrates on UK and mainly Scottish sources and is typically used by Squire and colleagues to help form opinions and give advice. Other sources commonly referred to are those from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), World Health Organisations (WHO), World Trade Organisation (WTO) and links around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). To find these search for the abbreviation (FAO, etc.) plus a topic of interest such as ‘annual crop production’.
Researchers also use a wealth of scientific reports and papers, but many of them are not available without subscription or payment for download. This non-availability of much scientific and technical research can be a major problem for the interested member of the public who wants to find out more. Matters are improving since both the Scottish Government and the EU increasingly require the results of research are available online or ‘open access’. Examples of a recent open access papers on topics of land use in Scotland can be viewed in the journals Ecosystem Health and Sustainability at https://doi.org/10.1080/20964129.2017.1368873 and Food and Energy Security at https://doi.org/10.1002/fes3.175.
G R Squire: email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
James Hutton Institute Dundee UK (Principle Scientist to 1993-2018, honorary 2019 onwards)
Online 2 July 2019 (draft with limited circulation 5 April 2019). Last update/edit: 19 July 2021.