First Minister’s Environmental Council minutes: October 2022

Minutes from the meeting held on 31 October 2022.


Attendees and apologies


  • First Minister of Scotland, Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon 
  • Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport 
  • 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, School of Biology, University of St Andrews (FMEC Co-Chair)
  • Professor Ian Bateman OBE, Director of Land, Environment, Economics and Policy Institute, University of Exeter Business School (online)
  • Gordon Buchanan MBE, wildlife documentary maker
  • Revati Campbell, University of Glasgow (online)
  • Susan Davies FRSB, Chief Executive, Scottish Seabird Centre
  • Professor Sandra Diaz, National University of Cordoba, Argentina (online)
  • Erin Fowler, Historic Environment Scotland (online)
  • Ece Özdemiroğlu, founding Director of Eftec (online)
  • Dr Dilys Roe, Chair, IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group (SULi), International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)
  • Dame Julia Slingo FRS, Chief Scientist of the UK Met Office (2009 -2016) (online)
  • Professor Pete Smith FRS, Professor of Soils and Global Change, University of Aberdeen (online)


  • Professor Gretchen Daily, Bing Professor of Environmental Science, Stanford University, USA Faculty Director – The Natural Capital Project
  • Jocelyn Blériot, Executive Officer of Ellen MacArthur Foundation
  • Mairi McAllan, Minister for Environment and Land Reform 
  • Professor Yadvinder Malhi CBE, FRS, University of Oxford


  • Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, Chief Scientific Advisor for Scotland, Scottish Government
  • Professor Mathew Williams, Chief Scientific Adviser for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA)
  • Kevin Quinlan, Director Environment and Forestry
  • Annabel Turpie, Director Marine Scotland
  • George Burgess, Director Agriculture and Rural Economy
  • Simon Fuller, Deputy Director, Rural and Environmental Analysis, Scottish Government
  • Dr Sallie Bailey, Deputy CSA Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture (ENRA), Scottish Government
  • Mia Kett, FMEC Secretariat, Scottish Government
  • Anna O’Connor, FMEC Secretariat, Scottish Government

Policy teams

  • Land Use – John Kerr, Alison Griffin
  • Blue Economy – Sally Rouse, Claire Speedie

Items and actions


Professor Boyd opened the meeting and welcomed Council members, Ministers and officials to the third meeting of the First Minister’s Environmental Council.  He provided an update on policy areas discussed at the June meeting.

Mr Matheson provided opening remarks to the Council, focusing on the need to tackle climate change and biodiversity jointly when approaching topics like the future of land use and the blue economy.  It was agreed that our ability to deliver land use transformation and a successful blue economy while ensuring a just transition for communities will have a significant impact on our ability to achieve our climate change and biodiversity ambitions.

Ms McAllan, Minister for Environment and Land Reform,  highlighted the work currently ongoing to deliver the Climate Change Plan, which will be published at the end of next year. Professor Boyd noted that Council looked forward to discussing the Climate Change Plan in more detail at their December meeting.

Professor Boyd welcomed the First Minister to the meeting and introduced the first agenda item on Land Use transformation.

Land use transformation

Ms McAllan gave opening remarks, noting that Scotland’s land is fundamental to who we are. In the context of the climate and nature emergency there are substantial opportunities, for example to create green jobs, which government is pursuing. There are also challenges such as scaling up and increasing the pace of efforts towards peatland restoration and woodland creation while also ensuring a just transition for our rural communities.  She highlighted recent work on land use: including the Scottish Government’s Vision for Agriculture, the Consultation on the Biodiversity Strategy and the consultation on an ambitious new Land Reform Bill. Over this Parliament, three pieces of legislation (on land reform, agriculture, and the natural environment) will be brought forward, and significant funding commitments have been made which will continue to support the work to deliver woodland creation, peatland restoration and improvements to nature.  

Simon Fuller, DD RESAS, presented to the Council on current work on land use transformation being carried out across government. Key points made in the presentation included: 

  • agriculture occupies 72% of Scotland’s land use. The intensity of agriculture varies considerably, with much of the land used for rough grazing, and is important for supporting communities
  • woodland takes up 19% of land use, with important links to carbon sequestration, and creation rates needs to increase rapidly
  • a quarter of Scotland’s land mass is peatland, a lot of which is degraded. Restoration of peatland is critical for reaching both climate change and nature targets
  • the Scottish Government is consulting on a future Agriculture Bill which will inform post CAP agriculture policy and support payment system.  This will be key for determining how different land management practices are incentivised
  • communities who work on the land must be at the heart of the transitions, and Scotland’s approach to this will be set out in the Just Transition Plan, being published next year

During the discussion, members made the following points:

  • members started to explore questions relating to sustainable and secure food production: that there was potential for more application of closed loop agriculture production within Scotland (e.g. indoor plant production) and improvements to the efficiency of agricultural processes, risk of offshoring food production emissions, recognising the constrained amount of high quality agriculture land and how this will be impacted by climate change, the public good benefits of a secure food supply
  • Scottish Government (SG) should avoid policies that lock in current land use. SG should consider comparing land use sectors using the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per unit of production, and its spatial variation. SG could also spatially consider its decisions on land management practices, as different land areas have different capacities. The cost of emissions savings/nature benefits will vary largely based on location. A global context is also required to avoid leakage (e.g. off-shoring high emissions food production)
  • SG should scope the costs and benefits of tree planting, including species mixes (native trees) and their long term management. Climate change has the potential to adjust risks to forestry and agriculture. Native species may be more robust
  • collecting information at fine spatial scales will be critical to ensure effective monitoring of the delivery of public goods by land-owners. Geospatial information will also support the development of private capital inputs related to land
  • current support maintains a large national flock of sheep. Whilst this provides support to farmers on marginal land, it may not be the most efficient mechanism of doing so as it can lead to degradation of nature and is a source of greenhouse gas emissions
  • consider the balance of public versus private goods. Public money should typically be used for public goods such as reducing emissions and supporting biodiversity. There could be merit in supporting activity relating to agricultural land, in the form of an income subsidy, to meet wider social and cultural objectives. An example of where public investment could deliver different land management outcomes was in the uplands
  • public money won’t cover the full costs of peatland restoration/woodland creation on its own. Private investors are looking to invest in carbon credits. SG has a leadership role to play in leveraging private investment by bringing together land managers and investors, and making more information available. The public sector could access bond mechanisms, for example through the Scottish National Investment Bank, to fund these activities
  • when considering land management practices, decision makers need to fully understand trade-offs of different decisions, including GHG emissions, employment, biodiversity and even cultural values. Trade-offs are inevitable, but SG needs to make decisions based on a full understanding of what these trade-offs are and where they will be
  • the importance of engagement land managers in this work, including younger land managers, and coming to a new interpretation of what ‘productive land’ is
  • there is a need to plant trees/restore peatland early and urgently, given there is a time lag associated with the carbon savings/reduction in emissions. There is a potential trade-off between peatland restoration and forestry investment and queried what the optimal balance between woodland creation and peatland restoration was. Subsequent woodland management decisions would impact on the scale of sequestration, and how climate change could impact forestry (for example the spread of pests and diseases)

The role of government agricultural support in facilitating food security was also discussed, as were the challenges of leveraging private finance for future.  It was agreed that the council should return to these issues at a future meeting given their importance.

The role that the council can play in public communication was also discussed and that further work should be undertaken on this subject.

Blue economy

Ms Gougeon gave opening remarks. She noted how much greater Scotland’s seas are than our land and that our marine environment is critical for supporting jobs and rural communities, for ensuring food security as well as providing opportunities for renewable energy and are key to our efforts to address climate change and nature restoration.

Sally Rouse, Blue Economy Policy and Engagement Lead at Marine Scotland, presented on the blue economy visions and outcomes. She reported that in March this year, the Scottish Government published its Blue Economy Vision for Scotland. By 2045, Scotland’s shared stewardship of our marine environment supports ecosystem health, improved livelihoods, economic prosperity, social inclusion & wellbeing. The Vision defines the Scottish Government’s long-term ambition for shared stewardship of Scotland’s marine environment, putting nature on a more equal footing with social and economic considerations. Marine Scotland Directorate will shortly publish the next step in achieving this Vision and will begin to set out how our aspirations can be made real.

Ms Slater highlighted that while there are key similarities in the challenges faced by both the land and marine environment, in particular competing uses for space, a key difference as that blue carbon is not currently counted in national emissions inventories. 

In the subsequent discussion the following points were made:

  • members welcomed the recognition within the vision of the role that communication and public engagement will play in its delivery
  • the only blue C currently accounted for in international treaties is coastal (seagrass, saltmarsh). GHG emissions inventories take time to integrate new emissions sources (wetlands took over a decade to be included), so it is unlikely that off-shore blue carbon will be integrated in less than a decade, especially as many developing countries may not have the science capability to produce this data 
  • private finance markets are very interested in blue carbon credits, though more evidence is needed behind it around monitoring, reporting and verification to encourage investment
  • members commented that the vision needs more explicit inclusion of marine biodiversity – focusing across species, particularly those which migrate, to have an influence on global biodiversity
  • it will be critical to bring communities along with us, not just in economic terms but with regards to cultural identity and how well people feel they are represented in decisions. Real and sustained community engagement is needed in development processes. Phased approaches would be useful to ensure learnings are incorporated during construction and development. Development off-shore needs to ensure biodiversity net gain
  • the Council offered support to Marine Scotland Directorate in taking stock of its marine assets so these can be measured against. This would benefit from integrating economic, social and cultural data which Scotland’s terrestrial Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI) covers, but doesn’t account for marine natural capital
  • the Council discussed that offshore development requires precautionary actions, based for instance on portfolio theory, to de-risk outcomes. Critical to have data (e.g. seabird deaths around windfarms) to inform. Deliberative assessments should be deployed before and during development. Making multiple precautionary assumptions in assessment processes can lead to 'precaution stacking'. Effective risk analysis can ensure appropriate precautionary assumptions are made. Developers need to be involved in mitigation off-shore
  • Scotland is at the forefront of offshore wind and blue carbon internationally, with other countries looking to it for leadership. Government should consider whether we are making the most of our role here and collaborating internationally. Marine Scotland Directorate is developing a science and innovation strategy for marine which is a good start at this
  • with regards to terrestrial and aquaculture food production, policy areas need to make decisions jointly to establishing the optimal balance of food production as the demands on land and marine environments increase.  Members also highlighted how ecologically efficient shellfish industries can be, although careful consideration of carbon and biodiversity impacts is important

A number of points were made on using the precautionary principle, with a particular focus on environmental impact assessments for the consenting of offshore projects:

  • offshore wind developments tend to take a precautionary approach with environmental impact assessments, but there is recognition that where this causes extensive delays or permission being denied to low carbon energy developments, it might not always be considered precautionary for avoiding climate change impacts
  • projects could move away from precautionary approach towards a phased approach, with cautious assessment, evaluation and adaptive management. Approaches can only be precautionary to evidence that is available
  • there are financial methods like the modern portfolio theory which helps to consider systems linkages, for example where absolute precaution in one area might make things worse in another. The option isn’t always ‘nothing’ versus ‘everything’, other approaches can consider outcomes under different futures. It is worth noting that there might need to be reductions in some targets if we can be sure about achieving other important targets

Mr Matheson thanked members for their contributions.  He noted that:

  • there is a difficult balance between competing demands for marine space, including carbon intensive industries such as oil and gas. We need to be shifting towards a low carbon blue economy in a just way, particularly with regards to making opportunities available and accessible within the renewable energy sector. There is a need to balance competing needs and the reliance of the economy on oil and gas sector at the moment
  • actions to address negative impacts of marine projects, e.g. through environmental impact assessments (EIAs), are currently mitigated by individual project-level actions. However, the cumulative impact of a programme of development across natural habitat networks may be too large for individual project-level actions to address. Actions to offset impacts may therefore need to be dealt with at a programme/ecosystem level to ensure no net negative environmental impacts
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