Academic Advisory Panel minutes: 6 November 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 6 November 2023.


Items and actions

Biodiversity Audits and Good Agricultural and Environment Conditions (GAEC) for Peatland and Wetlands

1. Introduction  

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

2. Monitoring and Evaluation around Just Transition in Land Use and Agriculture

An update on the progress of work on land use and the just transition plan was provided to the panel. Currently, the government is engaging with stakeholders on the requirements for future monitoring and evaluation of a just transition. To make the entire process more manageable, work will be divided into smaller sections having appropriate measures assigned. A paper describing these sub-sections and proposed measures will be circulated to the panel members for written feedback. The panel were asked to provide comments by correspondence on which proposals are robust and reliable in their current form, and which require changes. Members were also asked to provide domestic and international examples of alternative monitoring measures and datasets which may be used to fill in knowledge gaps. Deadline for submissions was set for the end of November 2023.

3. Biodiversity Audits in the context of the Whole Farm Plan (WFP).

The Chair informed the AAP that an advisory note summarising discussion points raised during the Biodiversity Audit part of the meeting will be provided to ARIOB, ahead of the next in-person meeting in December.

Updates on the Whole Farm Plan and Biodiversity Audits were presented to the panel. The first presentation gave an overview of the Whole Farm Plan concept and the new series of baseline measures which will form part of the future agricultural support system under the Whole Farm Plan. To develop a good understanding of required baselines, their adaptability and translation to specific conditions, an internal discovery process is being undertaken. This process aims to establish optimal frequency of audits, any typology differences that should be considered, and how future changes should be factored in.

The second presentation gave an outline of work carried out by NatureScot on the biodiversity audit route map development and direction of travel over the next two years. The first two steps of building mapping elements and measuring habitats were conducted using a Piloting an Outcomes Based Approach in Scotland (POBAS) app. Farmers engaged in that work are now contributing to the development of a biodiversity audit app. A test version of the new app will be available to any farmer and crofter early next year to carry out basic habitat assessments. Further work into monitoring and management parts of the process will also continue.

The discussion raised the following points:

  • the purpose and associated compliance costs of biodiversity audits should be made clear
  • a range of biodiversity audit tools should be assessed to ensure that results produced by different products are comparable
  • engagement with farmers and crofters is vital in selecting and developing an appropriate tool
  • good understanding by farmers of audit scores and associated consequences is required
  • the ideal tool should provide multiple benefits facilitating collection of data, monitoring and evaluation of changes, and generating scores, recommendations, and links to relevant measures
  • data and maps should be provided to farmers where possible to minimise input required
  • LIDAR technology can be used for independent quality checks of undertaken audits and a source of reliable background and mapping data

4. GAEC for peatlands and wetlands

The Scottish Government has committed to introducing new protections for peatlands and wetlands from 2025. This is outlined in the Agricultural Reform Programme Route Map (Agricultural Reform Route Map (ruralpayments.org)). There is ongoing work on agreeing what future protections should look like from 2025, including the appropriate definition of peatland and the measures the GAEC might proscribe.

The Ppanel was asked to provide feedback on the work presented, make recommendations for the definition of peatlands and wetlands, and any essential activities that could be added to the GAEC in the future. Below is a summary of the main points raised by the AAP during the discussion that followed the presentation:

  • to align with available data on peatlands the definition of peatland should use a depth of greater than 50cm. However, consideration might be given in future to expanding this to 30cm to enable protection of a larger area. The definition should not reference typical peatland vegetation, which may not be present in all sites
  • consideration should be given to the pros and cons of including grazing management in the GAEC in the future. There is currently uncertainty on appropriate stocking densities and grazing pressures due to lack of data. This should be addressed through further research including revisiting how livestock units are calculated given changes in management and breeds
  • there are large areas of degraded peatland with no agricultural activities, with high deer pressures which contribute to slow degradation of those areas. Therefore, it is essential to determine areas with high deer density and improve understanding of deer movement for peat management activities

5. AOB

The panel were informed of a request from ARIOB to provide advice on the impact of the real living wage and post-Brexit labour availability on agricultural production and were asked for recommendations of subject area experts that might be able to input to this request.

Thanks for his valuable contribution and commitment to the work of the AAP were extended to Professor David Reay who is stepping down from the panel.

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