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The British Geological Survey (BGS) is working with the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC) as part of the Geospatial Commission’s National Land Data Programme pilot in Devon to support the design and development of a local land use framework. The framework will help to identify data improvements to support more joined-up decision making on land use.

Darren Beriro, from BGS, and Samuel Grinsted, from FFCC, tell us more about the progress of the pilot to date and provide insights into the data improvements required by local decision makers.

Using a framework to manage competing demands on land use

Devon’s diverse landscapes of national parks, coast, farming and rural communities face competing land use pressures. These include building new houses where people want to live, protecting our biodiversity and restoring nature, local food production and developing renewable energy infrastructure. The region is subject to complex governance arrangements involving multiple stakeholders including central and local government, landowners, farmers, businesses and communities.

FFCC, supported by the National Land Data Programme, is running a pilot project in Devon to test a land use framework. A land use framework is an approach to help make better decisions on land use, it can help guide local and national decision makers with a clear set of principles and practices. These practices are supported by tools, such as maps and spatial modelling, to help reconcile conflicting demands and balance different needs.

Rolling Hills in Devon

Identifying land use data challenges

Interviews were conducted with a range of stakeholders in Devon to identify data challenges they face in making effective land use decisions. Stakeholders included:

    • a green infrastructure manager looking to identify biodiversity net gain solutions;
    • a land owner looking to deliver data driven sustainable land use practices through collaborative partnerships;
    • a large estate farmer looking to optimise the benefits from diversification and enhancing woodland cover; and
    • a flood risk manager looking to model future growth and climate change scenarios to mitigate the impacts of flooding and communicate risks to the public.

Common themes from these interviews suggest that simple and intuitive online maps and visualisation tools would help decision makers to easily and quickly interpret spatial data to give confidence in their decision making. A single point of access to data sets and guidance was seen as beneficial to saving time by allowing users to find data and share information more effectively. It was also recognised that through better collaboration across agencies, decision makers could share expertise in creating, processing and analysing spatial data, which is in high demand but often difficult to find and use.

What’s next – creating a prototype decision support tool

The BGS and FFCC will work with local stakeholders to codesign a land use decision support tool that could help decision makers manage real world land use challenges they are facing, for example around carbon sequestration and offsetting. This will include a week-long design sprint in February which will inform the development of a clickable prototype decision support tool by April. Testing the tool with local decision makers will help demonstrate how land use data and modelling can improve joined-up decision making and help identify data improvement requirements, with the results compiled in a case study which will be published by June 2023.

The prototype tool will enable decision makers to evaluate the impacts of different land use change scenarios using spatial modelling to support the transition to low carbon uses of land while achieving other national priorities including housing development and nature recovery.