Land use strategy: fourth annual progress report 2022-2023

Fourth annual progress report on Scotland's land use strategy, as required under Section 37A of The Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Act 2019. It covers the period of March 2022 to March 2023.

Actions taken towards sustainable land use between April 2022 and March 2023


National Test Programme

We launched Preparing for Sustainable Farming under the National Test Programme (NTP) in Spring 2022. Central to this is the provision of funding for conducting carbon audits and soil sampling testing. Preparing for Sustainable Farming also includes a series of animal health and welfare interventions (launched 10 February 2023) to help farmers improve sheep and cattle efficiency. Also under the NTP in July 2022 we launched the Testing Actions for Sustainable Farming. This was a national pilot survey to test awareness and uptake of sustainable farming practices in the sector that may become a requirement of direct support from 2025 onwards. Over three years (until 2025) the NTP will deliver Scottish Government investment of up to £51 million.

Supports: Enclosed Farmland and Semi-natural Land

Longer term and landscape-scale projects funded under Nature Restoration Fund

Projects to restore rivers in the Cairngorms and protect the rainforest in Argyll are among the initiatives that will share £7.6 million through the latest round of the Scottish Government’s Nature Restoration Fund.

This latest round of funding, announced in December 2022 at the UN COP15 Biodiversity Conference, is focussed on supporting large scale projects, including multi-year projects that run up to 2026. For the first time, it also includes development funding to help organisations bring big restoration projects to the point of delivery, addressing a key capacity gap in the sector.

In August 2022 we announced in excess of £4.1 million from the Nature Restoration Fund (NRF) for longer-term projects aiming to transform Scotland’s natural environment. Grants of over £250,000 are made available to larger-scale initiatives that restore and protect habitats and species, including freshwater and coastal and marine areas, control invasive non-native species, and reverse the loss of lowland biodiversity in urban areas.

The multi-year NRF is open to projects that help Scotland's species, woodlands, rivers, and seas back on the road to recovery. In addition to funding for landscape scale or longer-term projects, in the 2022/23 funding round £12.5 million was awarded to 54 smaller projects.

Supports: Rivers and waterbodies, All landscapes

2022/23 Islands Programme

Six island local authorities will receive a share of £4.45 million to assist critical projects on climate change, population retention and tourism as part of a funding package to improve island infrastructure. A total of 11 projects, spread across 31 islands, have received funding as part of the Islands Programme in 2022/23.

Example projects include a new visitor centre and EV charging points at Old Man of Storr, nine ‘Island Pit Stops’ at Arran and Cumbrae providing better facilities for visitors, a new nursery at Kirkwall to replace an existing building earmarked for demolition and improvement of critical sea front infrastructure at Tobermory.

Supports: Islands

Just Transition Fund

24 Projects across the North East and Moray received support from the Just Transition Fund in 2022 as part of a £50 million multi-year programme of capital awards to accelerate the energy transition and secure future jobs in the region. It includes investments in research and innovation; new green skills training facilities; pilots for emerging energy technologies and projects that will get businesses ready for the supply chain opportunities to come from the energy sector’s transition to net zero.

The awards are the first from the Scottish Government’s flagship Just Transition Fund, which is investing £500 million over ten years in the Northeast and Moray to support the region’s transition away from fossil fuels and towards a low-carbon economy. The funding will enable new research projects in areas such as green hydrogen farming and nature-based solutions in the land use sector, as well as support for the construction sector to decarbonise and a pilot for solvent which could be used to recycle EV batteries.

Supports: All landscapes

Vacant and Derelict Land

Some of Scotland’s longest standing vacant and derelict sites are being transformed into affordable housing, community gardens and places of enterprise and learning by the first round of awards from a £50 million programme.

Ten schemes shared more than £5 million in 2022 from the low carbon Vacant and Derelict Land Investment Programme, driving regeneration and innovation while tackling climate change and supporting a just transition to net zero.

Successful projects include:

  • Redevelopment of more challenging building plots to help deliver 133 net zero and affordable homes through the Edinburgh Home Demonstrator programme.
  • Installing heat pump technology to reduce carbon emissions for proposed commercial developments on vacant land at Magenta Business Park in South Lanarkshire.
  • Decontaminating and redeveloping former industrial land for social housing and outdoor pursuits near the Forth and Clyde Canal in the East Dunbartonshire village of Twechar.
  • Regenerating derelict land in east Greenock to create a Carwood Street Food Growing Project for local people in a less affluent area.

Supports: Settlements

AECS 2022 Round

In January 2023, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands announced the awards issued following the 2022 round of the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS). To date, 686 rural businesses will share £14 million in 2023, and over £44 million through the lifetime of the multi-year contracts awarded. This funding will target agri-environment support, organics, and slurry storage options, and will support the ambition to double the amount of land under organic management by 2026. AECS was launched in 2015 to promote land management practices which protect and enhance Scotland’s natural heritage, improve water quality, manage flood risk, and mitigate and adapt to climate change. This funding for the sector has helped us restore and enhance nature through increased biodiversity, improved soils, and contributions to mitigating climate change at the same time providing high quality, locally produced food.

Supports: Enclosed Farmland and Semi-natural Land

Climate Action Hubs

In March 2023, the Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport announced new funding for local climate action. Local communities across Scotland will be supported to take climate action in their areas through a new nationwide network of Climate Action Hubs. This follows the success of two pathfinder hubs in the Northeast and the Highlands, which helped to widen participation in climate action and have supported a range of projects, including land-based ones on local energy and flood mitigation.

A total of £4.3 million will be allocated to expand the Scottish Government’s Climate Action Hub programme to around 20 communities across the country.

Supports: All landscapes

Regenerating communities, creating opportunity

Regeneration projects in disadvantaged and rural communities across Scotland will receive a share of the £300m plus Place Based Investment Programme over 5 years which includes an allocation of £140m direct to local authorities, and circa £25 million funding for the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund (RCGF). This capital programme is supported by the Empowering Communities resource funding directly to community organisations supporting place-based community led regeneration. Included is funding to strategic partners such as the Community Ownership Support Service.

The investment will support schemes tackling child poverty and addressing issues like addiction and suicide prevention, while creating jobs and growing local economies. It supports town centre regeneration by bringing derelict buildings back into use and creating new buildings for the community or for commercial purposes.

The latest round of funding from the Regeneration Capital Grant Fund (RCGF), delivered in partnership with COSLA and local authorities, will help 23 community-based initiatives which will create and support more than 700 jobs and more than 500 construction jobs, along with hundreds of training places.

Initiatives include:

  • Converting a derelict Motherwell sports pitch into a recreation area and community base to support groups at particular risk of suicide.
  • Transforming a former pipe factory in Glasgow into a community centre and creative hub for young people, including those with care experience.
  • Renovating an empty, derelict building in Lossiemouth into a community hub providing services including affordable childcare, addiction counselling and debt advice.
  • Establishing a five-acre campus in Easter Ross to offer training in sustainable food production, promote zero waste and deliver courses focused on tackling food poverty and poor mental health.

Supports: Settlements

Facility for Investment Ready Nature in Scotland (FIRNS)

The Scottish Government and NatureScot are working in partnership with the National Lottery Heritage Fund to launch a new programme to support scaling up of private investment in natural capital. Environmental organisations, community groups, land owners and farmers will be eligible to apply for a share of £1.8 million funding to help grow their nature projects. Grants of up to £240,000 will be offered to organisations and partnerships to help develop a viable business case and financial model, to attract investment in projects that can restore and improve the natural environment, such as, but not limited to, woodland creation, marine enhancement, and peatland restoration. Successful projects will also demonstrate the means to engage and share benefits with communities, contributing to a just transition.

Supports: all landscapes

Peatland Restoration

Healthy peat plays a vital role in carbon storage and combating the effects of climate change as well as providing a wider range of benefits to areas including nature, water supply, flood management livestock management and more. In 2022-2023, the Scottish Government backed Peatland Action a national programme to restore peatlands across Scotland restored nearly 7,500 ha of degraded peatland. This is a 38% increase on the 5,373 ha restored in 2021-22. Peatland Action funding primarily supports on-the-ground peatland restoration activities and is open for applications from eligible land managers who have peatlands that would benefit from restoration.

Timber transport projects

Projects which will improve Scotland’s timber transport infrastructure, benefiting rural communities and helping to decarbonise the forestry sector, were awarded over £7 million.

Work to upgrade fragile rural roads, the creation of new forest haulage routes, and the promotion of moving timber by sea all shared in the cash boost. The funding was made available through the Strategic Timber Transport Fund, which is part funded by Transport Scotland and managed by Scottish Forestry

Legislation and Major Policy

Good Food Nation Bill

In June 2022 the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament following its Stage 3 debate. The Bill enshrines in law the Scottish Government’s commitment to Scotland being a Good Food Nation, where people from every walk of life take pride and pleasure in, and benefit from, the food they produce, buy, cook, serve, and eat each day.

Our world-leading approach will create links between policy at the national and local levels, with Government, local authorities and health boards all creating good food nation plans. Those plans will set out clear outcomes, indicators, and policies across a range of areas relating to food including the environment including land use, health, and the economy. A Food Commission will also be established for scrutinising and making recommendations in relation to the good food nation plans and progress reports; conducting research; and providing advice to Scottish Ministers and relevant authorities in carrying out their duties under the Bill.

Supports: Enclosed farmland, All landscapes

National Planning Framework 4

The National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) was adopted in February 2023 with a vision that gives priority to the climate emergency and nature crisis. It signals the key priorities for ‘where’ and ‘what’ development should take place at a national level and is combined with national planning policy on ‘how’ development planning should manage change.

Policies in NPF4 include:

  • Making clear our support for all forms of renewable, low-carbon and zero emission technologies, supporting emerging low-carbon and zero emissions technologies – including hydrogen and carbon capture – and developments on land that unlock the transformative potential of offshore renewable energy, such as expansion of the electricity grid.
  • Incorporating the sustainable travel hierarchy in planning decisions and promoting developments that prioritise walking, wheeling, cycling and public transport for everyday journeys.
  • More green spaces and opportunities for play, culture, and tourism.
  • Encouraging rural economic activity, innovation and diversification while safeguarding the distinctive character, service function, natural and cultural assets in rural areas.
  • Encouraging, promoting, and facilitating development in city and town centres helping positive adaptation to long-term economic, environmental, and societal changes.
  • Encouraging, promoting and facilitating local living through application of the Place Principle, creating connected and compact neighbourhoods supporting health and well-being, reducing inequalities and increasing resilience to climate change.
  • Encouraging, promoting, and facilitating the delivery of more high quality, affordable and sustainable homes in the right locations that contribute to strengthening the health and wellbeing of communities.
  • Measures to protect carbon-rich soils, restore peatlands and minimise disturbance to soils from development. This includes protections for prime agricultural land or land of lesser quality that is culturally or locally important for primary use.
  • Restricts peat extraction, including extensions to existing sites, to help protect vital carbon sinks and natural habitat.
  • Intent to strengthen resilience to flood risk and see efficient use of water resources and wider use of natural flood risk management that benefits people and nature.
  • Protecting and enhancing blue and green infrastructure and their networks to deliver multiple functions including climate mitigation, nature restoration, biodiversity enhancement, flood prevention and water management and to ensure that communities benefit from accessible, high-quality blue, green and civic spaces.

Supports: All landscapes

Biodiversity Strategy

In December 2022 at the UN COP15 Biodiversity Conference the Scottish Government launched its new draft Biodiversity Strategy. The new Strategy will urgently scale up protection for Scotland’s nature with 26 priority actions to restore Scotland’s natural

On farm hedgerows case study. A picture showing a hedge and a green field with trees in the distance.

East Berwickshire Farm Hedgerows – case study

This project is creating a new and substantial hedgerow habitat in East Berwickshire, a lowland intensive farmland setting where hedgerows are limited and tend to be in poor condition. Four farms are collaborating to build structural resilience into a local farmland landscape across 317 hectares with 11,424 metres of 3 metre wide hedgerows rich in native species with sown hedge bases to link in with existing habitats including recently planted hedgerows. This will provide a dense central network of connected hedgerows which should not only see an increase in farmland birds and invertebrates within 5-10 years, but also an increase in soil biodiversity and organic matter within 10 years. Hedgerow Creation ( environment and halt the loss of biodiversity by 2030. The document also sets out a long-term ambition and vision for biodiversity in Scotland in 2045. It is designed to deliver landscape-scale, transformative change - backed by evidence, supported by a delivery plan and a new investment plan - and underpinned by statutory targets which will hold future governments to account.

The priority actions will focus on accelerating nature restoration, expanding and improving protected areas, supporting nature-friendly farming, fishing, and forestry, recovering vulnerable species, and is based on the principle of tackling the nature and climate emergencies together.

Supports: All landscapes

Tighter laws to protect wildlife

In January 2023 the Scottish Parliament passed a new Hunting with Dogs Bill to close existing loopholes and better prevent the chasing and killing of wild mammals for sport. The Bill represents a significant step forward in in protecting Scotland’s wildlife from the cruel practice of illegal hunting.

This was followed by further legislation introduced to Parliament in March 2023, which aims to improve grousemoor management, tackle the persecution of birds of prey and strictly regulate the use of muirburn on peatland. The newly introduced Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill aims to:

  • End raptor persecution.
  • Ensure grouse moors are managed sustainably.
  • Ban the use of glue traps for rodents.
  • Tighten regulations for the use of other types of wildlife traps.
  • Regulate the use of muirburn, the controlled burning of vegetation, on peatland. Licenses for burning on peat will only be granted in exceptional circumstances, such as for wildfire prevention.

The Bill will make its way through the Parliamentary process for approval over the course of 2023/24. If passed, it will implement recommendations set out in an independent report known as the Werritty Review. Based on expert advice, this report recommended widespread changes to grouse moor management and the regulation of traps in Scotland.

Supports: All landscapes

Trees on Farms

Small areas of woodland on farms and crofts can now attract funding supporting sustainable agriculture under changes to legislation. As of November 2022, small woodlands approved under the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) since 2015 can now be utilised as Ecological Focus Areas to support farmers’ Greening payments. Claims can be made from the 2023 claim year and areas planted since 1 January 2015 are eligible to be claimed from 2023. The move will encourage farmers, crofters, and land managers to increase tree planting, providing environmental benefits including tackling climate change and nature loss.

Supports: Enclosed Farmland, Semi-natural Land

Water quality regulations

New regulations laid under the EU Continuity 2020 Act in October 2022 ensure Scotland’s high water quality status will continue to be aligned to updated standards set by the World Health Organisation. The updated standards limit emerging pollutants and endocrine disrupting compounds, like PFAs. Such pollutants, better known as ‘forever chemicals,’ are widely used in non-stick and water repellent products and do not degrade when they reach the environment.

Supports: Rivers and Waterbodies

Supporting wild salmon recovery

In January 2022, we published the Wild Salmon Strategy, which set out a vision for flourishing populations of wild salmon in Scotland. The accompanying Implementation Plan was published in February 2023, and sets out over sixty actions to be taken by Government, industry and other stakeholders over the next five years to achieve the vision.

Developed in partnership with stakeholders, the Strategy and Implementation Plan covers five priority themes:

  • Managing recreational angling
  • Understanding pressures in marine and coastal environment
  • International collaborations
  • Modernising legislation
  • Improving the condition of rivers
Seagrass enhancement case study. An aerial picture showing a loch with islands in it and hills in the distance.

Seagrass Enhancement Project at Loch Craignish – case study

In 2021, Seawilding undertook the first seagrass restoration project in Scotland. This ground-breaking community-led project is a proof of concept of what can be achieved by a motivated local community committed to managing and improving the marine habitat. Seagrass meadows are centres of biodiversity, full of diverse and productive marine life. Seagrass creates a complex habitat pumping oxygen into marine sediments making them ideal for abundant animal life to thrive. In addition, seagrass plants can be highly productive, leading to the trapping and strain of carbon in their sediments that can stay there for a millennia. Seagrass enhancement project

The priority themes are all underpinned by building a strong science and evidence base.

Examples of actions include improving salmon habitat through peatland restoration to improve water quality, improving wastewater treatment works and removing barriers to migration, such as weirs associated with historic industry.

Supports: Rivers and Waterbodies, Coastal, Marine


New National Park

In May 2022 the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity launched a public consultation on a new national park for Scotland. The Scottish Government is committed to establish at least one new National Park in Scotland by the end of this Parliamentary session in 2026.

The public consultation looked at what people value about Scottish National Parks, and what these areas should deliver in future – in particular, how they can help to protect and restore nature, tackle climate change, and promote sustainable land use. It will be followed by a longer period during which communities, local government and organisations will be encouraged and supported to develop proposals for new Parks.

The responses to the consultation have since been published and demonstrate that many people want to see new National Parks in Scotland and support our commitment to designate at least one new park by 2026. This process has also shown that people in Scotland think our National Parks have a very important role to play in tackling the biodiversity and climate crises, whilst also supporting local communities, businesses, and visitors.

Supports: Semi-natural land, Coastal, Islands

Agriculture Bill

In August 2022, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs launched a formal consultation on proposals for a new Agriculture Bill, which ran from 29 August to the 5th of December. The proposals for the new Agriculture Bill aim to provide Scotland with a framework to support and work with farmers and crofters to meet more of our food needs sustainably and to farm and croft with nature. The new Bill will also aim to enable flexibility whilst ensuring that Scotland's people are able to live and work sustainably on our land. This framework will deliver key outcomes:

  • High quality food production.
  • Climate mitigation and adaptation.
  • Nature restoration; and
  • Wider rural development.

The proposals build on the Scottish Government's Vision for Agriculture, published in March 2022, which outlines our long-term vision to transform how we support farming and food production in Scotland to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.

To help deliver the ambitions set out in our vision, we announced an Agricultural Reform route map on 10 February 2023 which sets out the timescales to share more information with farmers, crofters, and landowners to help them plan and prepare for changes which will come into force from 2025.

Supports: Enclosed farmland, Semi-natural land, Islands

Land Reform Bill

In July 2022 proposals for the new Land Reform Bill were published for consultation. The ambitious new Bill aims to encourage and support responsible and diverse landownership, including ensuring that communities have more opportunities to own land, and have say in how land in their area is used.

Proposed measures included:

  • The introduction of a public interest test for transfers of large-scale landholdings
  • A requirement on owners of large-scale holdings to give prior notice to community bodies of their intention to sell.
  • The strengthening of obligations on owners to comply with the Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS).
  • The introduction of compulsory land management plans.
  • A requirement on those seeking land-based subsidies to have the land registered in the Land Register, to ensure transparency around who benefits from public funding.

In addition, the consultation asked questions about how to ensure communities benefit from future investment in Scotland’s natural capital, and that there is greater transparency around land and asset ownership.

The consultation closed on the 30th of October, and responses have now been published on the Citizen Space consultation hub.

Supports: Enclosed farmland, Semi-natural land, Islands

Community Wealth Building

Between January and March 2023, the Scottish Government consulted on plans for New Community Wealth Building legislation, the first of its kind in the world - as part of its wider strategy to transform Scotland’s economy. Views were being sought on ground-breaking proposals to help grow local economies and ensure more money stays in the hands of communities.

The consultation launched in January sought community, business, and wider feedback on proposals to:

  • Place a legal duty on public bodies such as health authorities and local councils to use the economic levers they have – for example in sourcing goods and services – to support the transformation of local and regional economies.
  • Promote co-operative, social enterprise and employee-owned businesses to ensure that more wealth which is generated locally stays local.
  • Create fair work opportunities for local people and those who face barriers to employment.
  • Ensure land and property are used for the benefit of local communities, business, and the environment.

Supports: All landscapes

Forestry grants

In February 2023 Scottish Forestry launched a consultation seeking views on how the current Forestry Grant Scheme can be invigorated and better integrated with other sources of funding, strengthening Net Zero, biodiversity, economic and community wealth building priorities.

Since the scheme started in 2015 it has supported 5,930 projects, creating around 69,000 hectares of new woodland, an area equivalent to the size of East Lothian. Around half of the current woodland grant applications are for small scale projects, mostly from farmers who are integrating trees into their businesses.

The consultation sought views through a wide range of questions including:

  • How can the grants evolve to better tackle the climate emergency?
  • How can future grant support address biodiversity loss, including the regeneration and expansion of native woodlands?
  • Which measures would help reduce the barriers for farmers and crofters wanting to integrate trees into their business?
  • How can the forest regulatory and grant processes evolve to provide greater opportunities for communities to be involved in the development of forestry proposals?
On farm tree integration case study. A picture of a group of cows in a field with trees in the distance.

Integrated trees – case study

The Whiteford family farm at Burnfoot Farm, Sanquhar. The farm already had 150 acres plus of woodland, riparian and shelter belts before, the new woodland creation of 50Ha was planted in two blocks. This has provided multiple benefits to the farm e.g., access to stock for feeding and monitoring, creating areas for feeding allowing stock out for longer, gathering easier, provide access to excising woodland for felling and to new woodland when requires thinning in future years thus providing an income stream.

Burnfoot Farm - Farming for a Better Climate

  • How could the current funding package be improved to stimulate woodland expansion and better management across a wide range of woodland types, including native and productive woodlands?

Supports: Enclosed Farmland, Semi-natural land, Islands

Ending horticultural peat sales

In February 2023 we also opened a new consultation on a ban on sales of horticultural peat. Using a two-step approach, we intend to ban sales for the retail sector (amateur/hobby gardeners), which uses most peat, followed by the professional sector, which may need more time to transition to alternatives.

Scotland’s peatlands have a critical role to play in responding to the twin crises of the global climate emergency and loss of biodiversity. In good condition, peatlands are a significant natural carbon store. They hold around 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon, equivalent to around 145 years’ worth of Scotland’s total net carbon emissions. Covering about a third of our country, peatlands support important ecosystems and biodiversity, improve water quality, and reduce flood risk. However, when degraded or in poor condition, these benefits are lost, and peatlands become a net source of carbon emissions. This is why the Scottish Government is dedicated to protecting and restoring our precious peatlands, supporting a Just Transition to Net Zero by 2045.

Currently, around 1,000 hectares of Scotland's peatlands are being used to produce peat for horticulture. In 2021, Scotland supplied around 300,000 cubic metres of peat used in UK horticulture or exported. This represents 16% of the total with 22% originating elsewhere in the UK and 62% coming from outside of the UK. Ending the sale of peat in Scotland would help to protect our own peatlands as well as peatlands elsewhere in the world.

The consultation also seeks to develop a deeper understanding of how ending the sale of peat might affect industry, particularly professional horticulture, and the wider context of peat extraction for example for fuel or whisky production. The consultation will be open until May 2023.

Supports: Semi-natural land



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