Agriculture and Rural Development Stakeholder Group Minutes : 14 March 2023

Minutes from the ARD Stakeholder Group on 14 March 2023

Items and actions


All present briefly introduced themselves to the meeting. 

Route Map - Item 1

Officials presented on the Route Map as published in February 2023, followed by a presentation on Scottish Government (SG) Communications and Engagement.


  • many welcomed the update 
  • farmers still don’t understand clearly what the route is – real messaging issue to resolve 
  • need for feedback loop with regards the proposed ‘measures’ 
  • illustrative case studies need to go beyond just carbon audits and soil analysis if we are to get the message out to farmers about what needs to be done
  • missing biodiversity for a start
  • must get the message across about rewarding those who have already made a start on the journey.
  • at the moment, from his experience, the early movers believe they will miss out on future support. This is preventing others from starting now – they are holding back for the changes to come in, (and with it the financial support)
  • farmers need to plan ahead long term
  • must confirm future conditionality requirements as soon as possible (with clear messaging) so that planning can start in good time
  • perhaps officials and ministers should put themselves ‘on the line’, as DEFRA has done, to really benefit from proper feedback
  • agree – people are holding back making improvements as they wait for the time when support will be available
  • don’t forget workers’ rights – lots of talk about changing practices so messaging required to reassure people that there will be social justice too
  • need to improve comms on why we need to make changes in the first place i.e. the climate and biodiversity crises
  • help farmers understand how much more they can do beyond just food production
  • don’t focus comms on the mechanics of schemes – focus it on the big picture and extend it to a much wider audience beyond mainstream farming
  • huge number of farmers simply do not see the bigger picture. Bitesize comms not the only answer – communicate the bigger picture too
  • and go wider than the farming schemes, biodiversity and climate – include rural development, sustainability etc. in the messaging
  • there is a ‘fear’ around what comes next. For example, will I be punished for changes I’ve made to try and improve? 
  • need to face up to fact that there is an issue of trust between stakeholders and government
  • farming very much about peer-to-peer relationships. If farmers see their peers losing out for taking the initiative, or hesitating due to doubts, they will not be inclined at all to follow on
  • productivity is the big seller – if we can get the message out that the changes we have to make, including for biodiversity etc, will improve productivity and yield benefits, (and keep in mind fact that Scotland is in a good position as it does have options to change, unlike some areas of Europe), it will be picked up
  • that’s a key message to sell
  • Historic Environment does not feature in any discussions around this
  • we should remember that farmers and crofters are managing our historic assets. Current programme suggests there won’t be support which is missed opportunity as these assets contribute in various ways to carbon sequestration, biodiversity, etc
  • welsh policy includes provision for management of historic sites 
  • the historic environment doesn’t feature much in sustainable development either
  • not to forget that there is already so much going on ‘out there’, (eg. QMS monitor farms, KTIF, NFFN, etc.). we should be taking opportunity to link into these
  • reading about changes does not ‘bring them to life’
  • we need to prepare farmers and crofters by showing them the opportunities and real potential that can come from change

 What can SG do to assist peer-to-peer messaging – that is something that is difficult for SG to facilitate?

  • build it into business development initiatives and be consistent…time after time after time 
  • key stakeholders need to lead on this – they need greater involvement
  • most people have a rough idea of what change is needed – perhaps external stakeholders need to do more about the specifics
  • show what the future looks like - to do this, joint working is essential
  • NFUS is collecting feedback and they will share this
  • there is a lack of information out there that illustrates the role of biodiversity in agriculture. In addition, there is insufficient detail about what good work can be done now that will be supported in the future
  • NFFN would like greater involvement in this (biodiversity) side of the things
  • perhaps this is an opportunity for a quick win? Explain the biodiversity benefits now, and confirm what farmers are doing well now that is helping biodiversity, at the same time as the current work on communicating about the measures
  • officials reassured the meeting that biodiversity is a main outcome and will feature in the measures in due course
  • we should appreciate this is about institutional reform 
  • people disagree about the ‘how’ but they can also disagree about the goals (the ‘why’). Most people at present don’t believe reforms will work
  • what we’re trying to do is hard – recognise this is about deeply held beliefs that information alone will not change - this is a long-term task
  • past policy has steered people to ‘follow the money’. Where there is good practice, it is largely despite government policy
  • CAP payments went to intensive operations and good practice was largely ignored and therefore there is distrust from those people who are best placed to do the most good going forward 
  • this is generational distrust that will be challenging to overcome
  • limited consultation around agriculture Bill was not helpful – yes, must go out to community halls etc, but must do the task well
  • get away from dry material and be more engaging and creative about the engagement process. (Videos; infographics…)  
  • exclusion of deer farming, focus appears to continually be on beef and sheep sectors
  • there are possible quick wins to consider
  • AECS – make it easier to apply (Agriculture Offices from area offices could help review this) 
  • make greater use of top-level stakeholders, like the ARD, for advice 
  • appreciate the conflicting interests of agriculture and environment, but don’t forget that we need to maintain a critical mass of agriculture for everything to work. (The links with economic policy)
  • budget knowledge is key – without that, what we can do is limited 
  • from experience of working with two demonstration farms focussed on practical ways to reduce emissions and improve biodiversity, the biggest gains come from collaboration with neighbours
  • collaboration needs attention now, eg. for AECS opportunities, particularly as it takes time to build these relationships
  • latest monitor farms programme just up and running but these offer huge potential to provide per-to-peer support
  • discussion of an entrenched mindset around farming practices that will be challenging to change. Must be positive about the future and keep repeating consistent messages over and over
  • need advocates (influencers and innovators) who can multiply up the good messages. Focus efforts on these people – leave the doors open for the slow followers but focus support on the movers and shakers
  • people will follow the money
  • give them the comfort of knowing they can change and they will do it, eventually
  • must sell the big picture – the ‘why’ the change is needed
  • consider what extra can we do for farmers now? Biodiversity audits? 
  • Eg. AECS – RSPB and NFFN are good at this stuff, and with support could encourage more involvement with AECS work and help get the messaging across 
  • agree, collaboration is important
  • there are two strands to comms – the big picture and the detail
  • farmers need both so don’t overlook one in favour of the other


  • awareness that we need to move faster
  • importance of engaging more with the early adopters, especially around ensuring they know they will be rewarded for what they’ve done and won’t lose out in the future

Presentations on stakeholder involvement process and the Land use and Agriculture Just Transition Plan - Item 2


May be necessary to include Forestry and SEPA. Noted by SG both these groups are represented on ARD but had sent apologies.

  • not sure how the illustrative journeys will mesh with the 5 core JTC themes. For instance, land reform versus agriculture? 
  • should the order of the 5 core themes be changed, given the importance of agriculture?
  • around the narrative – what are we saying? Is this about past inequalities? 
  • may be helpful to ensure include some figures to better illustrate what Just Transition means
  • choices (political) will need to be made when it comes to meeting the Climate Change Plan targets, which means there will be issues about what can be included in the LAJTP 
  • need to be clear that specific industry sectors do not have legally bound emissions targets and that it is just the overall emissions totals that are statutory requirements
  • countered that whilst that may be the case it is essential that it is pointed out that everyone is expected to do their part in reducing emissions
  • queried if there were links to the Good Food Nation work within the LAJTF, particularly as routes to market, fair prices for food etc., were all aspects of ensuring a JT for farmers and crofters

Officials confirmed team was liaising with GFN colleagues on this

National Food Plans should cover much of these issues, in parallel with the LAJTP. 

  • on the justice side of things, be mindful that despite their responsibility in contributing to biodiversity goals, farmers are still restricted by not having access to eg. 3 phase electricity or good broadband services, as urban populations do
  • what can the LAJTP do to act on this? 

Officials suggested the LAJTP may not be able to address those specific issues but there was an opportunity to pass the information on to officials who could then consider them. 

There is a question about economic sustainability of rural communities to address here. A focus on this could increase engagement. Likewise, need more clarity for people who are ‘just outside the farm gate’, to ensure they are included in the JT process. Possible gaps? 

Officials advised that they would be reaching out to both the primary stakeholders and the secondary/indirect stakeholders too. 

Forestry Presentation - Item 3

Forestry plans and consultation process. 


  • forestry is the regulator so there tends to be a one-sided story to this
  • perhaps needs to be wider involvement in large scale plans, maybe with greater involvement by local authorities and earlier input from communities
  • forestry is a big influencer and activities are having an impact on communities already. Is it having positive impact on biodiversity? Maybe not! 
  • watch that trees don’t push ahead quicker than other activities, leading to unintended consequences. Forestry is a complicated environment and people don’t understand it fully
  • be clear that all paths to Net Zero are interconnected 
  • there is a place for native tree restoration, (although issue with deer to sort out
  • must ensure factor in the risks that come with commercial tree planting
  • more conversations required with farmers about integrating trees onto farms
  • quick win possible – ARD stakeholders have huge network of contacts for establishing round table meetings around specific issues, so perhaps utilise this for forestry? 

Schedule for future ARD meetings - Item 4

Show of hands indicated unanimous agreement that in-person meetings should be continued. 


  • RHASS Happy to host hybrid meetings – they could source appropriate technology to facilitate this 
  • perhaps it’s time to give more thought to the members of the main ARD group, and any sub-groups that should be formed 
  • need to improve communications network
  • potentially lots for ARD to discuss – is 4 meetings a year sufficient? Would more frequent hybrid meetings be beneficial? Sub-groups?
  • structure of the ARD needs thought
  • workshops were muted as one way to facilitate ARD involvement, from those with specific interests or experience in the particular subject area
  • in favour of workshops for wider discussions
  • perhaps wider stakeholders could provide people and facilitators with appropriate skills more easily than SG could do
  • benefit was that SG officials could then listen rather than be tied to running the meetings
  • this may resolve some of the frustrations the ARD group has had about involvement
  • countered by ask that requests for assistance should be very clear
  • good example is chairmanship of the meetings
  • given the wide remit of the group, having a chair with a specific area of interest may not be ideal
  • perhaps RPID needs a greater role? 
  • potential benefit is that by enabling better working relationships the general well-being of participants is enhanced
  • ARD is about agriculture AND wider rural environment, therefore a need for wide stakeholder involvement
  • can we map out and be clear that all stakeholder groups are identified



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