Why is understanding land-use important?

Given our restricted mobility during the pandemic we have all got to know our local area in more detail than ever before. The pandemic has highlighted the need for access to open and green spaces and the importance of outdoor exercise, and many will have found a new level of understanding of their local area and walking routes. Awareness of our locality and nature has increased together with an understanding of the human impact at a wider scale given climate change predictions.

Current Government legislation will have a significant impact on land across the UK for many years. The Government are encouraging development of new housing and major infrastructure projects, such as HS2 and East-West rail. Indeed, the whole planning system is under review. Similarly, the Environment Bill aims to change and improve the management of air, water, and the environment.


All these initiatives assume a knowledge and understanding of how land is used. A recent blog post from the Geospatial Commission highlighted the urgent need for better land-use data and their Annual Plan 2021-22 suggests work starting with their partners on new land-use data pilots.


So, what is land-use? The answer could seem to be straight forward, land-use refers to what land is used for. There could be many different types of land-use for example agricultural, woodland, industrial areas, suburbs and transport. It is important to differentiate between land-use and land-cover, the material at the surface of the earth. Land cover data is available, and relatively easy to capture given the availability of satellite imagery. For example, the UK Centre for Hydrology and Ecology produce land-cover mapping data with a focus on land-cover and natural habitat types and at the EU level the CORINE program has mapped land-cover and change over time. ESRI have also just released an impressive global 2020 land-cover dataset created from ESA Sentinel-2 imagery.


Understanding and mapping land-use is more challenging though. In UK, a National Land Use Database (NLUD), which is actually a specification and classification, was published in 2006. The real difficulty with land-use is that as the RSPSOC noted:


Any landscape feature may be made up of multiple and alternate land covers and land uses, the specification of which may have a political or social dimension. This has resulted in a wide range of land cover, land use and combined definitions and nomenclatures.

Photo by Merrill Smith. – U.S. Department of Energy from United States, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A good example of this challenge can be seen in the picture above. What is the land-use here, with sheep grazing in a solar farm – is it agriculture or energy and utilities? A single classification can be difficult in many circumstances, and multiple classifications risk significant complexity.


As the Geospatial Commission blog noted, an understanding of how land is used is important for many organisations. For example, if you are...


  • planning major infrastructure projects,

  • identifying areas for investment,

  • characterising areas,

  • identifying sites that meet specific criteria,

  • researching the likelihood, implications, or impact of major incidents,

  • planning roll-out of new utilities or technology

...an understanding of the characteristics of how land is used in your area of interest, is vital.

To help organisations respond to these challenges, Geomni have created UKLand, a consistent and comprehensive land-use dataset of the UK. It describes land-use in 27 classes from natural and woodland types to a range of urban uses.


The database, a sample of which is shown in the image below, was created originally from interpretation of aerial imagery, but recent updates include open data sources and information from other Geomni datasets such as UKBuildings. It is used by a wide range of organisations with an interest in land, from Government to Utilities and Consultancies.

UKLand Data

The data, available off the shelf, helps users make informed decisions and quickly identify sites and locations that meet specific criteria. It also helps characterise areas for analyses and insight.

If you would like to learn more, please contact us.

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