Campaigners slam budget cuts for nature and climate friendly farming

Campaigners have slammed cuts to funding for nature and climate friendly farming in the Scottish government’s budget announced this week.

The Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign, a coalition of environmental charities and farmers’ groups, has said the £6.2 million, or 17%, cut to Scotland’s Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) makes a mockery of the Scottish government’s much vaunted ambition for Scotland to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.

For the current financial year 2023-24, only about five percent of the Scottish government’s £650 million farm support budget is being spent on dedicated support for farmers to deliver targeted environmental benefits like restoring habitats for priority species, improving water quality and mitigating climate change. Cutting £6.2 million from AECS, which was already underfunded, will make it even harder for farmers to get support to take action for nature and the climate, say campaigners. 

In contrast, for the current financial year more than two thirds of the farming spend is being paid to farmers as ‘direct payments’ based on how much and what type of land they farm, with very few environmental conditions attached. These payments disproportionately benefit the largest landowners and do very little to support sustainable farming.

The Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign, which is coordinated by Scottish Environment LINK, has called for greater capping or limits on direct payments, and says that if the Scottish government had used this mechanism more effectively it would have been able to fund the continuation of AECS at current or higher levels.

Farming has major implications for the environment. Current farming methods make it Scotland’s second biggest source of climate emissions, and a significant driver of the depletion of nature.

The Scottish government’s Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill, now before the Scottish parliament, will create the powers to change Scotland’s farm funding system. The Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign is calling for at least three quarters of public spending on farming to support methods that restore nature and tackle climate change while producing food.

Pete Ritchie, Director of Nourish Scotland and Convener of the Scottish Environment LINK Food and Farming Group, said: 

‘With the right support in place, farmers and crofters can help restore nature and reduce emissions which, ultimately, underpins the sustainability of their businesses and of food production.

‘We understand the difficult financial outlook faced by the Scottish government. We also recognise that this budget has maintained funding for NatureScot and other environmental agencies, which is welcome. But cutting those parts of the farm budget that help address nature loss and climate change makes no sense to us. It makes achieving the government’s own vision for sustainable and regenerative agriculture that much harder in the longer term.’