East Anglian counties fare worst for huge farmland losses, satellite research shows

PUBLISHED: 04:00 19 July 2020

The Suffolk coast from above  Picture: KARL THACKERAY/UK PARACHUTING BECCLES

The Suffolk coast from above Picture: KARL THACKERAY/UK PARACHUTING BECCLES


Creeping urbanisation has led to the loss of vast swathes of farmland – with East Anglia faring worst, a study suggests.

An aerial view of Thurne near Great Yarmouth  Picture: JON WILLIAMSONAn aerial view of Thurne near Great Yarmouth Picture: JON WILLIAMSON

Between 1990 and 2015, almost 2m acres of British grassland has been lost – either to urban spread or to woodland, analysis shows.

Norfolk (-215km sq) Essex (-143km sq) Cambridgeshire (-130km sq) and Suffolk (-119) top the list of counties to lose arable land over that period.

The UK Centre of Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) looked at high-resolution satellite images to calculate overall net gains and losses in land cover over the 25 year period.

Their research showed a net reduction in all types of grassland including farm use and recreational areas of just under 8,000km sq or 1.9 million acres – greater than the size of Suffolk and Sussex combined.

A total of 2,500km sq of grassland and more than 1,000km sq of arable farmland were converted to urban use.

But the areas of woodland also rose significantly by more than 5,000km sq, mainly in Scotland.

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There was a net loss of arable land in Scotland, while in England, East Anglia lost “significant” amounts of arable land – while other parts of the country saw increases.

Dr Clare Rowland of UKCEH, who led the study, said the data they had collected could be vital when planning for the next 25 years.

“Thanks to sophisticated data analysis of high-quality satellite images, we have been able to produce the most reliable picture to date of the changes across the British landscape in recent years,” she said.

The data showed the scale of grassland loss in Great Britain not only to make way for urban development but also woodland expansion, she said.

“Overall, our data reveal a mixed picture, with significant differences in trends in changing land use between nations and counties.”

Professor Bridget Emmett, head of soils and land use at UKCEH, said a growing population and increasing demand for housing, food and fuel had to be balanced with protecting wildlife and ecosystems with vital benefits for humans.

“Knowing what we have on our land surface and where is crucial when it comes to planning developments and environmental improvements in the future, and our maps are therefore essential tools for government agencies, water companies, land managers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and researchers.”

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