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International Land Use Study Centre

Image from the “DigiForest” project, funded by the Macaulay Development Trust.The International Land Use Study Centre (ILUSC) is an initiative supported by the Macaulay Development Trust aiming to promote scientific and impact excellence, at a time when the importance of land and natural resource for societal wellbeing is increasingly being recognised. The importance and complexities of rural land are well recognised. The OECD describes rural areas as ‘vital to the prosperity and well-being of all people’, constituting 80% of the territories of its 37 member states, and home to 30% of their population. Rural areas provide almost all the raw materials of food, freshwater, energy, timber, and minerals for society, and major resources that contribute to the environmental and cultural heritage of its communities. ILUSC will integrate and build on Hutton’s internationally recognised land and natural resource science to showcase and take this research forward, establishing a cutting-edge experiential research methods laboratory for public and academic use.

The James Hutton Institute has a vision for inclusive, open science that engages the public, stakeholder groups and scientists with a wide range of expertise in tackling the urgent problems of our time: climate change, food and water security, biodiversity preservation and One Health. Open Science requires that research processes, data and outputs are transparent and accessible and, in turn, ensures that knowledge creation and dissemination are more inclusive and efficient.

Why Open Science?

How we think about, do and communicate science needs to change. New digital technologies are transforming the way societies and researchers operate. New digital technologies are transforming the way societies operate, the growth in Artificial Intelligence and use of Big Data are giving rise to a new data-driven economic activities and a requirement for new skills.  At the same time, a single, viral image of the ‘plastic ocean’ – the millions of plastic containers polluting ocean life – can mobilise environmental behaviour and transform the impact of scientific research to a degree unthought of just a decade ago. Scientific approaches need to better understand and integrate these mediums and ways of knowing to enable society to address pressing health, security and environmental issues.

COVID-19 has demonstrated both the importance of excellent science, and the challenge of engaging the general public in making informed decisions about how they will live. It has highlighted the inequalities inherent in our society, and their impact on human health, well-being and vulnerability. COVID-19 is also accelerating the process of ‘virtualising’ our daily activities, creating new opportunities for both integration and exclusion. Post-COVID science will need to be visceral, relatable and digitally enabled, if it is to be effective in achieving transformational change.

Vision for ILUSC

The long-term vision for ILUSC is:

to develop a linked physical and online space for pursuing excellence in land use science, which gives voice to, and enables a wide range of stakeholder groups – locally, nationally and internationally – to address pressing health, food security and environmental issues.

The James Hutton Institute and the institutions which preceded it have a long-standing history of undertaking high impact land-related research. The ILUSC flagship initiative aims to consolidate that legacy and progress the broader Hutton science strategy, focusing particularly on enabling the Hutton’s open science research agenda. Contemporary land issues are messy, requiring integration across disciplines, active enrolment of a broad range of stakeholder groups and collaboration across geographical scales. Hutton’s strong connections to policymakers and stakeholder groups at Scottish level offer an important opportunity to influence change in how land is understood, accessed and used. Hutton’s strong national and international networks offer an important platform for leveraging our expertise, but there is more to be done to increase the visibility and influence of Hutton research, and to position Hutton as the leading organisation in open, land-based science.

The approach for ILUSC has three pillars:

  • Income generation
  • Methodological excellence
  • Scientific, stakeholder and community engagement

These will be underpinned by three new initiatives:

  • Online research methods lab
  • Open datasets, repository and tools
  • Land research training centre

Rationale: Establishing Hutton as a world leader in open, land-based science is grounded in developing and evidencing cutting edge methods for open science. This requires actively developing, testing and critiquing innovative and existing research methodologies and enabling others to engage in these processes and utilise resultant tools.  Publishing and reporting on our methodological development in a variety of media provides an important marker and resources for a range of communities. Offering training to these communities confirms our expertise and locates us as experts and leaders in the land-use field, supporting the development of a network. Achieving this ambition requires funding – from existing and novel sources – to support these activities on an ongoing basis. This rationale is pictured in Figure 1:

A key challenge and opportunity faced by ILUSC is the broad range of land-based science already being undertaken at the Institute. The three initiatives – methods lab, open data sets and training centre – are novel activities that serve to focus effort and demonstrate clear achievements of ILUSC in its initial years. Even so, identifying strategic topics on which to focus in the initial years is of major importance. The Macaulay Development Trust is supporting a strategic priority setting process involving Hutton staff and external experts. The aim of this process is to undertake horizon scanning and iterative assessment of existing Hutton strengths and competencies to identify the strategic topical priorities for the next five years.

Priority Research Topics

In November 2021, some 18 Hutton scientific staff and 20 external specialists gathered on-line to identify strategic research priorities for ILUSC to pursue over the next 5 to 10 years.  This workshop was funded by the Macaulay Development Trust and facilitated by Dialogue Matters.

Participants were invited to:

  • Envision ILUSC impacts by 2031
  • Identify the external trends and changes - post Covid - which we need to factor into our thinking
  • Describe international land use issues and opportunities, both at present and those coming ‘over the horizon’
  • Assess which of these issues and opportunities the James Hutton Institute is best placed to address

The workshop yielded a set of high-level research priorities:

  • Enabling transformational change in land use
  • Evaluating and supporting green finance initiatives with independent science
  • Identifying the right scale and place for land-based intervention measures
  • Supporting environmental and social justice in land relations
  • Developing practical measures to support wetland and peatland restoration
  • Bridging the science – policy - stakeholder interface with integrated data and translational research

A summary report of this process is available here.  For the full notes of the workshop see the report by Dialogue Matters.

For more information on the project, please contact Lee-Ann Sutherland, ILUSC Director.


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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.