Information and Advisory Note Number 123 Back to menu
1.1 Looking across the latter-half of the twentieth century, from the late 1940s to the late 1980s, considerable changes have taken place within Scotland's urban and rural environments. Urban expansion, road development and afforestation have been among the more striking. Changes in the structure of farmland, or in the extent and condition of moorland, may have been less obvious. Yet they have been no less relevant to the visual appearance of the countryside, to its wildlife, and to the quality of experience for outdoor recreation and enjoyment.
2.1 Long established and semi-natural features were reduced in overall extent by
17% from c. 1947 to c. 1988. Other key changes were as follows.
• Built land increased by an estimated 46%, mainly on smooth grassland (improved pasture) and arable farmland.
• Land managed for formal recreation (such as playing fields and golf courses) increased by around 138%, mainly on grassland and arable land.
• The area of transport corridor (roads and railways) increased by about 22%, mainly on mire, arable, smooth grassland and heather moorland.
• Arable land expanded by 11 %, and became more dominant in the east.
• The increase in arable was mainly at the expense of smooth grassland.
• Hedgerow length was reduced by half, from over 40,000 km in the 1940s to under 20,000 km in the 1980s.
• Rough grassland decreased by 10%, mainly to afforestation and grassland improvement.
• Intermediate grassland increased by 15%, mainly from rough grassland, heather moorland and drained mire.
• Smooth grassland decreased by 11 %, mainly to arable or urban development.
Forest and woodland
• Forest and woodland expanded by nearly 200%.
• Former woodland was replaced by conifer plantation: broadleaved woodland decreased by 23%; mixed woodland by 37%; and coniferous woodland by 47%.
• Young conifer plantation increased nine-fold and mature plantation increased more than four-fold, mainly on heather moorland, rough grassland and blanket mire.
• The length of ditches, often associated with mire drainage for tree planting, doubled.
• Heather moorland was reduced by 23%, to afforestation and through conversion to rough grassland.
• Blanket mire decreased by around 21%, and lowland mire by 44%, mainly due to afforestation and drainage.
• The length of un-surfaced tracks (mainly in the uplands) increased by around 29%.
Habitat Trends (ordered by magnitude of change)
2.2 There is recent evidence, although often not statistically significant, that some trends continued into the 1990s. For example, between c.1990 and c.1998, the built-up area expanded by 2%. The mainly upland broad habitats of acid grassland and heath both declined by around 5%, with continued evidence of grassland improvement in the uplands. Some trends were arrested. Blanket bog was no longer reduced in the uplands, although it did decline by 9% in the lowlands. While the arable area continued to expand, by 7% overall, hedgerow removal that had in the past been associated with intensification and specialisation in lowland farming appeared to have been halted. Where change took place it was mainly in hedge structure, as managed or remnant hedge became more shrubby with trees. Some trends were reversed, the most notable being an expansion of broadleaved woodland by 9%, which took place in the lowlands as well as in the uplands (Haines-Young et al., 2000).
Air photography from c.1947, c.1973 and c.1988 was interpreted to quantify the magnitude, rate and geographical variation of land cover change (Mackey, E.C., Shewry, M.C. and Tudor, G.J. (1998). Land Cover Change: Scotland from the 1940s to the 1980s. Edinburgh: The Stationery Office). A stratified random sample, representing 7.5% of Scotland's land area, was designed to detect changes of 10%-or-more in extensive land cover features, with 95% confidence.
Haines-Young, R.H., Barr, C.J., Black, H.I.J, Briggs, D.J., Bunce, R.G.H.,
Clarke, R.T., Cooper, A., Dawson, F.H., Firbank, L.G., Fuller, R.M., Furse, M.T.,
Gillespie, M.K., Hill, R., Hornung, M., Howard, D.C., McCann, T., Morecroft, M.D.,
Petit, S., Sier, A.R.J., Smart, S.M., Smith, G.M., Stott, A.P., Stuart, R.C. and
Watkins, J.W. (2000). Accounting for Nature: Assessing Habitats in the UK
Countryside. London: Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions.
Macaulay Land Use Research Institute
(1993). The Land Cover of Scotland 1998: Final Report. Aberdeen: MLURI.
Mackey, E.C., Shewry, M.C. and Tudor, G.J. (1998). Land Cover Change: Scotland from the 1940s to the 1980s. Edinburgh: The Stationery Office.
Further detailed information on Natural Heritage Trends: Land Cover 1947-1988
can be found in the following l&A Notes.
To obtain further information about any of the issues raised in this l&A Note,
Mr Ed Mackey and Mr Mike Shewry
Environmental Audit Group
Chief Scientist's Unit
Scottish Natural Heritage
2 Anderson Place
Edinburgh EH6 5NP
Tel: 0131-446 2415
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