5. Agriculture And Rural Economy
The SG Agriculture and Rural Environment Directorate (ARE) has the mission to influence, develop and implement innovative policies in partnership with its customers and stakeholders to grow the rural economy and maximise the social, economic and environmental benefit for rural Scotland; and, to provide income and support to enable these policies.
ARE is the largest Directorate in SG with over a thousand staff across eight divisions. Its main roles in relation to biodiversity during 2018-2020 were:
- delivery of the Scottish Rural Development Programme by the Rural Payments & Inspection Division (RPID). This role includes the most significant funding mechanism for the delivery of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy via the targeted challenge fund Agri-environment and Climate Scheme (AECS) which is managed jointly with NatureScot who manage applications on Designated Sites;
- delivery of the Single Farm Payment element (Pillar 1) of the Common Agricultural Policy by RPID which requires compliance with environmental measures and conditions that provide support for biodiversity;
- development and monitoring of the quinquennial Land Use Strategy under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 by the Land Use Policy Division; and,
- Environmental research undertaken by the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture Division.
5.1 Actions To Protect Biodiversity And Connect People With Nature
Agri-environment and Climate Scheme (AECS)
AECS is the most important targeted investment in biodiversity in Scotland. Since 2015, it has provided challenge funding support for land management practices, including organic farming, that protect and enhance Scotland's biodiversity and that adapt to climate change. It awarded £75 million during 2018-2020 to new contracts so that in total over 2,700 five-year contracts were in operation during 2018-2020 across Scotland, covering 1.1 million hectares of land including 560,000 ha of land within designated nature conservation sites.
Single Farm Payment element (Pillar 1) of the Common Agricultural Policy
The Single Farm Payment (SFP) provides direct funding to the vast majority of land managers on agricultural land. It requires compliance with environmental measures and conditions that provide support for biodiversity, comprising:
- Greening – managing the application of the Greening payment element of the Single Farm Payment which delivered around £142 million of funding to 17,500 eligible businesses covering an area of over 4m hectares for compliance with wider environmental measures each year. This payment supports the protection of biodiversity on farms (e.g. Ecological Focus Areas comprising a minimum of 5% of arable area); and
- Environmental standards on Single Farm payments – overseeing the implementation of the cross compliance requirement, Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) and Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAECs) on farm payments which apply to all landholdings in receipt of SFP. These standards include measures to safeguard soils, habitats and landscape features on agricultural land and protection for wild birds, flora and fauna.
Land Use Strategy
This Strategy has three main objectives and these align with elements of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy:
- 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; and
- Urban and rural communities better connected to the land, with more people enjoying the land and positively influencing land use.
Within the current 2016-2021 Land Use Strategy there is a commitment to encourage the development of Regional Land Use Partnerships (RLUPs). The development of this concept during 2018-20 has been led by ARE with piloting expected from 2021 onwards. RLUPs have a focus on supporting delivery of Climate Change Plan targets but these measures will also deliver biodiversity benefits (e.g. restoration of peatlands).
There are also contributions to the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy from other schemes and initiatives managed by ARE.
Less Favoured Area Support Schemes (LFASS)
LFASS provides essential income support to farming businesses in remote and constrained rural areas. It is not targeted at biodiversity outcomes but provides financial support for high nature value farming in marginal areas.
Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund (KTIF)
KTIF supports farmers and crofters in rural and island communities to explore new ways of protecting and restoring biodiversity, habitats and ecosystems. Project examples can be found on the Rural and Environment webpage: Rural and Environment Supporting green innovation in farming - Rural and Environment (blogs.gov.scot)
The majority of these biodiversity based projects have only recently started but are expected to garnish interest from hundreds in the sector and the rural community.
Farm Advisory Service (FAS)
The FAS offers general (i.e. one to many) and bespoke (i.e. one to one) advice to farmers, crofters and land managers. This service includes advice on management for biodiversity.
Since 2018, the "one to many" element has provided:
- 18 biodiversity events attracting 295 attendees;
- 26 biodiversity videos attracting 6,276 views;
- 9 biodiversity podcasts attracting 1,719 downloads; and
- 268 webpages including technical notes attracting 22,260 views.
Since 2018, the 'one to one' service, which offers bespoke consultant advice to farmers, crofts and land managers, has provided:
- 347 Integrated Land Management Plans which all provided a biodiversity review as a baseline; and
- 54 pieces of specific biodiversity and conservation specialist advice.
The LEADER programme (an acronym in French - Liaison entre actions de développement de l'économie rurale – meaning links between actions for the development of the rural economy) is a required component of the 2014-2020 Scottish Rural Development Programme (minimum 5% budget). The aim of LEADER is to build social and economic capital. It uses a grassroots, partnership approach to identify local needs and put forward innovative, local solutions to aid rural development across Scotland. The suite of projects supported across Scotland has included over 100 environmental initiatives.
Environmental Research and Monitoring
Chemistry staff at Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) provided a lead in the monitoring and prevention of wildlife poisoning through the misuse of abuse of pesticides and/or biocides. In particular the chemistry team support partner organisations seeking to prosecute wildlife crime cases, notably those involving raptor persecutions. This capacity has been extended by SASA to include molecular forensics to support prevention of other forms of wildlife crime including trade in endangered species.
SASA worked in partnership with growers of Scottish landrace crops such as Bere Barley, Hebridean Rye and Shetland Kale. The growers of these traditional crops are becoming fewer in number and as such they are at risk of being lost. The growth of these varieties is an integral part of managing and maintaining the machair, a globally important habitat.
5.2 Nature Based Solutions, Climate Change And Biodiversity
SASA has implemented a number of positive management initiatives for biodiversity on its estate, including:
- strips of fruit trees companion planted with wildflowers as a novel replacement for lost field boundaries;
- an integrated management plan setting out how the amenity areas of the site are managed, which demonstrates our ambition to reduce our reliance on herbicides;
- a network of hedgerows which have been managed and improved upon through the years; and
- planting of wildlfowers on field margins and banks.
5.3 Public Engagement And Workforce Development
In addition to our work on KTIF, FAS and LEADER, the Scottish Rural Network (SRN) has raised awareness over the programme period of the importance of biodiversity innovation with rural stakeholders including to communities, young people and the public, through a variety of channels and platforms:
- Weekly Newsletter – The SRN regularly features articles within its weekly newsletter, on the news section of its website, and through its social media channels promoting innovation, good practice and funding opportunities that support biodiversity. These has included the promotion of plans to commission a Scottish Centre of Expertise in Biodiversity through a webpage news article, and the announcement of Flow Country community consultation.
- Case Studies – The SRN has developed and promoted case studies relating to SRDP funding projects that make a positive contribution to biodiversity ambitions including LEADER and Improved Public Access. It also features articles in its weekly newsletter relating to SRDP schemes impacting on biodiversity, such as Knowledge Transfer and Innovation Fund (KTIF) milestones.
Scotland's Rural innovation Support Service (RISS) – RISS is now two years old, and is already establishing itself as a useful way to enable rural businesses to adapt to change. As climate change and biodiversity loss move up the public agenda, several RISS facilitated groups are directly tackling those issues. The groups cover a wide range of projects having a positive effect on biodiversity, including: Clyde Valley Waders, a group trying to map what brings threatened wading birds back to certain farms; Aspen Agroforestry who are exploring the potential of native aspen trees in farm systems; and Net Zero Arran, a group of farmers aiming for net zero farming emissions on the island. Case studies of projects are added to the dedicated RISS website and promoted through the RISS newsletter.
5.4 Research And Monitoring
A key element of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy is prevention of biodiversity loss due to the destructive effects of Invasive Non Native Species (INNS), many of which are also referred to as quarantine organisms or in some cases are regulated non-quarantine pests.
Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) has a robust monitoring programme for such organisms, particularly microorganisms, which cause diseases in crop plants, or organisms that can be present in traded plants and pose a risk to Scotland's environment. Specific examples include annual surveillance programmes for the potato rot causing bacteria, Dickeya solani, monitoring agricultural soils for the quarantine nematodes from the genera Globodera and monitoring nursery plants for presence of tree diseases.
The Horticultural and Marketing Inspectorate also monitor produce imported directly into Scottish ports for the presence of potentially damaging pests. This work was supported through the creation of the Scottish Centre of Expertise for Plant Health comprising experts across a range of disciplines with relevance to plant health and plant protection who are now organised to give rapid response to Scottish Government in the face of emerging issues threatening plant biodiversity in Scotland.
SASA has also become more involved in citizen science projects and continues to build on this work. Recent examples include engaging with bee keepers to survey pollen sources to establish which plant species are important for foraging honey bees, and surveillance of leaf hopper larvae (spittle bugs) which are a potential vector for the emerging disease Xylella fastidiosa.
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