How Scotland's farmers can be champions of nature in the fight against climate change – Scottish Wildlife Trust and NFU Scotland

Scotland's farmers already have a good reputation for high-quality produce (Picture: Michael Gillen)Scotland's farmers already have a good reputation for high-quality produce (Picture: Michael Gillen)
Scotland's farmers already have a good reputation for high-quality produce (Picture: Michael Gillen)
Over 70 per cent of Scotland’s land is managed by farmers and crofters, and Scotland’s reputation for producing high-quality food is well known.

Much less well understood is the pivotal role that our farming practices can play in tackling the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Agriculture is dependent on healthy soils, clean river systems and flourishing populations of pollinating insects. However, worldwide there is increasing concern about the state of our natural environment and a growing interest in the role that agriculture can play reversing the decline.

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Some farming and land management techniques offer solutions, for example locking up carbon, strengthening our defences against extreme weather and providing vital habitat for wildlife, in turn underpinning Scotland’s reputation as a high-quality food producer and supporting recreation and tourism.

This is why NFU Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust have developed an exciting new initiative. ‘Champions for Change’ highlights the positive action some farmers are already taking, such as creating woodland, targeting pesticide and fertiliser inputs and restoring peatlands. But it will also see us jointly calling for the wider benefits that farming can provide, which go beyond food production, to be better recognised and rewarded.

For over 40 years, agriculture and the environment have been governed under EU regulation. Leaving the EU creates uncertainty around how Scotland’s environment will be protected but also provides an opportunity for Scotland to create its own policies and support for agriculture and the rural economy.

Scotland has set world-leading climate change targets, and the First Minister has recognised that biodiversity is an equally important issue. Now we need clarity in policy and appropriate support for land managers so that climate and biodiversity goals can be delivered.

We need to support Scotland’s farmers to continue to produce high-quality food while tackling the global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. We will highlight how we can support Scottish agriculture through improved policy measures with knowledge exchange and input from environmental experts to bring about these positive outcomes.

A green recovery from Covid-19 should allow us to look at supporting farmers in a new way, enabling them to continue in their vital role producing food for the nation but at the same time taking centre stage in the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.

In 2021, the beginning of the UN’s Decade for Ecosystem Restoration and the year in which Scotland will host COP26, these issues will never have been more important.

Farmers and crofters are the new Champions for Change, but to secure this positive future, we urgently need to see the following from the Scottish Government:

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Clarity on future agriculture and land management policy and the delivery of environmental and productivity outcomes; Commitment to fairer, long-term funding for schemes that deliver biodiversity and climate benefits; A commitment to investing in natural capital, genuine environmental improvement and supporting the rural economy to play a key role in delivering a Green Recovery from Covid-19.

The public – as consumers of Scotland’s fantastic natural larder and beneficiaries of our precious outdoor landscapes – will be a key part of this.

To follow the Champions for Change journey, keep up-to-date with us at @NFUStweets and @ScotWildlife.

Jo Pike is chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Scott Walker is chief executive of NFU Scotland

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