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Climate Risks and Opportunities for Agriculture in Cornwall and Isles of

Climate Risks and Opportunities for Agriculture

Alexandra Gardner, Ilya Maclean, Environment and Sustainability Institute.

Key findings

  • A key challenge for Cornwall is to increase food production whilst leaving space for nature, in an era of climate change
  • This project uses the latest climate models to identify the parts of Cornwall that are most climatically suitable for growing novel crops.
  • Growing crops that are well suited to the changing climate may also help to reduce the amount of land required to cultivate in order to make a profit.


Cornwall has set itself the ambitious target of ensuring that, by 2054, its environment will be naturally diverse, beautiful and healthy, supporting a thriving society, prosperous economy and abundance of wildlife. An important challenge for Cornwall’s agricultural industry, therefore, is how to increase food production while also leaving space for nature. Climate change may make this even more difficult as areas may become climatically unsuitable for the crops that are currently grown there and so additional land may need to be cultivated to sustain yields. However, climate change may also offer opportunities to grow higher value, novel crops, which typically require less land. By growing these crops, the areas ‘spared’ from agriculture could be devoted to nature conservation.

State of the art microclimate modelling allows us to assess the climatic conditions at very high resolution.

We are developing and applying the latest high-resolution climate models to identify the places in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly that are most climatically suitable for growing a range of novel crops. The models allow us to assess climate conditions, at the scale of individual fields, for the recent past, as well as for future climate projections. We are using this information to recommend which crops might be best suited to different farms across the county, both now and for possible future climate scenarios. We are also working alongside Cornwall Council and engaging with local growers to identify possible social and economic barriers to growing novel crops and to support a more holistic assessment of crop suitability. Our work has already benefited Cornish businesses. In 2017, our research helped Camel Valley to become the first UK wine producer to receive a Protected Designation Origin (PDO) from the European Union, in relation to its ‘Darnibole’ vineyard.

Our ‘climatehub’ is a resource freely available to growers, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are a particularly exciting place to study climate changes and prospects for novel crops because frosts are rare. It could therefore become one of the first places in the UK where conditions become suitable for crops from warmer parts of the world. Furthermore, the Cornish agricultural industry has already experienced a transition towards the production of small-scale and high value crops in recent years. Our work builds on previous research which used climate models to explore how climate change may present risks and opportunities to grapevine cultivation in Cornwall. This work showed how viticulture is likely to benefit from warming temperatures, which improve growing conditions for grapes, but also found that advanced growth and development could increase vulnerability to late spring frosts during budbreak. Late spring frosts and adverse weather at flowering can affect the quality and yield of many other crops. Like grapevines, other marginal crops may also experience highly variable yields year-to-year as conditions can easily become unsuitable. In short, the effects of climate change are often counterintuitive, and research could therefore help growers to better assess and reduce the risk of cultivating a new crop.

This film offers Camel Valley’s perspective on how our work has led to better understanding climate risks and opportunities.

By growing crops that are well-suited to the climate, whilst also highly profitable, farmers may reduce the amount of land that they need to cultivate to make a profit. We therefore hope that the application of microclimate models to assess crop suitability can promote not only food and farmers’ financial security under climate change but at the same time help to solve conflicts that may arise between farming and biodiversity. We hope that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will provide a useful case study for the effective application of microclimate models in agricultural decision-making across the globe.