Ecological and economic considerations in land use planning
Mathur, R. S.
The object of the present study is to demonstrate the co-ordinate roles of ecological and economic considerations in. land-use planning by means of classification of land capability. Most of the past studies in this field suffer in varying degrees from a lack of appreciation of the integrated approach to the problem; being either purely ecological investigations ignoring economic significance of land utilization or the other way round. The present study is an. attempt to point out this anomaly and illustrate a practical integrated method of classification by its application to a sample area. The purpose of land-use planning is to promote the optimum management of the available land resources; such a system of management should be suited not only to the economic and social needs of the community or owners of the land, but also to the inherent nature of the land. The basic ecological tasks are to assess the productive capacity of land and to safeguard against any depletion of soil fertility. The social and economic problems are to choose between the various ecological possibilities in order to obtain the maximum profit and well being of the community. The patterns of land-use in the different parts of the world have been evolved gradually during the course of civilisation. It is paradoxical that this gradual shaping of land-use patterns has, not led, in the majority of cases, either to the most appropriate of the land-uses for the site or to the most profitable one for the people themselves. The choice of a land-use is almost everywhere more due to conformity with traditional practices than to considerations of land capability. In the past few decades, however, the need has been felt for rational land-use policies', based on thorough scientific studies. During the post-war period, these investigations have received much attention. The chief reasons for the increased research activity in this field are connected with the increase of human population and pressure on land resources for: (i) greater food production, (ii) urban and industrial expansion, communication and recreation, (iii) larger quantities of raw material for industries; and (iv)coupled with the above development is the greater awareness of the need for conservation of resources for prosperity, rather than their exploitation during a limited period, which includes preservation of wild life. There has been a greater understanding and wider application of ecological methods and principles of economics to these problems in recent years than in the past. There is a wide range of factors: influencing land-use, which can be grouped under five main heads --- ecological, economic social, technological and historical. Ecological or environmental factors constitute the biggest group and comprise climate, geomorphological and biological factors. It is generally accepted that under natural conditions, the sum total of all the ecological factors, or the ecosystem, is in a dynamic equilibrium and a slight displacement in one factor may cause the movement of the state of equilibrium to a new stable position. The various factors are interdependent and cannot act separately. The use to which man may put his land is severely limited by the combined influence of the total environment. On purely ecological considerations, uses that lead to site deterioration by adversely upsetting the balance are unacceptable. Economic or financial factors include the economics of production and management of land under existing conditions of demand, wages and costs, in relation with possible future changes. On purely economic grounds the best use is the one that results in maximisation of sustained profits from a piece of land. Social factors depend on the social needs of the community concerned, or of the nation as a whole. Social. factors, which include institutional and legal factors, tend to be more biased than ecological and economic factors but sometimes may override all others. Under technological factors are included the system and intensity of management and use of different techniques and equipment to improve the site or its utilisation. In the absence of any ameliorative process, many sites have a very limited range of uses. With increasing use of fertilisers and mechanised farming, the productive capacity of agricultural land can be improved considerably. Historical factors are concerned with the interactions of all the other factors over a period of time. These factors represent the trends which land-use has followed with changes in social conditions and scientific progress. The pattern of land-use at a particular time exerts a considerable influence on development. It is difficult to establish the superiority of any of' the, above factors over the others. All are connected and none can be disregarded completely. The relative importance of any factor in a particular study depends on the purpose of that study. Ecological and economic factors are capable of quantification, or at least some values may be assigned to them. On the other hand, the rest of the factors are only quantitative and impossible to measure in numerical terms. The classification. of land into distinct units is a basic requirement of any land-use planning programme. Land has been classified in various ways· in the past. Geographers have classified land according to the present land-use. Plant geographers. have mapped the distribution of plant communities; and individual species. Soil surveyors distinguish areas according to such features as the colour, depth and texture of the soil. Some ecologists have tried to distinguish different areas according to the whole ecological (environmental) complex. These methods of approach are related to visible features of land and its use. The economist's approach is of a different nature inasmuch as economic productivity of land is viewed in relation to alternative investment opportunities in the existing socio-economic pattern. In the present study, attention has been confined to the ecological and economic factors only. This has been done to achieve useful results, within the available time, on an assessment of land capability. It is stressed, however, that parallel studies of other factors would be essential for development purposes. In Part I, some of the literature on studies made in the past on land classification and other aspects of land-use in Britain and other countries is reviewed. Part II deals with the investigations carried out in the study area at Bowhill Estate in Selkirkshire, Southern Scotland, and the results achieved therein.