Information and Advisory Note Number 38 Back to menu
1.1 National Countryside Monitoring Scheme (NCMS) results have been published for
Scottish land cover in the 1940s and in the 1970s. These are extrapolated from a
stratified random sample which covers 7 5% of the land area of Scotland. Land
cover information relating to 31 area and five linear features was derived from
aerial photographs and mapped at 1*10,000 scale. The maps were digitised and
entered into a Geographic Information System (GIS) in which the data were
processed and classified. Statistical programs calculated estimates of areas and
lengths, together with change within and interchange between feature types.
Accompanying all results are confidence intervals which indicate the precision
of estimates The project was designed to identify changes of 10% or more in
spatial or linear extent with 95% confidence.
1 2 Summary results for Scotland are shown in Table 1.
2.1 In the 1940s, grassland represented the largest land cover group in Scotland
Unimproved grassland was twice as extensive as the combined areas of
semi-improved and improved grassland. There was little net change in the overall
area although grassland improvement within the group resulted in a
10% shift from unimproved to semi-improved or improved grassland.
2.2 Mire (peat forming vegetation cover) was the second largest group in terms of extent. The two main categories recorded by the NCMS are blanket mire (both grass and heather dominated types) and the much more restricted lowland raised mire. All mire types experienced a reduction in area over the study period. Heather-dominated blanket mire was reduced by 9%, grass-dominated by 7% and lowland raised mire by 23%. Overall the group was reduced in extent by 8%.
2 3 Heather moorland was the most extensive NCMS feature type in 1940s Scotland, extending across 20% of the country By the 1970s it had contracted to 16%.
2.4 There was little overall net change in the arable area
2.5 The woodland and scrub group includes semi-natural and created features Reductions in semi-natural woodland contrasts with an expansion in commercial forestry. Broad-leaved woodland was reduced by 14% and coniferous woodland by*51%. Conversely, mature conifer plantation increased by 226% and young plantation by 525%.
In the water group there was a 4% reduction in ponds and lochs and a 55% increase in reservoirs These changes are
accounted for by increases in hydroelectric development, especially in the
2.6 Built land increased by 42% and transport corridor (roads and railways) by 5%.
2.7 Among the remaining features, quarries increased by 63%, bare ground by 24% and -, recreational land by 107%.
2.8 Among the linear features there was a 37% reduction in the length of hedgerow and a 9% reduction in the length of lines of trees The length of drainage ditches increased by 26% and tracks by 25% Stream length remained unchanged.
2 9 Table 2 summarises figures for gains and losses in feature types.
3.1 The dynamics of change become more apparent when the interchange of gains and
losses between features is viewed (Figure 1).
3.2 Arable and grass rotation as part of the agricultural cycle results in a large interchange between improved grassland and arable, with little net change.
3.3 Within the grassland group there was a considerable amount of interchange between improved, semi-improved and unimproved grassland types, with an overall tendency towards grassland improvement.
3 4 There was interchange between heather moorland and unimproved grassland resulting in a net reduction in heather moorland. This may be associated with changes of land management such as 'muirburn', (heather management by burning) or changes in the intensity of hill grazing.
3.5 Conversion of blanket mire to young plantation, heather moorland and unimproved grassland occurred. This was the result of increasing areas of upland Scotland being planted or drained in preparation for the planting of commercial conifers over the study period.
3.6 The overriding change during the study period was the amount of unimproved grassland, blanket mire and heather moorland which became afforested The overall extent of heaths and moorland declined by 12%. Afforestation accounted for 62% of this, and
conversion to semi-improved grassland associated with drainage, accounted for a further 14%.
4.1 NCMS results are produced on a regional basis where regions refer to each of
twelve Scottish administrative regions (as presented on the Ordnance Survey
Local Government Areas map of 1984).
4.2 Regions which are characterised by a high semi-natural land cover and a low level of change include Shetland and the Western Isles and to a lesser extent Highland which have open landscapes of moorland and mire.
4 3 Regions with moderately high semi-natural land cover but with-higher levels of change towards artificially created features include Borders, Central, Dumfries & Galloway, Grampian, Strathclyde and Tayside regions. These areas are characterised by increasing forestry and an intensification of lowland agriculture typified by grassland improvement.
4 4 Regions which have low semi-natural cover and relatively low levels of change include the agricultural lowland regions of Fife, Orkney and Lothian
5.1 Results indicate that the balance between semi-natural and created features of the Scottish countryside shifted towards a reduction of the former towards the latter In the 1940s 57,341 sq km (74%) of Scotland could be classified as 'semi-natural'. By the 1970s the semi-natural land area had decreased to 51,863 sq km (66%).
Mackey, E C. and Tudor, G J (in press) Land cover changes in Scotland over the
past 50 years , in Vegetation Mapping' from Patch to Planet, (ed R -Alexander),
John Wiley & Sons.
NCMS reports describing 1940s-1970s results for the following Regions can be obtained from SNH Publications Section:
Grampian, Borders, Lothian, Dumfries & Galloway, Northern Isles, Central, Fife, Tayside, Highland, Strathclyde and the Western Isles.
Tudor, G.J., Mackey, E.C. and Underwood, F.M (1994). The National Countryside Monitoring Scheme, the changing face of Scotland 1940s to 1970s. Main Report. Scottish Natural Heritage, Perth.
Tudor, G.J. and Mackey, E.C. (1995) Upland land cover change in post-war Scotland. In Heaths and Moorland: Cultural Landscapes, (Eds D.B.A. Thompson, A J Hester & M.B. Usher) HMSO, Edinburgh
Dr Gavin Tudor, National Countryside Monitoring Scheme - Project Manager
Environmental Audit Branch
Research and Advisory Services Directorate
Scottish Natural Heritage
2 Anderson Place
Tel 0131-447 4784
Back to menu