Farming isn’t the problem. It’s part of the solution.

By Deborah Long, chief officer, Scottish Environment LINK

As we head from one crisis to another, we appear to have forgotten about the biggest threats facing us. The climate and biodiversity crises haven’t gone away, they are only getting worse.

The reprieve in lockdowns when polluting industries came to a halt and the planet was able to breathe was short-lived as we gradually revert to our old ways.

The latest report by Scottish Environment LINK member, WWF, shows that since the 1970s there has been an almost 70 per cent (69 per cent) decrease in wildlife worldwide. The main drivers for this staggering decline are habitat loss, species overexploitation, invasive species, pollution, climate change and diseases. This isn’t just bad news for nature, it’s also bad news for us.

A much-depleted natural world has a knock-on effect on all aspects of our life including health, economics, and food security. Choosing not to mitigate climate change and reverse biodiversity loss – while we still can – is short-sighted and a sure-fire way of stoking major problems not only for the immediate future but for future generations whose lives depend on our actions.

In Scotland alone, one in nine species is at risk of extinction. Farming and land management are among the most harmful contributors to biodiversity loss and environmental degradation and among the top three sources of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Scottish government is currently consulting on its proposals for a new Agriculture Bill that will determine how farming is funded for years to come. This provides us with an opportunity to rethink the decades-old farm funding system and replace it with one that works for nature, climate, and people.

Annually, the Scottish government spends more than half a billion pounds of taxpayers’ money on farm funding, but the money isn’t designed to support farmers and crofters to produce food in a way that helps to preserve nature or tackle climate change.

The current system is also deeply unfair. Most public spending on farming is used to pay farmers based on the amount of land they own, with no conditions attached as to how they farm that land. Some farmers benefit massively from government funding under this system, while other, often smaller and environmentally friendly farmers lose out.

As well as producing food, farmers and crofters manage three quarters of Scotland’s land. By changing how it funds farming, the Scottish government can create a fairer system that helps all farmers and crofters work in harmony with nature and our needs. By playing a part in restoring nature, tackling climate change, and revitalising Scotland’s rural areas farming can work for the benefit of everyone, while providing quality affordable food long into the future. A growing number of farmers and crofters are already working with nature and climate in mind by keeping their soils healthy, planting trees, and making space for wildlife but these farmers and crofters need more support. And supporting more of them to do so, will help.

Put simply, we have a choice and cannot afford to go on working against nature, driving it to breaking point and still expect it to provide us with health and food.

This is why, under the campaign ‘Farm for Scotland’s Future,’ Scottish Environment LINK, together with farmers and leading environmental charities, is calling on the Scottish government to take heed of the climate and nature crises and replace the outdated farm funding system. By 2030, it must stop using the farming budget to reward land ownership and instead ensure public funding for farmers works for the benefit of everyone.

We need to fund farmers to help create and maintain hedgerows and wildflower meadows, reduce chemical pesticide and fertiliser use, manage rivers, streams and land to mitigate flooding, create or restore specific habitats such as wetlands, heaths, species-rich grasslands, peatlands, floodplains and coastal saltmarshes and help people access the countryside for recreation, for example by creating and maintaining paths.

Farming is not the problem, done right it’s part of the solution. Our very ability to produce food in the future depends on our ability to maintain a healthy planet by changing practices that are pushing it to a perilous state. Funding and support to transition to sustainable farming is essential in helping to rebuild a thriving planet that can provide jobs, security and nutritious affordable food for everyone – for generations to come.

Now is our chance to make that happen.

This article was first published in the Herald on 13 November 2022.