Sources of Information

Sources of information

On agricultural census, land use, soils, imports/exports, CAP, greenhouse gas emissions, state of nature

Geoff Squire, James Hutton Institute

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: 9 September 2020 – links to Soil erosion in Scotland, in the Land Use and Soils section below.

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/

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:

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:

Soil erosion

Links added 9 September 2020.

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.

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. 

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:

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:

Hutton CAP Greening reports The five reports are still accessible as follows:

Tag cloud created from CAP Greening Reports, James Hutton Institute

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. 

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. 

Climate and weather

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.

Land Ownership 

‘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.

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. 

Final note

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 geoff.squire@hutton.ac.uk

James Hutton Institute Dundee UK (Principle Scientist to 2018, honorary 2019 onwards)

Online 2 July 2019 (draft with limited circulation 5 April 2019). Last update/edit: 5 February 2020.