Blackland research began in 2010 both in the spirit of inquiry into a complex and interesting problem clearly relevant to today’s land-use and climate issues, and a practical need for better information as a guide to restarting productive management of a group of blackland crofts in North Uist. (Practice) It aimed first of all to describe and characterise an observed phenomenon: landscapes which had clearly been worked and productive until the 1960s as evidenced by aerial imaging, cultivation remains, and local memory but were now rank, overgrown and derelict.
Much is known about various aspects of the land, soils and systems that we now call blackland, but no previous attempt can be found in scientific literature to join them up into a coherent whole. This has impeded understanding of the problem – or even recognition that there is a problem. The potential contribution of blackland to the contemporary issues of climate and food has been overlooked. If we accept that there is an urgent global need to provide production systems that are able to sustain growing demands for foods, feeds and fuels without exacerbating climate change (Foresight Report, 2011) (Q1), then every bit of usable land is precious.
Recognition and description of blackland as a distinct type also brings the study of organic soils into focus, and can begin to shed light on the often obscure and poorly understood dynamics of change within such soils, which in the blackland system range from burnable peat to high-quality agricultural soil.