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.

6. Sequestration

The consultation presented the Farmer Led Groups' suggestions on how to increase carbon sequestration i.e. removing carbon from the atmosphere through storage in soil or vegetation. The question focussed on how to adapt land use to increase sequestration and help meet climate change targets.

Q5.1: How best can land use change be encouraged on the scale required for Scottish Government to meet its climate change targets?

Q5.1 received 292 comments - the most of all consultation questions. These covered changes in land use that respondents felt were needed or would like to see, and calls for financial incentives, education and a joined-up approach to encourage land use change.

Tree planting and forestry

The most common theme in response to Q5.1 was discussion of forestry, and mixed views were evident. Many respondents called for more woodland and hedgerows to be planted. Most noted the importance of an agroforestry approach where trees or shrubs are grown around or among crops or pastureland, and the principle of 'the right tree in the right place', where trees are sensibly integrated into land use. A small number expressed support for large scale forestry, and recognised that landowners can gain financially from this. However, many respondents raised concerns over excessive or blanket plantations, particularly of non-native or coniferous trees. Some argued these do not reduce carbon emissions in the long-term; others highlighted the damage large plantations cause to rural landscapes, economies and communities. Specifically, some argued that promoting large scale forestry reduces the land available for food production, and asked for consideration to be given to balancing this with climate change targets.

"STFA recognised the need for more tree planting but 'the right tree in the right place' adage has never been more pertinent. We would favour enhanced support for smaller scale woodlands and agro-forestry allowing integration within farming systems rather than the loss of tracts of productive land and the farming opportunities which go with them." – Scottish Tenant Famers Association

Financial incentives

Using financial incentives was the second most prevalent theme. Most made general comments advocating the use of grants, subsidies or rewards to help encourage uptake of the various land use changes outlined in this chapter. A few highlighted that farmers will need to be confident they will be better off financially as a result of any change in land use.


Several respondents reiterated the need to protect or restore peatland. They highlighted the value of peatland in sequestering carbon, and called for peatland used for forestry or production to be returned to its natural form. Related to this, a small number called for the protection or restoration of wetlands, saltmarshes and riversides.

Education and support

Providing education, training, guidance and support to encourage land use change was raised by several respondents. In particular, there were calls for examples of best practice or the actions to be taken to be shared more widely to improve understanding.

A joined-up approach to land use planning

Several respondents commented on land use planning. Some detailed the important role of strategic planning and using official planning processes, in particular Regional Land Use Partnerships (RLUPs) as a means to balance competing demands and encourage collaborative working at scale. A very small number suggested RLUPs should be involved in regulation and be part of the agricultural payments system. A few noted apparent policy conflicts e.g. encouraging agriculture to improve biodiversity but also encouraging housebuilding on greenfield sites, or forestry policy in conflict with peatland restoration. More generally a small number highlighted the need to consider Scotland's landscapes as a whole and not make decisions on land use which could damage these.

"Encouraging the necessary land use change at the scale required will need strategic land use planning at national and regional level through processes such as the National Planning Framework, Regional Land Use Partnerships and Regional Land Use Frameworks. In relation to the latter, coverage is required for all regions of Scotland and faster progress to produce RLUFs is needed." – multiple individuals and organisations.

Livestock and grazing

Mixed views were expressed on livestock and grazing. Some, mostly individuals, called for livestock numbers to be reduced or for an end to animal agriculture. Conversely, a slightly smaller proportion of mostly individuals suggested that grazing livestock numbers should be increased, particularly in upland areas where this was seen as a better use of land than forestry. Some called for more research into, and recognition of the importance of, grassland in sequestering carbon, and suggested using land for grazing should be encouraged.

Landowners and activities on large estates

Calls to change land management practices on large estates was another theme in comments. There was criticism from a few respondents about large landowners receiving a disproportionate level of funding, removing tenant farmers and pursuing forestry. Some urged for an end to land use for hunting, particularly grouse moors. A small number called for muirburn[5] to be banned. Some respondents championed wider land reform. A few urged the Scottish Government, local authorities and other public bodies to lead by example by managing land it owns or controls in ways that will help meet targets. Others suggested more land should be in public or community ownership.



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