Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA) research programme 2022-2027: mid-programme review report

Findings of the mid-programme review of the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture research programme 2022 to 2027.

7. Theme C: Human impacts on the Environment

The Human Impacts on the Environment theme covers the topics agricultural GHGs, land use, circular economy and use of outdoor and green space with a combined total of 11 projects. The grant offer for Theme C projects in 23-24 was circa £3m.

In the previous programme we seen research into improving measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as breeding management. The research is a combination of environmental economic modelling, survey work and monitoring and evaluation tools and approaches. It provided improved understanding and estimates of agricultural greenhouse gas mitigation at national and farm level and developed tools for policy makers, farmers and researchers. Data on the future mitigation potential of GHG emissions potential from agriculture was provided to the economy-wide TIMES model (run by the Scottish Government). Evidence has also been provided on the capacity for the UK GHG inventory to reflect the mitigation activities in Scotland.

7.1 Science Excellence and Reach

SAB members agreed the evidence presented showed the methods used are internationally competitive, innovative and in line with best practice internationally.

Research is comprehensive and demonstrates that Theme C is addressing key challenges for Scotland.

The research topics are of both international and national importance. Within C4 (circular economy) research that examined opportunities to reduce both consumption and waste flows was highlighted as an example where the science was internationally competitive.

SAB noted the Theme has a broad scope of work with demonstrated progress, for example: creation of a database of mitigation measures, geospatial datasets, GHG measurement and associated App development, foundation of a spin-off company, wide stakeholder engagement at sub-theme level, quantitative storytelling, land use policy modelling, a wide number of case studies, and designing a typology of behaviours (with reference to circular economy). SAB noted much of the research has resulted in improvements in the knowledge base on these key issues in Scotland.

SAB members all agreed the Quantitative Story Telling (QST) approach in Theme C is novel and innovative and could link well with the other Themes:

  • Quantitative story telling is a process designed to help scientists work with stakeholders to prompt reflection on, and potentially reframing of, sustainability problems and to develop shared understanding of the issues even when stakeholder values and trade-offs mean that a consensus outcome cannot be delivered. QST is a cyclical, iterative process that balances both work with stakeholders to understand how issues are framed (what is included and excluded) and how evidence is interpreted and ‘formal’ phases – work to quantify these issues. QST typically incorporates data and expertise arising from different disciplinary perspectives (e.g., social, and natural sciences) as well as from stakeholders themselves.
  • Analysis of Enhanced Conditionality (EC) measures led by the Land Use Transformations project (JHI-C3-1), used a Quantitative Story Telling approach as well as consultation with researchers in Theme D to consider the effectiveness of EC measures, their likely uptake, and the crucial factors from other farm support Tiers. Outputs were used to highlight where decisions would have meaningful impact on policy outcomes and sign posting to the researchers and evidence on which those decision could draw.
  • From 2025 at least 50% of existing direct farm support payments (~£536M) will be made conditional on undertaking agri-environmental and climate related land management options - Enhanced Conditionality (EC). EC intends to deliver a step- change in how agricultural systems deliver to net zero, climate adaptation, biodiversity and other environmental objectives.

SAB identified additional opportunities using the Analysis of Enhanced Conditionality Measures study method. SAB suggested that this approach can cut across other themes in land management from mitigation to resilience, and SAB encouraged exploration of these areas.

A further area identified as unique and innovative was (C4) the use of circular economy concepts in remote and rural/island areas. SAB reported that the feed-through from some of the circular economy work to large-scale agent-based modelling, was novel. SAB also noted (i) the novel application to the bovine sector to reduce GHG emissions by reducing parasitic infections and (ii) methods used in developing land use strategies for Scotland in C3.

SAB members reported there are similar research questions being addressed in the UK and internationally but agreed this was not duplication as it was a Scotland specific focused programme. It was also noted some topics build on previous research which was very appropriate.

SAB also identified a need to ensure that carbon/GHG-focused work identifies trade-offs with other objectives, such as biodiversity, pollution, food production, and just transition.

Research gaps identified by SAB included:

  • The circular economy research was mainly concentrated on waste. Members further noted that there was perhaps an overfocus on carbon and suggested additional activity on reactive nitrogen.
  • Gaps in how science links through to policy and cross-cutting priorities e.g. supporting Net Zero planning and scope three emissions reporting, or supporting carbon sequestration in soils/forest through improved land management practices.
  • The need for deep demonstrators, which integrate policy, practice and research, bringing these together with individuals in case studies to develop the integration needed to push research into practice; these should include citizen science and communities.

7.2 Research Impact

SAB reported evidence has been provided which demonstrates the research topics deliver important support to key Scottish government objectives.

There is good evidence of significance and reach. The Land Use topic (C3) has made significant investment in developing techniques – quantitative storytelling – to interact with policymakers. Agriculture, Climate and Carbon Topic (C2) can make an important contribution to improving Scotland’s national GHG inventory. Circular Economy (C4) will provide an important knowledge base to design a more effective waste strategy for Scotland as part of developing a more circular economy. The outputs have also generated a spin off company that could deliver scalable impact for farmers.

SAB noted coordination among farmers at catchment scale was highlighted as a challenge which needs to be resolved to ensure impact. Members also suggested it will also be important to follow uptake of the AgreCalc and CarbonExtra apps and to see what actual use is made of them. SAB noted that farm apps are a crowded market, and there are risks for the institutes to manage in engaging with carbon markets.

7.3 Scottish Government Policy Priorities

The following highlights the policy priority categorisation and observations noted for research projects within Theme C. Other stakeholder priorities, such as industry, have not been reflected in the categorisation below but are considered key to a projects overall impact/importance.


7 projects, 2023-24 spend circa £2.4m

Research which has been identified as critical to policy officials includes a project which will provide evidence into the role in sequestering carbon and mitigating GHGs to meet net zero targets across agriculture sector. Research which will provide new approaches for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and land use in Scotland is also seen as critical. These projects are critical to the Climate Change Plan and Agricultural Reform.

Research that was identified as critical to policy teams also includes projects which provide evidence to the Circular Economy Bill. Specifically research into important system thinking approach through casual loop diagram and research into behavioural drivers and receptions around circular economy.

Research classified as Critical in Theme C includes modelling on the future make-up of agriculture in Scotland and how it adapts to climate change. This type of research will inform GHG inventory to ensure that Scotland's GHG emissions are captured accurately and that improvements in herd performance can be counted against Scotland's net zero targets. It is critical for developing the evidence base for the Climate Change Plan and the Agricultural Reform Programme.


4 projects, 2023-24 spend circa £1m

Research identified as important to policy officials includes projects which will provide evidence insights including; land-based financial support mechanisms, landownership diversification, GHG and behavioural impact in land use change and reciprocal nature engagement.

Evidence in these areas importantly feeds into key policy delivery such as Land Use Transformation, Climate Change Adaptation Plan, Agricultural Reform Programme and other individual policies development.


0 projects

Theme C contains a diverse range of projects with policy interests across the environment directorate. As such there are less differentiation across the three priority categories and no projects have been classified as desirable.

7.4 Theme C Conclusion

Overall Theme C has demonstrated that the research is delivering highly relevant outputs to meet key policy needs. Some specific recommendations/actions are noted below:

  • SAB Recommendation: Link up research on reactive nitrogen aspects across themes C/D and beyond. For example the GHG emissions response to land use change and pollutant swapping, or CH4 emission effects from slurry storage temperature (where there may be co-benefits for NH3 release).
  • SAB Recommendation: Explore the Quantitative Story Telling approach used in the Analysis of Enhanced Conditionality study method across other themes in land management from mitigation to resilience.
  • SAB Recommendation: Close a research gap by bringing together carbon mitigation, resilience questions (e.g. water management, flooding, pollution) and biodiversity enhancement on farms.
  • SAB Recommendation: Provide reassurance that Scotland has the appropriate level frameworks in place to allow both transfer and reuse of data for research and policy where appropriate while protecting privacy and farmer ownership of their data. Noting that if trust is lost in how data is stored or used, it will be very difficult to restore.


Email: SRF@gov.scot

Back to top