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TRANSGRASS: A transdisciplinary platform and toolkit for understanding and managing grasslands as socio-ecological systems

TRANSGRASS: A transdisciplinary platform and toolkit for understanding and manag

TRANSGRASS innovatively combined collaborative video, interactive Touchtable technology, and ecological surveys with a series of workshops to develop a transdisciplinary platform for the integration of contested forms of knowledge and for the co-generation of shared solutions to the changing management and condition of upland grasslands and common grazings.

This project ran from May 2014 to November 2016 and was supported by the Scottish Government RESAS through its Underpinning Capacity funding.

Grazing on the Edge documentary

The project culminated in a thought provoking documentary “Grazing on the Edge” that examines the acute challenges and competing demands of land management in upland grazing areas, and crofting common grazings in particular.  The film was made collaboratively between researchers, crofters and the young farmers club on Skye (and some of their animals) and it illustrates what is under threat if the 6% of Scotland that is common grazings is not managed more strategically.  Key stakeholders reveal first hand accounts of the issues, such as threats to biodiversity, the complexities of getting agri-environment support for designated and mosaic sites, the challenges of collective action, and biosecurity, in the context of declining agricultural incomes and the changing outlook of younger people in rural communities.

The trailer and the documentary is available to watch either on Vimeo or YouTube - links are provided below:

Policy Actions Videos: SEFARI Project

Watch the policy messages videos and the film trailer on our Transgrass Youtube channel.

Transgrass: Project Background

Current trends in the use of upland grasslands and common grazings, affected by changes in the financial support for hill-farming, are marked by a retreat from the hill ground and problematic grazing pressure in terms of type, degree and spatial distribution, for example under/over-grazing, destocking or hefting breakdown. This has implications for the natural heritage and creates challenges to the simultaneous delivery of key ecosystem services, not least in relation to wild species diversity, provisioning and cultural services.

Future policy to enhance both socio-economic and ecological functions of grasslands requires a more integrated understanding of the conceptions, values and motivations around the human-animal-vegetation interlinkages of grasslands and common grazings.

Project Objectives and Methods

TRANSGRASS aimed to develop a transdisciplinary platform for enhancing understanding of managing upland grasslands and grazings as socio-ecological systems. The project used cutting-edge methods, combining visual, interactive, collaborative and ecological survey techniques, to integrate contested forms of knowledge and identify common ground and contention between different management interests.By combining a collaborative and innovative approach and linking practitioners from land management and policy, and ecological and social scientists, the project enabled co-generating shared understandings of challenges and solutions to the delivery of multiple ecosystem services.

Our case study site on the Trotternish ridge (Isle of Skye) was chosen to illustrate the complexities in managing sites for competing demands on the delivery of ecosystem services. The ridge is recognized for its geological and biodiversity importance, boasting unique mosaics of upland grasslands and rare plants. Traditionally, the land has been managed in a network of common grazings by crofting communities through sheep and cattle grazing. The natural and cultural heritage and conservation value of the ridge is acknowledged through its designation as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). As such the site provided an opportunity to explore the challenges of land management for community, conservation, agriculture or tourism benefits in the light of the changing policy environment (e.g. agri-environment schemes).

Our novel methodological approach lied in combining cutting-edge visual and mobile methods, including video ethnography, collaborative video, walk-along video and interactive Touchtable technology, with ecological surveys and a series of workshops to build an understanding of the material and spatial context of upland grasslands and common grazings. The final workshop introduced videos and Touchtable as elicitation tools for group discussions. The videos were shot on the Isle of Skye by researchers, crofters and policy representative to illustrate the complexity of approaches to managing grasslands and grazings as socio-ecological systems, and were used to make the documentary “Grazing on the Edge”. We also developed an interactive map-based app for the Touchtable that featured results from ecological surveys and photos of the vegetation to explore areas of different management pressures.

We focused on common grazings with grazing tenants but the approach can be applied to other agricultural and ecological contexts, with relevance to complex mosaic habitats and extensive grasslands in the UK and beyond.

Staff Involved

Key Contact

Katrina Brown

Project Information
Project Type: 
Archived Project


Areas of Interest

Printed from /research/projects/TRANSGRASS on 19/04/24 08:58:43 AM

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.