First Minister's Environmental Council minutes: March 2023

Minutes from the meeting held on 13 March 2023.

Attendees and apologies


  • First Minister of Scotland, Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon– Co-Chair [agenda item 5 only]
  • Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport
  • Mairi McAllan, Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform
  • Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands
  • Lorna Slater, Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity

Council members

  • Professor Sir Ian Boyd (FMEC Co-Chair) 
  • Professor Ian Bateman OBE, Director of Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute, University of Exeter Business School
  • Professor Sandra Diaz, National University of Cordoba, Argentina
  • Susan Davies, FRSB Chief Executive, Scottish Seabird Centre
  • Professor Yadvinder Malhi CBE, University of Oxford
  • Dr Dilys Roe, Chair, IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)
  • Professor Pete Smith FRS, Professor of Soils and Global Change, University of Aberdeen
  • Professor Peter Haugan Policy Director, Institute of Marine Research, Norway
  • Revati Campbell, University of Glasgow
  • Jocelyn Blériot, Executive Officer of Ellen MacArthur Foundation
  • Ece Özdemiroğlu, founding director of eftec (economics for the environment consultancy)
  • Dame Julia Slingo FRS, Chief Scientist of the UK Met Office (2009 -2016)
  • Erin Fowler, University of Glasgow


  • Gordon Buchanan MBE, award-winning wildlife camera-man and presenter
  • Professor Gretchen Daily, Bing Professor of Environmental Science, Stanford University, USA Faculty Director – The Natural Capital Project


  • Sallie Bailey, Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture, RESAS
  • Alice Biggins, Deputy Director, Food and Drink
  • George Burgess, Director Agriculture and Rural Economy
  • Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, Chief Scientific Adviser for Scotland
  • Simon Fuller, Deputy Director RESAS
  • Mia Kett, FMEC Secretariat, RESAS
  • James Muldoon, Head of Agriculture Support Policy
  • Anna O’Connor, FMEC Secretariat, RESAS
  • Victoria Webster, Strategic Insights Unit
  • Professor Mathew Williams, Chief Scientific Adviser for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture

Items and actions


Professor Boyd opened the meeting and welcomed council members, Ministers and officials to the fifth meeting of the First Minister’s Environmental Council. He noted that Professor Gretchen Faily had resigned from council due to competing time demands.

Agriculture policy and food security – policy context presentations  

Policy officials presented a high level overview of the current policy position and proposals for agricultural reform and food security. Professor Boyed thanked colleagues and acknowledged that there was currently a lot of activity already going on in this area.


Professor Bateman set out a range of considerations around achieving transformational support for farming and food production in Scotland, while reducing environmental impacts, enabling Scotland to become global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture through its future agricultural support regime.

Key points highlighted by Professor Bateman include:

  • a transition to a sustainable farming sector is a vital element in Scotland’s continuing path towards a resilient, net zero and nature-positive future. However, this transition should be appropriately phased in to ensure the engagement of both the farming community and society
  • the overall level of agricultural subsidy should be maintained, but the way it is directed should change. Public money should not be used to subsidise food production, but access to food should be addressed directly by supporting those facing food poverty. Subsidies should be targeted to those areas and schemes which yield the best improvements, such as environmental excellence
  • there are valid arguments for supporting farmer and rural incomes through a tailored income policy and not through agricultural support
  • public money should be invested into innovations which increase food output while reducing environmental impacts and mitigating food insecurity
  • scotland needs a coherent land management framework which recognises the varying capacity of land to deliver public and private goods, and so underpins localised management plans which would attract public funding for specified outcomes. That framework should not rely upon exporting problems, such as biodiversity loss or greenhouse gas emissions, overseas

Professor Boyd opened the meeting for discussion and the following points were made:

  • members discussed the proposals set out in the vision for scottish agriculture, including tiered payments. FMEC acknowledged the scale of the challenge, necessitating transformational change without exacerbating environmental harm.The council suggested that that the proposals set out for agricultural reform via the tiered system of support could deliver their objectives but ensuring the detail is correct will be complex
  • fmec members supported the proposal for a (whole) farm plan and suggested that this could be widened to a land management framework. Officials responded that the farm plan was linked to agricultural support, with a focus on farms. Farm plans could help individual farms and businesses yield wider benefits from their land, including social public good and environmental improvement
  • to reach our net zero and nature targets we need far reaching systemic change that also ensures a just transition. The council should consider the Scottish Government’s just transition plans and provide input and advice on the development of the plan for agriculture
  • Ms Gougeon noted that the agricultural reform proposals are about changing cultures and ensuring a just transition so that we create thriving rural and island communities
  • Mr Matheson noted that further evidence was needed to better understand the impacts agricultural transformation on food prices, availability of products and choice in the shops, noting that impacts are wider than just the agricultural sector

First Minister welcome remarks 

First Minister noted that this was her last meeting as co-chair and FM and thanked members for their contribution, advice and wisdom to date and noted how valuable their input had been. 

Food security   

FMEC Co-Chair Professor Boyd set out a range of considerations around food security. Key points highlighted by Professor Boyd included:

  • Scotland is currently one of the most food secure countries in the world. It relies on itself and its nearest neighbours for most of its food supply. Most of the supply sources are relatively politically stable and present low risk of failure but even these markets are open to global supply fluctuations
  • markets in food are increasingly globally and this determines the current level of global food security, including in Scotland
  • global stresses are increasing, largely driven by climate change impacts and potential geopolitical risks. These risks are increasing, and as such Scotland's resilience is likely to decline in the future if action is not taken to manage and mitigate those risks
  • Scotland’s resilience to acute food security challenges comes largely from its diversity of supply and the reliability of strong trade relationships but global stress is increasing, and this resilience is likely to be declining
  • Scotland needs to understand the risks there are to global food supplies, especially to manage and mitigate various potential points of failure
  • Scotland is currently food secure in terms of food supply, but in common with many advanced economies a significant minority of the population experience food insecurity
  • the long-term decline in the cost of food as a proportion of income may have halted. Rises in food prices in the future are a strong possibility and this will increase the levels of chronic food insecurity in Scotland
  • public money should be invested into innovations which increase food output while reducing environmental impacts and mitigating food insecurity

During the subsequent discussion a range of points were raised:

  • the council were asked to further consider innovations and technologies that help increase Scotland’s resilience to food insecurity
  • there is ample potential for community wealth building, through the development of local supply chains. Scotland needs to ensure affordable access to food. How much does shortening local supply chains improve access to healthy food
  • the recent food security issues as a result of Ukraine conflict are an example of longer term international stresses. FMEC highlighted that other countries retain food stocks as a way of addressing food security whilst other countries have undertaken public awareness campaigns to raise awareness of issues around food security to increase national resilience

RBGE medal presentation   

First Minister welcomed Simon Milne, Regius Keeper at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. First Minister then presented the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh medal to FMEC member Sandra Diaz. Professor Diaz received the medal to recognise her outstanding contribution to plant ecology and conservation.

FMEC scenarios 

Professor Boyd welcomed Alister Wilson, waverley consulting to the meeting who lead a discussion on future scenarios for Scotland’s environment. During the subsequent discussion the following points were made:

  • FMEC members agreed transformational change is needed to meet our climate change and nature targets, including behaviour change. It will require investment and consideration of the cost of not making changes
  • individuals need to know, and want to know, what is required of them at a local level
  • members discussed who needs to take responsibility for change and agreed it is wider than just government
  • green skills are important and there could be long term cost saving from early investment
  • there is a lot of scientific information available but not easily accessible to wider society and business. Case studies are a good way of making decisions and their impact easily relatable
  • it is important to get cross party support to move forward on climate targets, but it will be challenging to get political consensus on the detail 
  • alternative voices are needed to bring pressure on Government and business. Empowered communities are generally healthier, stronger resilient communities
  • a list of enablers is needed – what is needed early to succeed, being clear what the key break points are that will prevent success

Meeting close 

Professor Boyd thanked colleagues for attending and for all their contributions. He noted that the next council meeting would take place in June.

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