Agricultural transition in Scotland - first steps towards our national policy: consultation analysis

Analysis of the responses received to the Agricultural Transition in Scotland consultation. The consultation was carried out between August 2021 and November 2021.

4. Biodiversity

The biodiversity crisis was discussed by the Farmer Led Groups. This chapter analyses respondents' views how farmers and crofters could enhance biodiversity.

Q3.1: Should all farm and crofting businesses be incentivised to undertake actions which enhance biodiversity?

Q3.2: What actions would be required by the farming and crofting sectors to deliver a significant increase in biodiversity and wider-environmental benefits to address the biodiversity crisis?

Q3.1: Should all farm and crofting businesses be incentivised to undertake actions which enhance biodiversity? Q3.2: What actions would be required by the farming and crofting sectors to deliver a significant increase in biodiversity and wider-environmental benefits to address the biodiversity crisis?
Among all (314) Yes No Don't know No answer No. of comments
Number 281 17 8 8 292
% 89% 5% 3% 3%  

Nine out of ten (89%) agreed that farms and crofts should be incentivised to undertake actions which enhance biodiversity; 5% disagreed, and 6% were unsure or did not answer. Individuals (90%) and organisations (89%) both recorded very high levels of agreement, but almost all who disagreed were individuals. Q3.2 received comments from 292 respondents. Most commonly, responses discussed: financial support; actions to create or maintain habitats for wildlife; organic farming; advice and training; and the need for individualised farm plans.

Financial support

Although not directly related to the question, the need for the Scottish Government to provide financial incentives or disincentives to encourage practices that enhance biodiversity was the most common theme across responses to this question. Some expressed a view that many farms are already enhancing biodiversity, and argued that financial incentives should not be aimed exclusively at those not currently taking action. Several mentioned the importance of the existing Agri-Environment Climate Scheme in funding activities, but some noted that such schemes can be onerous and bureaucratic.

Actions to create or maintain wildlife habitats

Many respondents gave specific and detailed suggestions for measures farmers could take to create or maintain wildlife habitats. These included: establishing hedgerows, particularly at field boundaries; planting more trees, including adopting agroforestry where trees are planted on grazing or arable land; and creating or improving wetland features such as ponds and small lochs. Several suggested enhancing soil quality; careful grazing management; and re-wilding or fallowing agricultural land.

Other suggestions identified by some included protecting or encouraging specific species; transitioning away from monoculture farming; restoring or protecting peatlands; creating wildlife corridors; planting different types of crops and/or grass; establishing or protecting wildflowers and areas for bird feeding and pollination; reducing livestock numbers; and crop rotation. A list of less commonly mentioned actions is in Appendix B.

"Agriculture is uniquely positioned to introduce approaches that will directly influence biodiversity's increase by developing systems for managing grasslands and wetlands, integrating more hedgerows and trees, and restoring carbon-rich habitats, such as peatlands." – The Nature Friendly Farming Network

Some respondents, however, urged caution. They gave examples where protecting one species might harm another, or when pursuing certain activities, such as intensive management of grasslands, could increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Organic farming and reducing use of chemicals

Another common view was that farms should embrace organic practices and reduce their use of chemicals, especially pesticides, artificial fertilisers and animal pharmaceuticals.

Advice and training

Several respondents identified the need for advice and training to support farmers to enhance biodiversity. These comments did not always specify who should deliver the advice and training, but suggestions included the Farmer Led Groups, the Scottish Government, and national environmental charitable organisations.

The importance of the Scottish Government's role in formulating long-term policy to guide farmers across Scotland was another prevalent theme.

Tailored approach for each farm and croft

Several noted that there is no one size fits all approach, with appropriate measures for a farm dependent on factors such as its size, location, type of agricultural practice and topography. Respondents felt that each farm must determine its own course of action, with a few emphasising that it should be individual farmers that make decisions about their own farms rather than being told what to do by government.

"Everybody can do something to address the biodiversity crisis but this is likely to vary considerably for each business depending on land type, holding size, altitude, food production capacity, presence of protected predators, natural features etc. Current schemes are too prescriptive and should be replaced with a broad range of measures to suit all land types. Each farm business should be encouraged and incentivised to build a bespoke biodiversity action plan reflecting and building on existing habitats and conditions available on farm." - Individual

A lack of biodiversity data was raised by several respondents. Respondents suggested that a baseline audit at regional or individual farm level would help to identify which actions are needed, and on-going data collection would help to monitor progress.

Some advocated for farms to make a Whole Farm Plan to ensure that actions taken benefit the entire farm and do not have any unintended negative consequences. Others urged for collaboration between farmers and external organisations such as environmental groups across localities or region, to identify and implement a consistent approach to biodiversity.



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