Land ownership, management and use should deliver a wide range of social, environmental, economic and cultural benefits.
Land is a finite resource and must meet a wide range of needs. Scotland's land and its landscapes, both urban and rural, are important to our culture and sense of identity and to our individual, social and economic wellbeing. When making decisions about land, a natural capital approach should be followed, viewing land as an asset that can deliver a wide range of social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits such as producing food and timber; providing housing and access to countryside and blue-greenspace; tackling climate change; creating employment opportunities; and contributing to nature conservation.
Addressing the global climate emergency and meeting our net zero targets requires immediate and sustained action which will require significant land use change. This needs to be taken forward in a socially just and responsible way that delivers benefits for everyone. One element of this is managing land in ways that recognise the multiple benefits it can bring and not for a singular purpose. It is important to consider the different ways in which land can meet needs and incorporate a mixture of these when undertaking land use planning. For example, creating new woodlands generates opportunities for the delivery of a wide range of benefits such as carbon sequestration; natural flood management; improved biodiversity and wildlife corridors; access for education, tourism and recreation; new green jobs; and the production of timber and wood products.
It is also important to consider the impacts of decisions relating to land at a wider scale than single landholdings, for example, across regions, landscapes or water catchment areas. Collaboration between landowners, public bodies, communities, businesses, and other parties can help to identify opportunities to deliver wider benefits and create better places. This can be particularly essential when considering nature and biodiversity improvements that may be more effectively delivered at scale, in flood and water management, as well as in understanding the wider impacts of decisions made at an individual landholding scale.
Responsible landowners, managers and investors can and do support a wide range of private and public benefits through their approach to investing in, owning and managing natural capital. While investment in Scotland's natural capital is vital to tackle the climate and nature emergencies, we must ensure that people and communities are not disadvantaged and indeed can benefit from the investments being made. It is important to consider the wider environmental, social, cultural and economic impacts and benefits that these decisions may have and the contribution they can make to deliver a just transition to net zero.
We have significant cultural connections to land in Scotland through our languages and our history and those making decisions about land should be sensitive to these.
Crofting is a form of land tenure that is unique to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. A croft can either be held in tenancy or owned by the crofter (owner-occupier), and may come with a share in a common grazing. Crofting delivers real benefits: it sustains agricultural activity, supports the rural economy, enhances wildlife and the natural environment, and supports population retention in our remote rural and island communities. Alongside traditional crofting activities of livestock production, crofting activity has diversified into agri-tourism, woodland regeneration and creation, conservation, sustainable food production and restoration of degraded peatlands.
What we are doing
- Scotland's third Land Use Strategy - getting the best from our land: 2021 to 2026 sets out the long term vision, objectives and principles for sustainable land use. This third strategy focuses on the integrated nature of land use as it looks to demonstrate the range of demands and benefits we place upon and receive from our land. It introduces a new landscape based approach to help promote an understanding of the fine balance of activities that will be needed to allow our land and the natural capital it supports to contribute sustainably to our multiple long term national priorities.
- Our National Just Transition Planning Framework commits to an Agriculture and Land Use Just Transition Plan. We will develop this Just Transition Plan alongside the next draft Climate Change Plan.
- The Scottish Government supports Gaelic communities by funding a number of initiatives, such as Gaelic Development Officers, to ensure that they have the level of support needed to protect the linguistic and cultural aspects of community life. We have also supported a number of communities with capital to allow the creation of community assets following land purchase.
- The Scottish Government has made large long-term commitments to investment in natural capital to address climate change. This includes £250m over ten years for peatland restoration and an additional £100m over the next five years allocated to Scottish Forestry for new woodland creation. However, we know that both public and responsible private investment in Scotland's natural capital will be essential to deliver on our climate change targets, the reversal of biodiversity loss and wider land use policy objectives. That is why, in our National Strategy for Economic Transformation published in February 2022, we have committed to the development of a values-led, high integrity market for responsible investment in natural capital in Scotland. This commitment is now underpinned by the Interim Principles for Responsible Investment in Natural Capital which were published on 31 March 2022.
- We are adopting a three-part approach to developing a Strategic Framework which will transform our biodiversity and realise our long term goal of halting nature loss by 2030 and reversing it by 2045. First, our new Strategy will be a long-term, high level vision setting out the change we want to achieve. Second, the Strategy will be supported by shorter term, fluid and dynamic Delivery Plans which set out specific actions that adapt in response to a new monitoring framework. Third, our new Natural Environment Bill will establish statutory targets for nature recovery for the first time in Scotland. Included in this framework are two key commitments. First, to expanding and improving areas managed for nature, including protected areas, with an ambitious commitment to protect 30% of our land for nature by 2030, and secondly to creating new, locally driven projects that will improve ecological connectivity across Scotland and help deliver long-term restoration of nature.
- The National Development Plan for Crofting sets the long-term strategic direction for crofting, highlighting the core elements to ensure that crofting remains at the heart of our rural and island communities. Published in March 2021, it encourages croft diversification into agri-tourism, woodland regeneration and creation, local food networks and the restoration of degraded peatlands.
- The Scottish Government has provided grant funding to the Tweed Forum for the Eddleston Water Project. The project aims to reduce flood risk and restore the Eddleston Water for the benefit of the local community and wildlife by investigating the effectiveness of natural flood management techniques and habitat restoration measures at a catchment scale. The project provides evidence to support the assessment of the value, costs and benefits of restoring a typical Scottish river system through changes to land management practices, delivered across the whole catchment.
- As part of the Islands (Scotland) Act 2018, The Island Communities Impact Assessments (Publication and Review of Decisions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 were laid on 3 November 2020 and came into force on 23 December 2020. This means that the duty to carry out Island Communities Impact Assessments became a legal requirement for relevant authorities and requires the Scottish Government to take island issues into account when developing or reviewing policies, strategies, services and legislation.
- The Scottish Government delivers support for the historic environment through sponsorship of Historic Environment Scotland (HES). HES leads and enables Scotland's first historic environment strategy 'Our Place in Time', which sets out how our historic environment will be managed. It ensures our historic environment is cared for, valued and enhanced, both now and for the future. This strategy is further strengthened by a Green Recovery Statement, published by HES in April 2022, which supports the climate change principles set out by the Scottish Government and highlights key areas, including land management, where the historic environment can help deliver economic recovery. The Green Recovery Statement identifies the importance of responsible land use in order to build resilient landscapes.
Case Study - Affric Highlands – Trees for Life
The Affric Highlands project, led by Trees for Life, is bringing together landowners and communities from across the central Highlands to support nature, people, and businesses, and create a more progressive and sustainable local economy. The long-term vision for the area is to improve natural habitats to support biodiversity, to contribute to the growth and success of nature-based and sustainable businesses, and to strengthen and grow local communities.
The project is at an early stage, and Trees for Life are working with local landowners, in an area stretching from Glenelg in the west to Drumnadrochit in the east, to build relationships and identify common interests. A diverse range of just over twenty landowners – public, private, non-governmental organisations (NGO), large and small – have registered interest in the initiative, and discussions are ongoing with others. Those who sign up to the initiative are asked to identify commitments they can make to build on existing achievements and contribute to the vision that has been set out. The landowners' ability to make their own decisions about how they use and manage their land to achieve this in practice is unaffected.
Affric Highlands recognises that the project must open opportunities up for people who do not own the land and that local communities should benefit from actions being taken. The vision is for people to benefit as nature thrives, through nature-based employment and learning, new commercial investment and activity, and shared income.
Trees for Life hope that the different measures that are taken and the related income streams, including agroforestry, carbon sequestration, tourism, field sports and forestry-based products, will help increase local spending and strengthen people's ties to the local economy, maintaining populations and the facilities and services they need. The ultimate aim is to ensure that the project is sustainable and delivers for local people.
Appreciating that the project aims require long-term commitment and action, a key objective for Affric Highlands is involving children and young people. A youth engagement programme and youth leadership award are underway to raise awareness of and encourage involvement in local discussions about achieving sustainable, nature-focussed development. Climate anxiety and mental health are important themes of this work. This element of the project will be taken forward in partnership with High Life Highland, a charity that delivers culture, sport, leisure, health and wellbeing services across the Highlands, and local schools.
Affric Highlands also sees huge potential for peatland restoration and woodland carbon capture and recognises that there are opportunities for communities to benefit from this. Trees for Life is selling carbon credits related to woodland planting on Dundreggan Estate and has committed to sharing some of the income from these sales with two local communities. At a premium price, this may provide some insights for how carbon credits could be of mutual benefit to communities and landowners alike.
As with any long-term, large-scale proposal, there are challenges to face. Ensuring that people who are affected can participate and contribute to decisions is important. Issues like deer management have a long and difficult history which makes forming good relationships hard, especially at a time when new priorities like the climate emergency have emerged quickly to affect the debates around land use. Keeping people involved in the conversation, building trust, and being open and inclusive takes time, but it is vital to the success of the project. Affric Highlands understands the need for action to make sure that our natural environment flourishes alongside prosperous and healthy communities, and those involved are willing to put in the time and effort into ensuring this is done in a fair and inclusive way.
For more information contact Trees for Life.
Case Study - St Kilda Management Plan
St Kilda is an isolated archipelago situated around 40 miles west of North Uist, forming part of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It is the UK's only dual UNESCO World Heritage Site, having gained this prestigious status for both its natural and cultural heritage. St Kilda is also home to nearly one million seabirds, including the UK's largest colony of Atlantic puffins.
In August 2020, National Trust for Scotland (NTS) commemorated the 90th anniversary of the evacuation of the last remaining islanders. The 36 inhabitants of Hirta, St Kilda's main island, were taken to the Scottish mainland to begin new lives in the late summer of 1930.
Conserving the natural and cultural heritage, and supporting access to the islands is a continual challenge, exacerbated by remoteness and by a changing climate. While the National Trust for Scotland owns St Kilda, and has overall responsibility for the management of the archipelago, it is valued by both communities of place and communities of interest, and its management is informed by the views of many different groups, even though there are no permanent residents.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the National Trust for Scotland is required to conserve the site for its Outstanding Universal Values. NTS has taken a transparent and collaborative approach in developing a multi-year management plan for the site. Recognising the widespread interest in St Kilda, a thorough programme of stakeholder engagement has been undertaken. This has included discussions with those living on the surrounding Hebridean Islands, an online consultation open to all members of the public, work with the statutory agencies, expert consultations, as well as further engagement sessions across mainland Scotland. As guardians, NTS are always encouraged by the interest so many people take in the stories and heritage of St Kilda.
Following the engagement programme, the latest management plan has now been agreed by the key stakeholders, comprised of NTS, Historic Environment Scotland, NatureScot, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and the Ministry of Defence. All stakeholders have committed to working together to implement the plan to protect and care for St Kilda over the next ten years.
The plan includes a vision for the conservation of the landscape and heritage, while enabling access, and will be delivered through outcomes including: monitoring, identifying and adapting to global challenges such as climate change, conserving the archipelago's biodiversity, and transparent, collaborative and effective management that is underpinned by sustainable practices.
The comprehensive engagement with communities – whether of place or interest – has helped create a network of parties interested in St Kilda and that can be drawn on during the life of the management plan.
By putting the management plan into action and achieving its outcomes, NTS will provide opportunities for more people to learn about and engage in caring for St Kilda, ensuring that its history is remembered and that this awe-inspiring cultural and natural landscape continues to be enjoyed by future generations.
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