Academic Advisory Panel – 4 March 2024 - Summary

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 4th March 2024.

Items and actions

Water scarcity and excess

1. Introduction  

The chair welcomed the Academic Advisory Panel (AAP) members and introduced the meeting.

2. Water scarcity and excess. Building resilience to protect Scottish agriculture in the context of the Climate Change Adaptation Programme.

The chair informed the AAP that an advisory note summarising discussion points raised during the meeting will be shared with stakeholders at the Programme for Government (PfG) Roundtable event, and presented to ARIOB.

Two updates on work carried out by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) were presented to the panel. The first presentation provided a high-level overview of the issues negatively affecting Scottish river catchments and the necessary measures to address them. SEPA is currently involved in projects aimed at storing and holding water in catchment areas, slowing down water flow, and creating spaces for rivers. The evidence and data generated by these projects will support adaptation efforts and contribute to improving long-term resilience to water scarcity and excess issues.  

The second presentation focused on work done to enhance flood resilience for individuals and wider society. This includes investigating flood risk frequency, seasonal flooding patterns, and affected areas. The gathered data are used to create improved national-scale mapping of both inland and coastal regions. New strategies are being developed to improve the accessibility of messaging and language used in communication leading up to and during emergency situations. Actions aimed at improving emergency response capabilities at both individual and local authority levels are being developed, alongside focused efforts to work with communities at the greatest risk to understand catchment areas and coastal processes. Additionally, there is an increased emphasis on building resilience to mental health issues stemming from financial loss, and stress during flooding events.

The discussion raised the following points:

  • a high level of soil organic matter is crucial for soil water holding capacity, and water infiltration rates. Practices that increase soil organic matter content and reduce erosion, such as minimising soil disturbance, maintaining vegetation cover, and minimising soil compaction, are beneficial for managing water issues that affect agriculture
  • the degradation of upland and peatland landscapes has a negative impact on downstream flooding. Restoring degraded areas, crucial for enhancing resilience to weather events, can also provide additional benefits such as restoring biodiversity and carbon capture
  • water abstraction, high concentration of agricultural activities, excessive irrigation, and insufficient on-farm water management and storage all contribute to water scarcity issue. Implementing measures such as measuring annual water usage, adapting modern technologies to increase water efficiency and investing in water capture and storage are important tools to address this issue
  • development of impactful resilience strategies requires systems approaches that recognize that water is dynamic in space and time. An integrated catchment-scale response is necessary to achieve the desired cumulative effects for hydrological resilience. Improvement measures should be tailored to the specific needs of individual areas
  • water management requires appropriate water pricing as well as a range of support such as long-term financial incentives, regulatory frameworks, and the provision of guidance and training
  • recognizing that all farmers and crofters have a role to play and/or are at risk is important, even if flooding/scarcity does not affect them directly now. Climate change will expand impacts across much of Scotland exacerbating direct, and indirect problems related to water

3. AOB

The panel expressed the importance of incorporating expertise from SEPA into future discussions concerning the work undertaken within the Agriculture Reform Programme.

The panel suggested that ARIOB should discuss Tier 2 measures to ensure that the guidance refers to practical actions that can be undertaken on farm and that communication is tailored to the needs of the audience.

ACTION: AAP secretariat to forward both suggestions to ARIOB secretariat for consideration

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