By Andrew Stark, RSPB Scotland
Scottish agriculture is in a pivotal moment, with a once in a generation opportunity to make farming work better for our environment and people in Scotland. RSPB and other farming, crofting and land-owning stakeholders, need the help of people across Scotland to positively change agriculture payments so that they work better for nature, climate and people.
Each year the Scottish Government gives nearly £600 million pounds’ worth of subsidies to farmers, crofters and land managers through a system that has its origins in the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Now that we’ve left the EU, each of the four UK countries have been developing their proposals about what replaces these farm payments.
The different UK countries are in different stages, and Scotland is aiming to have a new system in place by 2026. But for that system to be in place, it needs a Bill to give itself the legal powers to implement new policy. Answers received to a current consultation will help inform the content of that Bill and help guide the Scottish Government about which direction Scottish agriculture – and the payments it receives – should take.
The Scottish Government has laudable ambitions to be a “global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture”, but Scotland’s nature is depleted. The Biodiversity Intactness Index, a global analysis on how much human activity has impacted nature, ranks us a poor 28th from the bottom (out of 240 countries). Whilst progress is being made in reducing emissions, Scottish agriculture still accounts for 18% of Scotland’s emissions.
It is possible to use our land to produce food, timber and other products in ways that help to protect and restore nature. As agriculture accounts for around 75% of Scotland’s land use, the policy decisions that influence how farmers, crofters and land managers use that land are of huge importance. Getting the policy framework right, to enable more farmers and crofters to do more for nature and climate, whilst producing high-quality food, is key.
As members of Scottish Environment LINK, the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community, we support the Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign. This campaign of more than 20 environment charities have joined with farmers’ groups to demand change. The campaign is aiming to influence Scottish Government decisions around the future of Scottish agriculture and has three headline asks:
- Replace the decades-old farm funding system with one that works for nature, climate and people.
- Ensure at least three quarters of public spending on farming supports methods that restore nature and tackle climate change.
- Support all farmers and crofters in the transition to sustainable farming.
It’s vital as many people as possible let the Scottish Government know they want to see changes to farm payments so they better address the nature and climate emergency and give farmers, crofters and land managers the right support to do this. If you want to make your voice heard then go to farmforscotlandsfuture.scot/action to join the collective calls for change.
Scotland is at a crossroads. Policy changes like this do not come around often, and it’s so important we get these decisions right. The future of farming and our planet depends on it.
This article was first published in the Scotsman on 11 October 2022.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of all the organisations backing the Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign.