Farming for a world richer in nature

By Andrew Stark, RSPB Scotland

The new report ‘A world richer in nature: Where nature and people can thrive’ sets out RSPB’s vision for a nature positive world by 2030. In this blog Andrew Stark, Land Use Policy Officer in the RSPB Scotland team, outlines what this means for farming and our food system.

‘A world richer in nature: Where nature and people can thrive’ adds to the ever-growing body of evidence about why addressing the nature crisis is so vital. The 2019 State of Nature report shows that 1 in 9 Scottish species are at risk of extinction while Scotland currently ranks 28th from the bottom in the Biodiversity Intactness Index, which is essentially a league table of how well nature is doing globally. Outside of the UK, a recent Birdlife report ‘State of the World’s Birds’ shows that in Europe, there has been a 57% decline in common farmland birds since 1980. In Scotland, curlew populations declined by 60% between 1995-2020 – a once widespread farmland bird.

Unfortunately, agriculture as the largest use of land in Scotland (around three quarters) has had and continues to have a role in these shocking statistics. Over the decades, agriculture policy has focussed primarily on food production with nature and the climate side-lined. Unfortunately, this has led to many negative environmental impacts of agriculture, such as the loss of habitats, pollution or insect and bird declines.

Lapwing with its crest looking amazing and its bottom in the air in a grassy field
Lapwings also suffered a 60% decline in numbers in Scotland between 1995 and 2020. Credit Ian Francis

But with so much agricultural land, there’s enormous potential to redress this and create a more harmonious relationship with nature and our climate and achieve our vision that “by 2030, our farms teem with wildlife, produce high quality food that meets our needs as part of a fair global food system, and support the recovery of nature and the transition to a net zero economy”.

So how do we get there? The report identifies four specific actions for Scotland:

  1. Maintain the current level of public funding for farming but ensure that the majority of the budget is spent on supporting land management and farming methods that are nature friendly and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This fund should include specific, targeted payments for restoring declining farmland wildlife.
  2. Increase the amount of funding spent on advice, knowledge transfer and training.
  3. Increase the area of organic land from 2% to 10% by 2030.
  4. Implement food system change through the Good Food Nation Act (2022), for example through crosscutting and ambitious food plans or through the new Scottish Food Commission, to support the transition toward more nature friendly forms of agricultural and dietary choices.

These four actions, if achieved, would play a substantive role in achieving our vision. There are lots of positive things farmers and crofters are doing right across Scotland, right now, and we want to see these mainstreamed so they become common. Currently, the Scottish Government is consulting on proposals for an Agriculture Bill which is expected in 2023. Using this once in a generation opportunity to reform policy, and the near £600m in agricultural subsidies, is vital to achieve a world richer in nature. We want farmers and crofters to be supported with their vital role in addressing the nature and climate crisis, whilst producing high-quality food. That is why we have come together with other organisations to support the Farm For Scotland’s Future campaign. Find out more here: 

As our report states, all Governments across the UK need to urgently act to achieve the change that is needed to fix our food system. This is vitally important to achieving the Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation vision as well as their vision to be a “global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture”.

Close up of flying buzzard with blurry sheep in the background
Sustainable farming/crofting practices in the Outer Hebrides are essential to help nature. Credit: Edward Makin (

This blog was first published by RSPB on 8 November 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.