Just transition in land use and agriculture: a discussion paper

This discussion paper is intended to support engagement on a just transition for the land use and agriculture sectors. Building on this engagement, a draft targeted action plan and route map (late 23/24) will outline the key steps to delivering a fair transition.

Land use in Scotland

As highlighted within the introduction, in order to achieve the national net zero targets, how we use and manage our land will be vital. In order to clearly understand this challenge we seek to set out a basic understanding of the overview of current proportions of land uses in Scotland, highlighting in particular agriculture, forestry, and peatland. Scotland is approximately 8 million hectares in size. Once you exclude bodies of water this reduces the land area to approximately 7.8 million hectares.[1]

Agricultural land

The largest single land use in Scotland is agriculture, (for cropland and grassland), at 5.35 million ha, or approximately 69% of the total land area.[2] However, 49% of that is rough grassland, (with a Land Capability for Agriculture category of 6), and many areas are actually inactive. Indeed only around 70% of the agricultural area is claimed under the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and Greening support mechanisms, amounting to approximately 3.74 million ha of land.[3] As a simplified overview there are four over-arching categories[4] of agriculture land use:

  • Arable agriculture – land is capable of being used to produce a wide range of crops – 8% of Scotland's total land area.
  • Improved grassland– land limited to grass production due to circumstance such as slope – 18% of Scotland's total land area.
  • Mixed agriculture – land able to produce a moderate range of crops including cereals (primarily barley), forage crops and grass – 20% of Scotland's total land area.
  • Rough grazing – land with very severe limitations that prevent improvement by mechanical means – 51% of Scotland's total land area.


Scotland's forest and woodland area now covers more than 1.4 million hectares. Around one third of this is owned by the state as part of the National Forest Estate, and over 975 000 hectares is owned by individuals, private companies, charities, local authorities, and communities. These forests consist of different woodland types and tree species, ranging from the highly productive forests of the Galloway and Tay Forest Parks to traditional mixed Highland estates; and from urban forests in and around our cities to the Atlantic oakwoods in Argyll and the native Caledonian pinewoods in the Highlands.


Near natural bog areas account for 0.49 million ha (6%) of Scottish land. Degraded peat soils also cover a sizeable proportion of Scotland at approximately 1.45 million ha at 50 cm depth, (roughly 19% of the country's landmass).[6] Currently this will be subject to multiple uses including as rough grazing land. Whilst the bog in its natural state acts as a carbon sink, the degraded peatland is a source of greenhouse gases.


Email: justtransition@gov.scot

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