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Integrated socio-environmental modelling of policy scenarios for Scotland

Integrated socio-environmental modelling of policy scenarios for Scotland

  • Large Scale Models
  • 2022-2027
Sustainable Development icon: responsible consumption and production
Sustainable Development icon: climate action
Sustainable Development icon: life on land


Computer modelling has an increasing role to play in helping to navigate the landscapes of complex social-environmental decision-making processes and offer decision-makers integrated, consistent guidance based on formalizations of evidence. Such computer modelling needs to be accountable and transparent, especially when the consequences of such decisions have impacts on businesses and citizens. There is also the need to integrate data and models about rural social-environmental systems to enhance the capability to answer policy-led questions quickly. Specifically, using data and models to monitor:

  • The health of Scotland’s soils in support of the production of land-derived goods, biodiversity, regulation of water and nutrient flows, and carbon sequestration.
  • Biophysical and societal pressures on arable land systems and the threats and opportunities from climate change.
  • Changes in frameworks for supporting production systems, changes in international trade agreements, and technological innovations particularly in the circular economy. 


  • Can we develop models to better understand the likely impact of leaving the EU and potential replacements of the Common Agricultural Policy?
  • What is land used for in Scotland and what is the potential in terms of progress towards climate change goals, biodiversity, and sustainable, productive use of land in Scotland?
  • How will climate change affect the use of arable land in Scotland?


This project provides integrated and transparent models, datasets and tools for analysis of rapid-response, policy-led, rural social-environmental scenarios at the whole-of-Scotland scale. Overall, we are co-constructing guidance for integrative and reproducible modelling and prototyping digital infrastructure to provide a digital environment for policy-led large-scale modelling of Scotland’s rural human-environmental system.



Digital Environment 

Co-constructing guidance for integrative and reproducible modelling and prototyping and iteratively co-developing digital infrastructure to provide a digital environment for policy-led large-scale modelling of Scotland’s rural human-environmental system based on international best practices and innovative uses of existing and novel data sources. The guidance and digital prototypes will be co-developed through three linked areas:

  • Reviewing and reflecting on previous and current projects and best practices.
  • Using IT infrastructure to build a prototype digital environment for integrative and reproducible modelling, demonstrating its value through three case studies
  • Evaluating the guidance and digital environment prototype and the modelling services it provides.


Soil Monitoring Framework  

We are evaluating and presenting options for a soil monitoring framework that considers the variety of Scottish soils and is applicable across a wide range of land uses. While sustained soil carbon stocks indicate Scottish soils are in good health, severe soil structural degradation and topsoil loss have been found during a survey of 120 fields in four Scottish catchments, and Scottish soils have been estimated to lose 920 kilotons of topsoil every year. We are iteratively developing and evaluating indicators, drawing on earlier work and using the high volume of existing soil data. This activity is directly linked to complementary work of CentrePeat project and supported by links to the Healthy Soils project which is developing a soils monitoring network.


Rural Landscape Potential for Multiple Benefits 

We are developing models and approaches that assess multiple objectives: landscape suitability and capability for food production and forestry; alleviation of diffuse water pollution; climate change mitigation; and habitat connectivity. We will refine arable crop simulation models and visualize climate change impacts. We are developing methods enabling us to suggest multiple alternative scenarios of landscape change that improve landscape use and configuration given policy objectives and climate change impacts. The approach used to assess scenarios of land use change supports and aims to improve the rapid assessment methods based on the Natural Capital Asset Index and related data sets. Spatially explicit outputs are helping inform Rural Land Use Partnerships and the development of Rural Land Use Frameworks.


Governance Scenarios

We are undertaking large-scale modelling to explore scenarios on government influence on the rural social-environmental system, and the impact this has on waste. To do this, we are measuring the kinds of government action that can be represented, the kinds of business and activities they undertake that are influenced by the government actions, the system-level outcome variables that are captured, the ability of the modelling for the Scottish Government to argue for the data collection on business and business-to-business activities relevant to waste, and the confidence in the simulation models developed in terms of their ontological and quantitative fits to existing evidence and data.


Mediated Modelling

We are developing stakeholder protocols to support interpreting policy questions to co-construct formal query specifications that can be used to configure models across this project and the visualization, interpretation, and joint exploration of the models’ outputs to ensure there is a common understanding of the policy implications.


Discover more detail 

Project Partners

James Hutton Institute


2022 / 2023
2022 / 2023

Digital Environment

In this project we will experiment with agile modes of project management; the process began with the team reflecting on the suitability of various agile processes and practices (e.g., Scrum and Kanban) through initial trials. This process has attracted interest from the academic community. The team also aims to co-construct guidance for integrative and reproducible modelling and develop digital infrastructure for large-scale modelling. In the initial stages, we have reviewed previous and current projects. We have started conversations with Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland (BioSS), with regards to the suitability of infrastructure they have been developing. The team has also adapted some of our own infrastructure to improve usability and to broaden applicability.

Soil Monitoring Framework 

In this year the team has reviewed how soil indicators are used and evaluated soil organic matter concentration and observed erosion.

Rural landscape potential for multiple benefits

The team has conducted a comprehensive review of data requirements, and their integration with models. We have adapted work we had planned on landscape zonation to respond to a request from Scottish Forestry, to report on landscape zonation for riparian woodlands. This is being used to prioritize areas for grant applications from land managers.

Governance scenarios

In this project the team will undertake large-scale modelling to explore scenarios pertaining to government influence on the rural social-environmental system, and the impact this has on waste. To this end the team has conceived and built the agent-based model, STRAVVS, which simulates a population of agents representing businesses exchanging goods.

Mediated Modelling

During this project the teams also aims to prototype, test and refine a set of mediated modelling protocols that can facilitate efficient, low-input stakeholder involvement in rapid-response, policy-led large-scale modelling. We have prototyped and tested the front-end part of this protocol and have refined it in response to the test results.

For further information on this project, please follow this link.

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