Legislative requirements threaten rural communities - Henrietta Talbot

Green legislative measures are bringing the pain, writes Henrietta Talbot

Scottish rural and agricultural businesses, which represent one of the nation’s key economic sectors, are under severe pressure from all sides. According to Scottish Government figures, agriculture is “an important and very visible part of the rural economy” with a total annual output worth £3.18 billion.

However, an increase in green legislative measures combined with rising operational costs, concerns about food security, uncertainty on the level and administration of CAP payments, and ongoing public expectations of low-cost food, are putting a strain on those who make their living off the land.

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Proposed legislation undoubtedly presents a key challenge to the sector. The list of pending legislative measures in Scotland includes: the Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill; Land Reform Bill; the Visitor Levy Bill; the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill; and the Housing Bill. Meanwhile the Heat in Buildings Bill, which will also affect this sector, is in its consultation stage.

Henrietta Talbot is a director and rural business specialist, Davidson Chalmers StewartHenrietta Talbot is a director and rural business specialist, Davidson Chalmers Stewart
Henrietta Talbot is a director and rural business specialist, Davidson Chalmers Stewart

This raft of newly proposed Bills adds to an already inflated list of UK and Scottish legislation which impacts farming operations and/or the use of the land.

Promoting environmental sustainability is the commendable aim behind most of these pending measures. There are, however, growing concerns that many of these forthcoming legislative changes will fail to achieve their intended outcome.

Many carbon reduction initiatives will also feel increasingly conflicting for the agricultural industry. For example, we have seen measures implemented by a high street food retailer to prevent animals in their food production chain being fed on pasture in order to reduce the volume of methane emissions. But there is considerable concern that leaving pastures undisturbed could increase the volume of anaerobic soils, which can lead to the release of nitrous oxides, considered more environmentally damaging than methane.

Land being used for traditional country sports also faces a great deal of pressure from all sides. These types of businesses will be typically focused on careful land and wildlife stewardship to ensure they maintain healthy game and fishing stocks, all of which enhances environmental quality. The accompanying legislative requirements, which are only set to increase, place restrictions and additional costs on these businesses which could make many of them unviable in the future. Such an outcome could be economically damaging and environmentally detrimental.

Farmers, landowners and other rural businesses should be recognised for their strong support of the Scottish and UK governments’ net zero ambitions. The sector has shown real passion and commitment towards the development of innovative renewable energy projects. It is equally important to recognise that this increased focus on renewables means land being taken away from farming and other traditional agricultural operations, creating a knock-on effect for food production and food security.

Enhancing sustainability is important, but needs to be done in a measured way that supports quality practices and promotes economic growth. This approach is vital for Scotland’s rural communities which depend on a buoyant farming and agricultural business sector.



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