Using spatial data to prepare for the future of land management

In collaboration with our partners, The Land App has released two new templates – Baseline Habitat Assessment and Land Management Plan – to help you prepare for the transition to Defra’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes and for private sector funding of nature-based solutions.

Introduction

30,000 hectares of woodland to be created each year. 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat to be restored. How rural land is used and managed over the coming decades will have a major role to play in the likelihood of achieving these objectives, the UK’s net zero targets and the ambitions of the 25 Year Environment Plan. As the joint publication from the Broadway Initiative, Green Finance Institute and Finance Earth recently made clear, there is no shortage of funding to support this ‘green recovery’: “Investor demand for nature-based projects is growing exponentially.”

Regardless of whether it comes from government schemes or private sector finance, any landowner wishing to benefit from nature-based funding will have to provide assurance of  environmental ‘uplift’ over a period of time and evidence that it has been achieved. This demands a confident understanding of the starting position or baseline – and a clear vision for the desired future state of the land, articulated in a land management plan

The baseline and land management plan work together to provide clarity for everyone involved. For land managers, they provide clarity about the current state of the land you have, its potential, and what you will be expected to deliver in order to secure payment. For funders, they provide clarity about which interventions to support, where the most suitable land is, and evidence that required outcomes can and will be achieved. Moreover, when the baselines and land management plans of individual holdings are consolidated across a wider landscape group, the potential to deliver effective local nature recovery strategies based on sound ecological principles is enormous.

Spatial data is critical to underpin any baseline assessment or land management plan. Spatial data makes it quick and easy for land managers and their advisors to create accurate, well-informed plans about future land use. Spatial data also underpins the coordinated approach necessary for meaningful landscape interventions by providing a visual context for the location of opportunities and constraints that can be taken into account for each holding in their future plans.

Given the importance of establishing an accurate baseline and designing a well-informed plan, both of which need to be underpinned by spatial data, we have just released two new project templates to help with this process: a Baseline Habitat Assessment (BHA) and Land Management Plan (LMP).

Our Partners

We are delighted to have partnered with several industry-leading organisations in order to have delivered our new templates.

  • UKHab Ltd: the creators of the UK Habitat Classification – a unified approach to assess land use, habitat types and habitat conditions throughout the UK
  • FWAG South West: providers of expert agricultural and environmental advice, who have standardised the data collection process through their Defra-funded ELMs trial
  • Ordnance Survey: providers of high-quality spatial data and technological support
  • Land Workers Alliance: expert advisors who have led the testing of spatial land management plans for horticultural holdings through their Defra-funded ELMs trial

As well as the new BHA and LMP templates released in The Land App, one of the main outputs from our partners’ work has also been a standardised data collection process using the UK Habitat Classification. For more information about this, you can read the full report here: FWAG SW Phase 2 ELM Report.

UK Habitat Classification

The language that underpins our new BHA and LMP templates is the UK Habitat Classification. The UK Habitat Classification is a hierarchical classification that describes all land use, habitat types and habitat conditions throughout the United Kingdom in a unified system. It allows for the recording of physical habitat types according to their vegetation make-up and their topography (e.g. upland oak woodland, developed land, or cereal crops), as well as the recording of important information about each habitat, such as management strategies (e.g. zero tillage or sheep grazed) and habitat origin (e.g. self-seeded woodland). The UK Habitat Classification underpins Natural England’s new Biodiversity Metric 3.0 metric, which aims to embed the principle of biodiversity net gain within the planning process in England.

New Templates

Following on from the work we have done with our partners, we are delighted to release two new map-based templates that are designed to support the land management sector during this transitional period: a Baseline Habitat Assessment (BHA) and Land Management Plan (LMP). 

The importance of establishing a baseline, alongside a forward-looking land management plan, has already been highlighted within Defra’s approach to the Sustainable Farming Incentive tier of its new ELM scheme, stating:

Land management plans are intended to be a major feature of the future schemes. They will allow farmers to map and record the starting (baseline) condition of their land and plan their future land management activities. They are intended to be a flexible tool owned by farmers – something they can adjust and update to meet their individual needs and circumstances.”

For each land holding, the difference in ‘uplift’ between the baseline and the land management plan – as it is delivered over time – will help to form the basis for funding going forward. This clear and (increasingly) quantifiable approach to the management of nature and the environment will also help to facilitate benchmarking between respective holdings within a similar catchment, as well as aggregated performance by groups and clusters against landscape priorities and local nature recovery strategies.

Baseline Habitat Assessment (BHA)

Our BHA template helps you create a spatial record of the current land use, management strategy and condition scores of all land and assets across an entire holding. This was previously known as the “UK Habitat” template within The Land App. The BHA template allows you to record all land under management, not only crop rotations and farm infrastructure but also stewardship options and priority habitats. The BHA template comprises polygon features for areas such as fields and woodland, as well as linear features for items such as hedgerows and fences, and point features for items such as veteran trees and leaky woody dams.

To quickly and easily generate a baseline in The Land App, you can do this in one-click by simply duplicating an existing Basic Payment Scheme project to a new Baseline Habitat Assessment project. You can think of this BHA as your initial starting point which gives you a quick and accurate understanding of what you have today. To enhance the quality and depth of this baseline, you can then use our collaboration function to share your map with an advisor who can support your work with on-the-ground surveys and, ultimately, help you get your baseline ready to be used for funding purposes.

Types of baseline translation

  • Free translation from Basic Payment Scheme data; if you have previously used The Land App to create your BPS project, then all you need to do is click ‘Duplicate’ within the three vertical dots next to your BPS project and choose the Baseline Habitat Assessment for your new project. 
    • Ideal for small farms or those wanting a quick baseline to begin discussions with advisors about options
  • Premium translation from OS MasterMap data: For customers who have purchased OS MasterMap data with an annual license, The Land App can offer a bespoke translation that provides greater detail and resolution in your final baseline output. Please get in touch with support@thelandapp.com for more information. 
    • Ideal for landed estates or those with more complex holdings

“The UK Habitat Classification offers a unique opportunity for your land to be assessed in a common language for habitat type and land management. Working together with groups of farmers across landscapes and catchments will enable co-investment from catchment and local nature partnerships, enabling blended finance models to be developed to build community resilience to climate change.’

Jenny Phelps MBE, FWAG South West

Land Management Plan (LMP)

“The recent addition of the Land Management Plan template is going to be a vital tool to build on the Baseline we have already created; we now know what we have on the ground and the LMP will allow us to visualise different scenarios for future land uses. This is an excellent addition to The Land App”

Nick McDonald, Estate Land Manager, Cowdray Estate

Our LMP template helps you create an intuitive, spatial illustration of your desired future land use and planned management interventions in a common language that is shared by other land managers, advisors and potential funders. The LMP can be overlaid on top of the BHA, helping you to visually see what you plan to deliver and where. For example, if you are looking to plant a woodland block within a low-yielding arable field, you can visually see this change in use between your BHA and LMP.

Initially, the LMP template can be used as a scenario planning tool with your advisors, to help you compare different scenarios and appraise competing options. Then when you’re ready, you can use your final LMP to express interest in a particular scheme or opportunity you wish to pursue. They can also be shared with an ecologist who can deliver an Environmental Impact Assessment. 

“By digitally mapping public good actions within a Land Management Plan, it is possible to see the density of delivery of environmental benefits, regardless of the scale of operation.  This is particularly valuable for small farms, as it highlights the value, in terms of public goods delivery of diverse, agroecological food production on landholdings which have not historically been recognised by agri-environment schemes.” 

Rebecca Laughton, Land Workers Alliance

Derived insight for future planning

By using our new templates that are underpinned by spatial data and the UK Habitat Classification, The Land App can also help you derive further insight into the current state of your land, as well as its future potential. This includes: biodiversity units, land sharing versus land sparing, carbon stocks, flood water holding capacity and ecological connectivity. To give one example, FWAG South West is working with scientists at Rothamsted Research to explore how spatial data mapped in the UK Habitat Classification can be used to assess ecosystem function.

Keep an eye out for our upcoming product announcements over the coming months to see how you can use our new templates to derive additional insights from your data – helping you to make more informed decisions about your options.

Learn more from our Help Centre

If you would like to learn more about our new templates, please visit our Help Centre: https://help.thelandapp.com/en/. In particular, we recommend reading the following articles:

Acknowledgements

The Land App is grateful to the many organisations who have contributed to the co-design and development of the new BHA and LMP templates. Much of this work has been developed from Defra funded trials and tests for the new ELM schemes, as well as wider work, of which these templates are a direct output. We appreciate any feedback or ideas you may have as you use these templates and look forward to continuing to improve these going forward as further clarity emerges in relation to both government and private sector schemes.

To learn more about the work that each of our partner organisations has done towards the ELM trials and beyond, please visit the websites below: 

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