skip to content

MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Network reliability in sustainable food systems

Projected land shortages make prioritizing additional land needed for food security a major challenge. The purpose of this study is to demonstrate how sustainable landscape management in rural England can be used to achieve multiple functions in the same area. This approach, known as multifunctionality, was examined to meet several present and future land-based needs. Multifunctional land use was hypothesized to justify prioritizing rural land for UK food security by simultaneously achieving multiple benefits from key land functions.

The hypothesis was investigated by performing a spatial analysis in ArcGIS with a tool called Multi-Mapping. The tool was programmed to analyze the potential functionality of landscapes between priority habitats to make habitat connections across lesser grades of agricultural land where the benefits from prioritized land functions are maximized. The eight functions examined in the study include food security, nature conservation, landscape heritage, parks and recreation, access to nature, horticulture, water quality and flood mitigation. Each function was weighted to reflect political priorities in a Multi Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA). The GIS-based MCDA was used to transform habitat connections based on proximity into multifunctional corridors with the greatest potential to meet prioritized needs. The ultimate goal of this research is to promote engineering that works with nature to achieve sustainable food systems.

Multi-Mapping was applied to the Culm National Character Area (NCA) in South West England. Optimal areas for multifunctional land use were located based on political priorities jointly agreed upon by Natural England, Defra and the Forestry Commission that were published by the Government in 2015. It was found that if rural multifunctional corridors were established across the 10% most favorable spatial units for multifunctionality in the Culm, then 51,116 hectares of land functionality could be accomplished in 30,744 hectares. The net effect reveals how several functions could be performed in approximately 40% less space by taking a multifunctional approach.

Food, fuel, and flood security, as well as many other land-based needs meet at the crossroads of spatial scarcity. Multifunctionality offers a sustainable way forward. The GIS-based MCDA method and spatial analysis tool developed in this study can be used by engineers, policymakers and land managers to achieve sustainable food systems by shifting the conversation from counting land to making land count.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.