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Land capability

Photograph of highly productive Class 2 land in the Howe of the Mearns
The Institute has a long and successful record in capability assessment and mapping.

Soil is a fundamental part of land and is key in determining what activities can be undertaken and supported on different types of land; how capable is land is sustaining different farming systems, different woodland types, valued habitats, as a sink for carbon.

Photograph showing deep productive Class 2 land in Easter RossThe Institute has a long and successful record in capability assessment and mapping. The Land Capability for Agriculture classification – a system that classifies land into seven classes based on the degree of limitation imposed by biophysical constraints including soil - was developed in the late 1970s and is as relevant now as it has ever been. It is now being used in both a research capacity in the assessment of climate change impacts on agriculture and in policy development as agricultural subsidy moves towards area-based payments. For more information see the Land Capability for Agriculture leaflet.

Photograph showing Blanket bog; capable of sustaining only poor rough grazing (Class 6.3w) but priceless in terms of water and carbon storage and biodiversity We have also produced similar products such as for forestry, native woodlands and waste recycling, all of which relies on soil as a principle component of the method. Soils also provide a buffer against pollutant transfer to water and air and a number of derived products have been produced. For more information see the Indicators of Sustainability page

This experience has placed the Institute in a strong position when so much environmental/sustainability research is being badged under Ecosystem Services; many of these products about land’s capacity to deliver certain products are in essence those services. This work is being taken forward in a number of our Themes, notably Realising Land’s Potential, where increasingly we will be looking at conflicts and complementarities between different Services provided by our soils.


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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.