Programme for Government 2023 to 2024

Focuses on equality, opportunity and community.

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Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands

Mairi Gougeon MSP

Scotland’s land and seas are vital to every aspect of our nation’s wellbeing. Protecting, nurturing, and restoring these assets and ensuring they sustain our people, businesses, and communities, now and in the future, is my priority. That is why, since becoming Cabinet Secretary, my focus has been on reforming and transforming our policies, support, and activities.

Addressing, mitigating, and adapting to climate change, and protecting and restoring nature – these are challenges that also create opportunities. I will continue our work to grow and support Scotland’s rural and blue economies – to make them more sustainable, productive, and prosperous.

Scotland’s agriculture, forestry, fishing, and aquaculture sectors are at the heart of many of our communities and they play a vital role in our economy. Combined, they contribute around £2.6 billion a year to the Scottish economy.

Our food and drink industry has been harmed by Brexit, yet it is still Scotland’s largest manufacturing sector, with exports worth £8 billion annually. Delivery of the new Scotland Food and Drink strategy will not only help recover lost ground, but set the sector fair for success in the future. The immediate focus of our new Food Security Unit is on developing evidence-based monitoring for supply chain risks, and we are making real progress in being a Good Food Nation.

Our vision for the Blue Economy sets out how we will transform all that we do with our seas and coastal waters – we now need to put that into action. Everyone has a role to play, not least our fishing and seafood businesses. They recognise more than any of us how important a healthy marine environment is.

We will continue to work to deliver more fishing opportunities and prosperity for Scotland’s coastal communities. Our Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture sets out how the sector can contribute to our Blue Economy and net zero ambitions, while being globally recognised as innovative, productive, and sustainable.

Work to transform how we support farming and food production is well underway, with new conditions to protect and restore peatland to apply to basic payments, and conditions to improve business efficiency and cut emissions applying to beef support payments from 2025.

We legislated last year to allow the start date of the Basic Payment Scheme and Greening payments to be brought forward to September 2022, paying out £419 million in the year to August 2023 in support to Scottish farmers and crofters. In the coming year, we will do the same, starting payments in September 2023 to provide farmers and crofters with financial security during the ongoing cost crisis.

We still plant more trees and create more woodland than any other UK nation. To make further progress faster, we are investing up to £1 million to develop skills and boost planting around rivers and streams. We have improved grants for agro-forestry and will make the now publicly owned Glenprosen Estate into an exemplar of forestry and land use.

Protecting and restoring peatland is critical to our climate change ambitions. In 2022-23, we restored around 7,500 hectares of peatland, making further progress towards our 250,000 hectare target.

People and communities are key to sustaining the wellbeing of rural Scotland. This year we increased the Scottish Land Fund, providing up to £11 million to enable more communities to own land, buildings, and other assets in urban and rural areas.

Working closely with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, we will continue to support rural skills, acting on recommendations from the Land-Based Learning Review and taking account of the wider reforms of the education and skills system that the Scottish Government will be implementing.

We are providing £443,000 of support to Scottish Enterprise to establish a new Agritourism Monitor Farm Programme over 2023-24 and 2024-25, and funded Scottish Agritourism to provide a leadership role to help deliver the Scottish Agritourism Strategy.

We have provided an additional £1 million to help our six island authorities support more island residents and businesses with the cost of living and other challenges of island living, and we invested a further £4 million through the Islands Programme to stimulate economic activity, encourage repopulation, and improve community assets on Scotland’s islands.

Our island communities continue to help lead the way in our fight against climate change. The Scottish Government is proud to have launched six Community Climate Change Action Plans as part of the Carbon Neutral Islands project. These will support Yell, Hoy, Barra, Raasay, Islay, and Great Cumbrae to become carbon neutral in a just way. Work is also underway, led by the Deputy First Minister, to progress the Rural Delivery Plan, setting out how all parts of the Scottish Government are delivering for Scotland’s rural, coastal, and island communities.

Delivering in the year ahead

In the coming year, I will take forward the following critical activity.

Agriculture, land reform, the rural economy and the islands

  • Pay Scottish farmers and crofters £550 million, with payments beginning in September, including a fresh round of Agri-Environment Climate Scheme funding, to support actions to tackle climate change, cut emissions, and restore nature.
  • Introduce a Land Reform Bill, including measures to modernise agricultural holdings.
  • Create a new rural support framework through the Agriculture Bill and continue to work with stakeholders to develop key elements of that framework, including the whole farm plan, a new approach to advice and support, and enhanced conditional support measures.
  • Continue the Agricultural Reform Programme to produce more of our food sustainably, cut carbon emissions and farm with nature, by increasing the uptake of carbon audits, soil testing and biodiversity audits, and funding to improve animal health.
  • Develop and consult on proposals to reform crofting law, create new opportunities for new entrants, encourage the active management and use of crofts and common grazings, and support rural population retention through action on non-residency.
  • Develop a gender strategy for agriculture and fund practical training opportunities for women, new entrants, and young farmers.
  • Develop our approach to future farming activity through engagement with key stakeholders to identify potential opportunities to increase sustainable production and markets for poultry and eggs, venison, and seed potatoes, and with young farmers to start work to design support options for new entrants.
  • Support action to address emerging climate issues for land use, with roundtables on water scarcity and on decarbonising rural machinery and equipment.
  • Host an international food summit and support the promotion of Scotland’s food and drink at home and to wider UK and international markets and audiences.
  • Lay out the actions we are taking to extend the learning and good practice from the Carbon Neutral Islands Project to other islands across Scotland, and review and, if necessary, update the National Islands Plan.
  • Consult on phasing out cages for gamebirds and laying hens, and publish our response to the consultation on extending the framework for licensing activities involving animals.


  • Pilot a new aquaculture consenting process in two local authority areas to help deliver a more streamlined regime across Scotland, and reduce the risk of escapes from fish farms with a new Technical Standard for Scottish Finfish Aquaculture, helping to realise our recently published Vision for Sustainable Aquaculture.
  • Award up to £14 million of grant funding through the Marine Fund Scotland to support projects to deliver improved social, environmental, and economic outcomes in line with our Blue Economy Vision.
  • Press the UK Government to honour its commitment to maintain long term funding for maritime and fisheries following Brexit, continuing to push it to take responsibility for the full costs of Brexit for our marine sectors, and to provide a fair and appropriate share of funding to Scotland, above and beyond the £14 million annually (to 2024‑25) currently provided for the Marine Fund Scotland.
  • Remain an international leader in sustainable fisheries management, protecting fish stocks and the marine environment, by developing new technical and management measures through our Future Catching Policy, by legislating to require Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM) on board all pelagic and scallop dredge vessels fishing in Scottish waters, and by considering responses to our consultation on tracking and monitoring tools for inshore fishing vessels.
  • Engage fully in international fisheries negotiations to secure the best possible outcome for Scotland’s fishing industry.
  • Publish a Science and Innovation Strategy for Scotland’s Marine and Freshwater environments that sets out how science and innovation will contribute to the delivery of our Blue Economy ambition and commitments as well as emerging opportunities and challenges.

Environment and forestry

  • Implement the recommendations of the Werritty Review to license grouse moor management and muirburn, require training on muirburn, tackle illegal raptor persecution, and ensure management of grouse moors and related activities are undertaken in an environmentally sustainable manner – subject to the passage of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill.
  • Explore what more can be done to prevent and manage wildfires.
  • Ban snaring through the Wildlife Management and Muirburn (Scotland) Bill.
  • Continue to invest through the Forestry Grant Scheme to support woodland creation and sustainable forest management, including supporting specific training and development in forestry skills for front line staff to support woodland creation.
  • Further restore and expand our iconic Atlantic rainforest and ancient Caledonian pinewoods, encouraging action and investment to improve their condition and that of other ancient woodlands, planting at least 900 hectares of new trees on Scotland’s national forest estate, and set out our plans to make the newly acquired Glenprosen Estate an exemplar of integrated land management.
  • Restore 10,700 hectares of degraded peatland and progress action with crofters to support more peatland restoration on crofting land, including the Scottish Ministers’ crofting estates, as well as commencing the process to ban the sale of horticultural peat for domestic use.
  • Support the planned natural regeneration of the 4,600 hectares surrounding Loch Katrine by Forestry and Land Scotland, increasing biodiversity, amenity and protecting Glasgow’s water source for decades to come.
  • Encourage responsible private investment in natural capital, publishing proposals for a market framework that strengthens the interim principles we set out in 2022, to help meet our climate change and biodiversity goals, support communities, and align with a just transition.



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