This is Scotland's first Land Use Strategy and we believe it is the first of its kind anywhere in Europe. The scale and complexity of the issues around land use are challenging and the agenda for change which the Strategy sets out is equally challenging. Scotland's land is a fundamental asset; without it we can neither prosper as an economy nor function as a nation. Our land resource is finite and in some cases fragile. We have a responsibility to future generations to care for our land and ensure that we do not compromise the choices they may wish to make in the future.
This Strategy is based on our recent research and stakeholder participation as well as a considerable body of wider work undertaken since the Climate Change (Scotland) Act was enacted in August 2009. Although the timescale for the production of the Strategy has been driven by the Act, its publication is only the beginning. The Strategy is the first stage in a process of change. It provides a focal point for all of us to consider and agree upon what our land can deliver for Scotland, and as such it represents the Government's statement of policy on land use. It is a document that sets a high-level, national policy agenda. This is clearly articulated in our Principles for Sustainable Land Use which we believe will help guide all those involved in planning the future use and management of land. The Strategy contains Objectives for improving the benefits we can get by making wise choices about the use of our land. It also contains clear Proposals for action, and we will publish an action plan shortly after publication. It quite deliberately does not propose detailed policies for different parts of Scotland because these are matters which need local engagement and local decisions.
We consulted widely on the Draft Strategy, and many stakeholders gave us their views - detailed and constructive comments which helped to shape this final Strategy. Some stakeholders told us that the Draft Strategy needed to go further, to be bolder and more ambitious. This response is heartening because it tells us two things: firstly that the Draft has fired the imagination and stimulated debate, and secondly that Scotland is ready to contemplate change to the way it values and manages its land resources. This is important because we must travel along this path together, building mutual awareness of diverse and multiple uses of land and working in partnership for the benefit of Scotland's people and Scotland's rich land resources. A signal has been given to the Government that the great majority of those with an interest in land use see the need to move from a position where plans and decisions are made in isolation to an integrated - and hence more productive - approach to planning for the future uses of land. This is an exciting prospect and we all relish the challenge.
But it is important that we do not rush headlong into irreversible decisions. Although we need to have Objectives for the long term, our first Land Use Strategy is about setting the agenda for the first five-year period. Some of our Proposals tackle knowledge gaps, some propose further work. Our desire for reasonable caution has received criticism from some quarters. Yet we believe it is justifiable: to put it simply, we cannot afford to get this wrong.
This Strategy reflects a shared agenda and will lead to the realisation of our Vision for sustainable land use across Scotland. There is very wide agreement on the high-level Objectives in this Strategy. We must all try to ensure that we do not lose sight of them as we develop our response to the Strategy and as we reflect on the implications for each of us in our industry, on our farm, in our town or village, or as we use land for recreation.
We expect that the Land Use Strategy will quickly become an important part of the decision-making process. We expect all public bodies to have regard to it as they carry out their functions. The Principles for Sustainable Land Use should be at the heart of all significant decisions which impact upon land. We also expect that other land managers will have regard to the Strategy when making decisions about the future deployment of effort and resources.
We will work with key public-sector partners on delivery of the Strategy - Forestry Commission Scotland ( FCS), Scottish Natural Heritage ( SNH), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency ( SEPA) and our two National Park Authorities - to build on the mechanisms they already use to work constructively with local partners on local land-use issues.
Once we have set out on the route towards a better integrated strategic approach to land use there will be no turning back. We have a long way to go - but this is a journey worth making. Together we can ensure that our use of Scotland's land secures increased benefits which will provide us with a sustainable future.
Richard Lochhead MSP, Cabinet Secretary