Funding should support nature friendly farming - Vicki Swales

Most of us probably question government spending decisions from time to time. Some decisions – such as healthcare, social care or education – hit the headlines. Others get less attention and yet can involve large sums of public money and have big impacts.

This month farmers and crofters across Scotland submitted claims for a share of the Scottish Government’s farming budget. Each year, about £600 million is handed out to farmers, crofters and other land managers through various schemes. The lion’s share of this money (59 per cent in 2019) is handed over in a form known as direct payments.

The more land a farmer has and the better its agricultural quality, the more money is received. Small farmers and crofters receive relatively little of the total pot and most of it goes to farmers in the east and south of Scotland compared to the Highlands and Islands. Only 7 per cent of the budget is spent on schemes that help farmers and crofters take specific action for nature and climate.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The origins of this system of payments to farmers and crofters lie in the EU Common Agricultural Policy. No longer being EU members means the Scottish Government - like its counterparts responsible for farming policy in England, Wales and Northern Ireland - must decide what comes next. This is a big question for Scotland’s rural areas and the 75 per cent of Scotland that is farmland. It’s obviously a big question for those who receive this money but it’s an even bigger question for us all. What does this money provide, is it value for public money, and what do we need it to provide in future?

Vicki Swales, Head of Land Use Policy, RSPB ScotlandVicki Swales, Head of Land Use Policy, RSPB Scotland
Vicki Swales, Head of Land Use Policy, RSPB Scotland

Farming in Scotland is an important sector producing much of the food we eat but in the process of doing so it has impacts on nature and our climate. Nature on farmland is declining and farming and land use contributes too much to climate change - almost a quarter of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions. This threatens us all, our food security and has to change. We need farming to help us respond to the nature and climate emergency we all now face and to ensure Scotland’s food system is resilient.

Nature and climate friendly farming must become the norm; practised by all farmers and crofters. To achieve this, the Scottish Government should continue to invest in farming and rural areas but change how the money is spent so it delivers better for farmers, for nature and our climate. The majority of this funding should be spent on supporting land management and farming methods that are nature friendly and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not on direct payments. Funding for advice and training to help farmers and crofters change how they farm should be increased substantially.

This year the Scottish Government will consult on plans for supporting farming in future. Next year it will introduce an Agriculture Bill to the Scottish Parliament to create the powers needed to introduce this new system. If you care how public money is spent and want farming and crofting to work better for people, nature and climate, this is one set of spending decisions to keep an eye on and tell the Government and your MSP what you think.

Vicki Swales, Head of Land Use Policy, RSPB Scotland



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.