Getting the best from our land – a land use strategy 2016 to 2021: first annual progress report

Since the publication of the Land Use Strategy 2016 - 2021, the Scottish Government has delivered on several of the key commitments that were set out within it. This report provides an overview of achievements to date as well as actions that remain to be completed.

Progress Overview

Natural Capital 

The promotion of an ecosystem approach to managing Scotland’s natural capital is a core aspect of the Land Use Strategy 2016 - 2021. Scotland was the first country in the world to develop a Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI), which is published by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and is used as a National Performance Framework indicator on natural capital. It is worth noting that the NCAI is a composite index which tracks changes in the capacity of Scotland's terrestrial ecosystems to provide benefits to people. The NCAI does not include monetary values but is composed to reflect the relative contribution of habitats to human wellbeing. The indicator is currently ‘maintaining’. 

Scotland was the first country in the UK to have country level estimates of natural capital value. The Scottish National Capital Accounts are an adaptation of the existing UK-wide accounts produced by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) and were first published in 2019. The accounts present for the first time estimates of the value of Scotland’s natural capital in monetary terms and will make it easier to incorporate natural capital into decision making. 

Land managers, communities and stakeholders have been involved with projects which promote an ecosystem approach, and which will help to protect and restore our natural capital. The ongoing Carse of Stirling Partnership project has illustrated how farmers, land managers and local communities can work together to develop the priorities for integrated land and water management. The project has taken a holistic approach by taking account of how ecosystems work, considering the benefits nature provides to people, and involving people in decisions about the management of nature.

Land reform

In 2017 the Scottish Government published The Statement of Land Rights and Responsibilities in Scotland, which delivered on a key commitment of the Land Use Strategy and fulfilled a requirement under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016. The Statement contains a vision and six principles that are intended to be mutually supportive. These underpin the Scottish Government’s vision for a stronger relationship between the people of Scotland and the land, where ownership and use of land delivers greater public benefits through a democratically accountable and transparent system of land rights and responsibilities.

In addition to the Statement of Land Rights, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 led to the establishment of the Scottish Land Commission, which is an important independent body that advises Scottish Ministers on issues relating to land ownership, use and reform.


The Scottish Government published the Climate Change Plan: Third Report on Proposals and Policies 2018-2032 (RPP3) in February 2018. Building on the commitment set out in the Land Use Strategy 2016-2021, the agriculture chapter of the plan set out a suite of policies, proposals and milestones designed to help facilitate the step change to climate-friendly farming and crofting through delivery of the following five overarching policy outcomes: 

  • Farmers, crofters land managers and other primary producers are aware of the benefits and practicalities of cost-effective climate change mitigation measures.
  • Emissions from nitrogen fertiliser will have fallen through a combination of improved understanding, reduced application and better soil.
  • Work with Quality Meat Scotland and others to reduce emissions from red meat and dairy through improved emissions intensity.
  • Emissions from the use and storage of manure and slurry will have been reduced.
  • The carbon content of soil and agricultural land will have been improved through carbon sequestration and expanded woodland/forestry and hedgerows.

In addition to the actions set out in the Climate Change Plan the Scottish Government has also established the Farming and Food Production – Future Policy Group (FFP-FPG). This group was established following a Parliamentary debate in January 2019 in order to develop and recommend broad principles for the future of farming and food production policy based on six key themes: sustainability, simplicity, profitability, innovation, inclusion and productivity. 

The Group’s Vision for 2050 is “Productive land-based businesses contributing to vibrant, thriving and inclusive rural economies, supporting sustainable food production, whilst restoring and protecting Scotland’s environment”. They will be publishing their Report during the course of the summer (2020).

The Scottish Government has also established the independent farmer-led Climate Smart Suckler Beef Group; this short life advisory group was established in February 2020 to consider and make recommendations in relation to climate change, environmental and production efficiency aspects of the more intensive suckler beef sector. The group has taken both verbal and written evidence from a number of academic, industry, private individuals and sector experts on issues relating to climate change, environmental and production efficiency. Their final report is due for publication later in 2020.

Whilst addressing nitrogen-based pollution is not a specific commitment of the Land Use Strategy 2016 – 2021, nor only an agricultural issue, the Scottish Government is currently progressing work to establish a national Nitrogen Balance Sheet. This will cover all sectors of the economy that use and/or emit nitrogen causing harmful pollution. This will help to improve the evidence base, and better inform decision-making, across a range of policy areas within Scotland. The Scottish Government remains committed to establishing this Balance Sheet early in the next Parliamentary session.


The Land Use Strategy 2016-2021 recognised that forestry has a key role to play in delivering the Strategy’s Vision, Objectives and Principles in rural and urban Scotland and that sustainable forestry and woodland creation makes an important contribution to Scotland’s economy, people’s health and well-being, and addressing the global climate emergency.

The Climate Change Plan: Third Report on Proposals and Policies 2018-2032 reiterates forestry’s important role in mitigating the impacts of climate change through increasing woodland creation and encouraging the greater use of timber in construction. The plan includes ambitious annual targets for woodland creation starting at 10,000 hectares in 2018/19 rising in steps up to 15,000 in 2024/25. 

To support the delivery of those targets the Scottish Government has worked closely with stakeholders, including the forestry sector to promote tree planting, build the capacity of the sector (e.g. tree nurseries) and streamline the forestry grant scheme approvals process. This collaborative effort resulted in the establishment of 11,120 hectares of new woodland in 2018-2019, and 10,860 hectares in 2019-2020. In both those years, this new planting represents around 80% of all new woodland creation in the UK.

In February 2019 the Scottish Government published Scotland’s Forestry Strategy 2019-2029, which presents a fifty-year vision for Scotland’s forests and woodlands, and a ten-year framework for action. It sets out a long-term approach to expanding, protecting and enhancing Scotland’s forests and woodlands, to deliver greater economic, social and environmental benefits now and in the future. The forestry strategy was developed to support the aims of the Land Use Strategy 2016-2021  and will be implemented as part of the integrated approach.  

The publication of the forestry strategy was a requirement under the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018 and fulfilled the policy commitment in the Land Use Strategy 2016-2021

Actions still in progress

A highly anticipated aspect of the Land Use Strategy 2016-2021 is the development of Regional Land Use Partnerships. The Land Use Strategy identifies such partnerships as the way to better integrate land uses and to consider how land use can support our climate change and other environmental and economic ambitions. It is an approach that has been strongly supported across a range of stakeholders. The Scottish Government remains fully committed to Regional Land Use Partnerships, and has reiterated this commitment in the 2019-20 Programme for Government. Our key priority over the coming year is to ensure that partnerships emerge locally during 2021. The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform has asked the Scottish Land Commission to undertake initial scoping work on the establishment of the partnerships. The Land Commission is currently developing its advice which is expected to be published in the Autumn (2020).



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