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Agricultural Land Classification

Mark Walton

This page is designed to explain the ‘Agricultural Land Classification’ (ALC) data hosted in our map-based platform Land Explorer. ALC shows the potential of land for agriculture.

What is this data?

The Agricultural Land Classification system forms part of the planning system in England and Wales. It describes the ‘inherent potential’ of land for agriculture and was collected primarily to enable planners to consider the protection of agricultural land when making decisions. Grading depends on climate, site characteristics (e.g. flooding or gradients), and soil quality. It classifies agricultural land in five categories according to versatility and suitability for growing crops. The top three grades, Grade 1, 2 and 3a, are referred to as ‘Best and Most Versatile’ land, and enjoy significant protection from development.

Why is it useful?

This information can provide an idea about what particular pieces of land might be used for. Food growers might prefer land with grades 1, 2, or 3a. On the other hand, lower grades might be suitable if the project aims to replenish the site, use the land for other activities, or find cheaper land. This information is also useful to people engaging with the planning system, or trying to decide how to use land. Finally it can give people an interesting overview of what kind of land exists in their area, and in particular what might be brought into better use, or protected from development.

Detailed Legend:

  • Grade 1: Excellent quality agricultural land (no or very minor limitations on choice of crops)
  • Grade 2: Very good quality agricultural land (only minor limitations on choice of crops)
  • Grade 3a: Good quality agricultural land (capable of producing moderate to high yields of a wide range of crops and less demanding horticultural crops)
  • Grade 3b: Moderate quality agricultural land (capable of producing moderate yields of a narrow range of crops)
  • Grade 4: Poor quality agricultural land (mainly suited to grass or occasionally cereals and forage crops with variable yields)
  • Grade 5: Very poor quality agricultural land (severe limitations)
  • Urban: Low potential for return to agriculture
  • Non-agricultural: Currently used for other purposes (e.g. golf courses) but could be returned to agriculture.
  • Woodland
  • Agricultural buildings: permanent buildings and structures used for agriculture
  • Open Water
  • Land not surveyed

How do I use/ interact with it?

This data is pretty simple – it gives a quick approximation of the likely potential of land for agriculture. You can use it to see areas that might be good to focus on when searching for land, or to do a preliminary evaluation of sites you are already aware of. You can also learn even more about the land by understanding the way in which the grade was calculated. We hope to make more of this information available in future versions.

What are its limitations?

In some areas surveys may have been taken a long time ago and could be out of date. The surveys were not extremely detailed, meaning several different growing conditions in a particular area may be incorrectly grouped under the same grade. These grades provide ‘general guidance’ rather than assessing individual sites. Finally there is a degree of subjectivity in the assessment.

Learn more:

License Info:

  • License: Open Government License (OGL)
  • Information provider: Natural England
  • Title of the information resource: Provisional Agricultural Land Classification (ALC)
  • Date it was published: 02/12/2013
  • Link to the information:

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