Field margins Photo: Marek NowakowskiThe human population is predicted to double to 9.4 billion by 2050. This, together with climate change, pollution and other environmental stresses, will have highly detrimental impacts on ecosystems and natural resources vital for human wellbeing and livelihoods. A key challenge is to develop knowledge-based, sustainable land management strategies to provide ample food, renewable energy and clean water whilst conserving biodiversity and enhancing beneficial ecosystem functions.

Our research

Sustainable land management science in CEH aims to understand the threats to seminatural and highly managed ecosystems, and their component resources. From this we will develop robust strategies to conserve these vital resources and increase their resilience to environmental change. In addition, we will develop practical approaches that can be applied at the field, farm and landscape to restore and enhance the beneficial ecosystem functions and services crucial for human wellbeing and livelihoods. We will achieve this through our long-term national monitoring of stocks and change in natural resources and capital, our deep understanding of ecosystem processes, and our expertise in manipulative experiments at the plot, field and landscape scales.

Delivering knowledge-based solutions to conserve and restore biodiversity, natural resources and ecosystem functions responsible for human wellbeing and livelihoods in semi-natural and intensively managed habitats.
Sustainable Land Management Science Area Summary front cover

Research activity will include:

  • understanding and quantifying the threats to semi-natural and managed ecosystems, building on Monitoring & Observing Systems and through longterm manipulative experiments.
  • developing practical land management and restoration techniques to mitigate these threats, enhance resilience to environmental change, and support beneficial ecosystem functions and services, such as water purification and GHG storage.
  • manipulating intensively managed grass and arable agro-ecosystems to protect, restore and enhance ecosystem functions that support food production, such as pollination and pest control (‘ecological intensification’).
  • developing spatial models and decision-support tools for the design of future multi-functional landscapes to optimise land use and management to conserve biodiversity and enhance ecosystem functions and services.
  • engaging with practitioners and the farming industry to develop new, innovative ‘eco-intensive’ farming systems that are practical and commercially viable.
  • supporting future land management policies across Europe to meet the challenges of sustainable intensification and multi-functional land use.

Future research objectives

Mitigating threats and enhancing beneficial ecosystem functions

By 2019, we will have:

  • improved understanding of the role of semi-natural ecosystems in the delivery of ecosystem goods and services.
  • developed and tested pro-active management and restoration strategies to increase the resilience of ecosystems to environmental threats and stressors, including eutrophication, climate change, and habitat fragmentation.
  • provided farmers and policy makers with innovative management strategies to optimise beneficial ecosystem functions and services, and enhance their application across intensively managed ecosystems.

Planning future multi-functional landscapes

By 2019, we will have:

  • developed spatial models of spill-over and scaling of beneficial ecosystem processes at the farm and landscape scale.
  • developed strategies for how landscapescale restoration can increase permeability and connectivity to support species adaptation to climate change.
  • constructed spatial decision-support tools to balance the various demands on limited land, with consideration of scenarios of future changes and their drivers, including environmental (e.g. climate change), economic (e.g. food production) and social (e.g. cultural services) factors.

‘Ecological intensification’ of food production

By 2019, we will have:

  • developed novel strategies to enhance ecosystem functions within intensively managed landscapes required for crop production (e.g. pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling), and increase the resilience of these functions to environmental change.
  • established farm-scale experimental platforms to quantify the practicality and benefits of these strategies on farm businesses and food production on commercial farms.

Understanding and quantifying threats to semi-natural and managed ecosystems

By 2019, we will have:

  • undertaken large-scale experiments to measure the impacts of pesticides on pollinator populations.
  • monitored and modelled the risk of nitrogen pollution from agricultural sources to ecosystems. 
  • mapped potential deficits and vulnerabilities of pollination and pest control services to environmental stress.

Hill LeysImproved scientific evidence base for land management policies

By 2019, we will have:

engaged with the farming industry to develop new, innovative ‘ecointensive’ farming systems that are practical and commercially viable.
supported future land management policies that meet the challenges of sustainable intensification and multifunctional land use.


Since the mid-1990s, CEH has conducted innovative, multidisciplinary research on sustainable land management commissioned by policy makers (Defra, Natural England, Welsh Government), and, increasingly, the farming and food supply industries (e.g. Syngenta UK, Jordans CerealsAGRII, Cotswold Seeds, Emorsgate Seeds). This has been delivered in long-term partnership with research institutes (Rothamsted Research), HEIs (e.g. Universities of Exeter, Reading and Bristol), NGOs (e.g. RSPB, Butterfly Conservation), and practitioners (Wildlife Farming Company).

Links with other CEH Science Areas

The Sustainable Land Management Science Area will also play a key role in supporting the delivery of objectives of other CEH Science Areas. Examples of likely important interactions are:

  • Environmental Informatics - provision of interoperable data and knowledge to the wider academic, governmental and public communities.
  • Monitoring & Observation Systems – national surveillance of the stocks and flow of habitats is vital for novel landscape planning and decision-support tools to deliver enhanced ecosystem services.
  • Ecological Processes & Resilience – fundamental knowledge of complex ecosystem processes supporting food production is critical to enhancing these functions and increasing their resilience to environmental change.
  • Natural Capital – identifying deficits and risks to natural capital will drive the development of strategies to protect and restore these resources.
  • Soil – understanding key soil processes is fundamental for the development of effective strategies for restoration and enhancement of function.
  • Biosphere-Atmosphere Interactions – mapping and modelling N pollution associated with intensive agriculture will be essential for developing and targeting effective mitigation strategies.

Contact us

For general enquiries, please see our Contacts page.

Science Area Lead

Business Development Manager

Science Coordinator

Dr Richard Pywell

Richard Pywell

Dr Joanne Chamberlain

Jo Chamberlain Photo: Heather Lowther

Dr Nick Jackson

Nick Jackson

Tel: +44 (0) 1491 838800
Tel: +44 (0) 1491 838800
Tel: +44 (0) 1491 838800

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