Publication - Strategy/plan

Land use - getting the best from our land: strategy 2021 to 2026

Scotland's Third Land Use Strategy sets out our vision, objectives and policies to achieve sustainable land use. The strategy covers the next five years and aims to provide a more holistic understanding of our land, the demands we place upon it and the benefits we get from our land.

Land use - getting the best from our land: strategy 2021 to 2026
Achieving sustainable land use

Achieving sustainable land use

As a government we are committed to putting the environment at the heart of what we do. Scotland's nature is unique, with awe-inspiring landscapes and habitats found in few other places on Earth: from our diverse marine life and spectacular coastal machair to ancient Scots pine forests, peatlands and heather-covered mountains. Our natural environment is our greatest national asset and we aspire to be one of the greenest countries in the world, where we maintain and enhance the environment for both current and future generations.

Scotland's natural capital is our stock of natural assets: our geology, our soils, our seas and freshwater, our air, our habitats and greenspaces and all the living things that these support. These natural assets underpin many of the ecosystem services that our economy relies on such as provision of fresh water, food and timber, healthy soils, forestry and peatlands for carbon storage, wildlife and landscapes for tourism.

The Office of National Statistics estimates that even when considering just a limited number of ecosystem services, our natural capital had an overall asset value in 2016 of £196 billion[1], and supported nearly 200,000 jobs. The Scottish Government has recognised the critical role of our natural capital by adopting a "four capitals" approach to future economic development in Scotland. This means that natural capital is considered on an equal footing to people, social and economic capital as the four pillars which we should invest in to underpin our economy.

Our land use vision and objectives

Scotland's first Land Use Strategy established the original vision, objectives and principles for sustainable land use in Scotland. Our consultation highlighted the need for the vision and objectives to evolve with changing circumstance and a variety of suggestions for change or amendment were put forward. As there was no consensus on the specific wording we have published this Strategy with the original vision and objectives but recognise the importance of on-going consideration.

2050 Vision:
A Scotland where we fully recognise, understand and value the importance of our land resources, and where our plans and decisions about land use will deliver improved and enduring benefits, enhancing the wellbeing of our nation.

Land Use Objectives

Land based businesses working with nature to contribute more to Scotland's prosperity

Responsible stewardship of Scotland's natural resources delivering more benefits to Scotland's people

Urban and rural communities better connected to the land, with more people enjoying the land and positively influencing land use

What is natural capital and ecosystem services?

Natural capital is a term used to describe the habitats and resources of the natural world that combine to provide social, economic and environmental benefits to people. This includes the water, air, soil, plants and wildlife on which we depend. Scotland's natural capital assets are the basis of our quality of life and underpin our economy. It is crucial that they are protected and enhanced so that they can continue to sustain the people of Scotland now and in the generations to come.

Our natural capital asset base provides a flow of ecosystem services, which are typically grouped into four broad categories:

  • Provisioningservices – physical things we can take from the environment such as food, water and timber.
  • Regulatingservices – ensuring we have an environment fit to live in through services like natural flood protection and air filtration.
  • Culturalservices – the benefits we get from the environment that are perceived by us, such as aesthetic beauty and recreational benefits.
  • Supporting services – the processes that ensure that ecosystems are healthy and can continue to supply the benefits above in the long term, for example pollination of crops and wild plants or the creation of healthy soil.

Balancing the demands we make of our land

Land in Scotland, as elsewhere, is a finite and valuable resource that is under pressure like never before. So many of our needs are provided by land that our land use choices affect almost every aspect of life, for all of us. We need land for many purposes including:

Ecosystems -habitats and species
Crops & livestock
Trees to absorb our carbon
Peatbogs to store carbon and water
Our children to play, learn and laugh
Onshore wind energy
Bioenergy feedstock
Sustainable housing
Industry, roads and infrastructure
Processing our waste
Our health and wellbeing
Our heritage and scenic landscapes

All of these demands and how they interact must be understood and considered together to inform how we as a nation make decisions about land use and land use change. These decisions will affect us all and will require difficult choices and trade-offs if we are to achieve a just transition to sustainable land use.

In seeking to support the optimal use of our land, the Scottish Government has been clear that the climate and nature crises are the greatest long term threats we face and that the way we use and manage our land will be fundamental to staying within the limits of what our planet can sustain.

As Scotland moves towards being a net-zero economy there will need to be significant land use change from current uses to forestry and peatland restoration. This needs to happen alongside ensuring space for other essential activities such as food production and onshore wind generation, and the protection and enhancement of habitats and biodiversity.

To some extent, these choices may be partly determined by what use any specific area of land is best suited to. But much of our land is suitable for a number of different uses and we will need to balance national, regional and local priorities. Determining these balances will by necessity be a social process involving compromise between people with different interests and objectives. The support and buy-in from land managers, land owners and local communities will be particularly critical in achieving this.

The choices we face will go to the heart of who we want to be as a nation and what we most value. Our decisions will shape the lives and opportunities of future generations. We need to act swiftly and at scale to secure a prosperous future for Scotland and its people.

Imagining what sustainable land use looks like

Sustainable land use means that our land will be fully contributing to the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss, benefiting the wider natural environment, supporting our communities socially and economically, and underpinning the health and wellbeing of the population. Despite many uncertainties, we know enough about what needs to happen in the coming years to start imagining what sustainable land use in Scotland could look like.

Throughout the lifetime of this Strategy (2021 – 2026), Scotland's tree planting rates need to increase to 18,000 hectares per year by 2024-25. Peatland restoration will need to increase dramatically to achieve 250,000 hectares by 2030. Emissions from other land uses such as agriculture will also need to fall significantly over the next 5 years, alongside ensuring that our farmers and crofters can continue to produce high quality food to be enjoyed both here and around the world. In parallel, we need to deliver environmental goals and balance other demands that will be made of our land.

Examples of changes we expect to see over the course of this Strategy and beyond are an increase in urban woodlands, rooftop and rain gardens to green our cities and towns and help protect against flooding during increased rainfall. More of our land will be forested and this will become increasingly integrated with agriculture. We may also see an increase in bioenergy feedstock production. There will be more space for natural habitats, with more of them restored, connected and enhanced. Our enclosed farmland and semi-natural land will contain more better quality peatland habitats, and a wider range of wildlife thriving in wild areas.

These changes will not always be easy to achieve, but will result in a better quality of life, and better quality environments in Scotland. Shaping and achieving this change will involve tough choices for us all. It is not something the Scottish Government can do alone, nor do we do hold all the answers. It will need input, collaboration and action from people all across Scotland.

Bringing the vision to life

Throughout this strategy we have drawn on the work of Adaptation Scotland and created illustrative examples of what sustainable land use in Scotland could look like.

Here are two versions of our land: the one above shows land as we use it now, and the one below a future where sustainable land use has been embraced.