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Scotland sets its agenda for climate and nature action

The Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party coalition are preparing to deliver on their manifesto to support farmers to produce more of our own food needs sustainably and to farm and croft with nature after the first steps have been taken towards a National Policy.

The SNP-Greens coalition draft policy programme is set to put Scotland in a favourable position just at the onset of COP26 with a transformative climate and nature agenda that puts farming and crofting at its core. The document outlines a commitment to a new Nature Environment Bill from 2023 and a new Bill to replace the current Common Agricultural Policy framework for agriculture and land use support.

A transition to nature-friendly agriculture

The NFFN welcomes much of the coalition’s proposed developments, including:

  • targets on restoring wildlife and nature declines by 2030;
  • targets on lowering emissions and achieving carbon sequestration, where carbon is removed from the atmosphere and stored in soil or plants.;
  • the provision of a new support framework for delivering climate mitigation and nature restoration;
  • funding to support land management that delivers public benefits under climate and nature outcomes;
  • the objective to support rural communities alongside nature-based solutions

These developments would enable farmers, crofters and land managers to transition towards more climate- and nature-friendly systems that are proven to deliver on climate mitigation, carbon storage and biodiversity recovery, at the same time as producing high-quality and sustainable food.

Collectively moving forward

On 25th August, Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, wrote:

We all know we have to change the way we farm, produce our food and use our land and I am confident that we will be able to collectively deliver and ensure Scottish farming maintains its world leading credentials in an ever-changing environment.”

This way of collectively moving forward has been put in action through the opening of the Agriculture in Transition consultation and the set-up of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB) to help Government develop new proposals for sustainable farming support. This will play a crucial role in driving forward the recommendations made by Farmer Led Groups.

Farmer Led Groups were established across all sectors- suckler beef, arable, hill, upland and crofting, dairy and the Scottish pig industry- with the aim of developing advice and practical recommendations to help drive the change needed to help us meet these challenges.” 

This participative, citizen-centred approach gives an excellent opportunity to have the needs of nature-friendly farmers and crofters heard during the creation of future agricultural policies and we look forward to participating in the process.

Good news for the NFFN

We are delighted that Nikki Yoxall, a NFFN Scotland steering group member, has been appointed to a position on the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board and will advocate for the best outcomes for nature-friendly farming, including highlighting what farmers need to make change possible.

Nikki says: “I am delighted to have been invited to join the board and am looking forward to supporting the work to shape future Agriculture policy in Scotland. Collectively, we are at a critical point in history where we have an opportunity to take action to address climate change and biodiversity loss, with farmers, crofters and land managers having a key role to play in that challenge.”

What’s next?

While the NFFN supports woodland creation targets of 18,000 hectares per year by 2024/25, we would like to see a better balance between commercial woodland and native woodland, with a higher percentage for annual native woodland creation, which is currently set at 4,000 hectares per year, within the overall target. NFFN Scotland are in favour of a better-balanced mix within commercial plantations, so we have a diversity of habitat and tree species providing a mixed landscape alongside timber production.

Practices for integrating tree planting with farming can bring multiple benefits to farmers alongside contributing to Government objectives. Agroforestry – whether as trees with crops or livestock – can improve soil, water and air quality, store carbon, create more space for wildlife habitats, increase productivity by improving conditions for livestock and plants, and offer diverse income streams by offering alternative products to market, such as fruit or nuts.

The Farming for 1.5 report, an independent inquiry on farming and climate change in Scotland, encourages a multifaceted farming landscape where forestry has its rightful place. The report calls for 6,000ha per year within the overall tree planting target and suggests a dedicated 10-year programme with a budget for farmers and crofters to deliver agroforestry. It also proposes effective measures to ensure biodiversity net gain is measured alongside net carbon storage in forestry applications over 20 hectares – a recommendation we fully endorse as a means of balancing the outcomes for both climate and nature. The report proposes that a public interest test be applied if more than 50% of a holding is planned to be afforested – an approach NFFN Scotland believe to be a positive step in evaluating the needs of our landscape.

We plan to encourage the adoption of these recommendations to the Government and to showcase why these proposals will greatly deliver on what the Government has outlined in their draft policy programme.

For farmers and crofters, Mairi Gougeon has announced that early action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture will take shape as quickly as possible through the roll-out of funding to farms and crofts to progress to net-zero. This will set in motion the plan to reduce emissions by 31% from current levels by 2032, as outlined in the Climate Change Plan Update in December 2020.

These measures are shaped around the key issues highlighted by Farmer Led Groups with an early focus on livestock emissions. The groups noted the importance of woodland, agroforestry and hedgerows, plus peatland and wetland restoration, in successful carbon sequestration. Key to the adoption of these practices is the message from farmers and crofters that the right tree in the right place is vital in achieving the best returns for both climate and nature simultaneously.

How can NFFN members get involved?

We will fully engage in all upcoming processes, including responding to the Agriculture Transition consultation due 17th November. We will keep our members updated as to how you can support our advocacy around nature-friendly systems that can help to deliver on the Scottish Government’s climate and nature ambitions.

What is central to making this transition as accessible and inclusive for all of Scotland’s farmers, crofters and land managers is demonstrating best practice through those already delivering in these areas. For Government targets to be achievable, collaboration between farmers and crofters will be necessary for evolving the role of a farmer to one where environmental stewardship is integral.

Sign up to become a NFFN member for free and receive updates to your inbox.

Read more on the NFFN’s position on net-zero farming here.

Watch Nikki talk through the benefits of agroforestry on her farm in Aberdeenshire.