There has long been a requirement for a better understanding of the inherent capabilities of land in Scotland for a range of different uses, especially agriculture. In the mid-1960s, the Macaulay Institute developed a Land Use Capability (LUC) system which was based upon a series of guidelines that allowed soil maps and other landscape and climatic information to be interpreted into land classification maps. In the early 1980s the LUC system was further developed and became the Macaulay Land Capability for Agriculture (LCA) classification. This is now the official agricultural classification system widely used in Scotland by agriculturalists, planners, estate agents and others as a basis of land valuation.
The LCA classification is used to rank land on the basis of its potential productivity and cropping flexibility. This is determined by the extent to which the physical characteristics of the land (soil, climate and relief) impose long term restrictions on its use.
The LCA is a seven class system. Four of the classes are further subdivided into divisions. Class 1 represents land that has the highest potential flexibility of use whereas Class 7 land is of very limited agricultural value.
The LCA classification is applied through a series of guidelines that allows a high degree of consistency of classification between users. The classification is based upon a number of assumptions. These specifically include the potential flexibility of cropping and agricultural options, assuming a high level of management. However they exclude other factors, such as distance to market and individual landowner choices, all of which can influence actual land use decisions.