Citizens' forums, and attitudes to agriculture, environment and rural priorities: research report

Results of an independent study into Scottish public attitudes to the environment, agriculture and rural development.

Land management: keeping the land healthy and productive

The research identified effective land management and keeping the land healthy and productive as a key guiding principle for future agri-policy. This is pertinent given that 73% of Scotland's land is designated as agricultural.

At the Citizens' Forums there was discussion of the value attributed to Scottish landscapes and scenery, in terms of the health and wellbeing of the local population but also in terms of attracting tourism to Scotland.

However, there was also discussion of the competing demands placed on land and a view that there should be a diversification of land usage beyond food production by "embracing niche markets" such as investing in alternative energy resources including wind, solar of hydro power or "making our landscape attractive" to further stimulate tourism. Such discussions were couched in considerations of the value in using land productively.

While some participants talked about encouraging the use of crop rotation and maximising the potential of the land, particularly considering the high prevalence of rough grazing in Scotland, there was also the view that land as a natural asset should be preserved - "not all land needs to be productive" - particularly considering the organisms, nutrients, and minerals within the land and soil which are key to sustaining ecosystems, and the potential risk of harm to these through over-working the land. Indeed, there was discussion of poor farming practices such as the overuse of chemicals which can damage the land. However, there was a view that the use of chemicals was also precipitated through a "race-to-the-bottom" in which consumers want the largest quantity for the lowest prices which has an impact on farming practices.

Balancing competing demands for land use is explored in the literature on the issue. Importantly, the literature highlights that the Common Agricultural Policy creates competing outcomes in relation to agriculture and forestry:[15] by funding farmers for agricultural produce it provides little incentive to farmers to create woodland on land which is suitable for agriculture.

Considering these differing views on land use and management, the research identified agreement that there should be better cooperation among landowners around land management; to ensure that there is a balance between productive and unproductive use of land; and that land is nurtured, and ecosystems are preserved. There was a recognition that farming can have benefits in nurturing the land; in particular mixed farming was cited as yielding benefits in terms of increasing biodiversity, and the aesthetics of landscapes.

Reflecting on the issue of land management there was the view that future agri-policy needs to recognise the wide range of assets - including scenic landscapes, rivers and canals, which are impacted by agricultural practices.

"Optimal food production is dependent on a multitude of factors such as habitat, ecological environment and the nature of the farmland" (Interview participant)

"Bumble bees are dying out in Lewis and Harris; we need them as pollinators for the next generation of plants" (Interview participant)

There was the view that the previous policies such as the CAP had created a "broad brush approach" which led to poor quality farming for large quantities of commercial produce which inhibited variety in farming. Therefore, future agri-policy should organise and manage food production in Scotland but also land management to ensure that the land is healthy and productive. This would involve creating a food map to locate "where can we get certain types of goods and where is its optimal value to grow them", but also recognising areas where preservation is required to avoid environmental harm.

Points of consideration:

  • Participants' expressed the view that consideration should be given on how to facilitate cooperation among landowners about land-management to ensure that land is healthy and productive - this will include landowners taking ownership of a range of environmental and social responsibilities, and taking decisions on what is the best use of land recognising competing demands and priorities;
  • Future agri-policy should prioritise farming practices that ensure that the land is healthy, such as mixed-farming which helps to encourage biodiversity; consideration should also be given to incentivising land managers to use practices that ensure sustainable soil management;
  • Future agri-policy should place an emphasis on priorities for land management, particularly as there is a view that there should be a diversification of land use to include both productive and non-productive uses of the land. Moreover, underpinning all land use, there should be the commitment to preserve and enhance soil quality, biodiversity, water quality and ecosystems.



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