Time to halt Scotland’s carbon gold rush and think again – Brian Wilson

Where legislation leads to unintended consequences, it should be possible to call halt and reconsider. That can be a sign of strength rather than weakness.

Scottish land prices have been rising as carbon-off-setting investors have moved in (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)
Scottish land prices have been rising as carbon-off-setting investors have moved in (Picture: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

The whole business of funding peat land restoration and forestry planting in the interests of meeting net-zero targets fits squarely into that category. It may have been motivated by worthy intentions but it is now urgent to recognise it has gone grotesquely wrong.

Public money is being used to facilitate an unprecedented explosion in land prices to the detriment of rural communities. As the New York Times recently reported: “In effect, Scotland has said: ‘Bill us for the digging, and keep all the gold you can mine’. This has spurred a land rush among investors.”

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I’ve been writing about this for a while but am now repeatedly stumbling on unsolicited examples in different parts of Scotland of how this crazy market is impacting on rural economies and future community prospects.

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Apart from there being lots of peat and soil, the big attraction of Scotland is that the buying, selling and use of land remains totally unregulated. That is the underlying scandal which needs to be addressed.

My proposal is not to recriminate but to suspend all payments under these headings until the whole approach is re-assessed. Urgent legislation, in the face of what is happening at a very rapid pace, to regulate land sales and introduce community safeguards would surely sail through Holyrood.

Then would be the time to look again at how this can be made to fit with environmental objectives.

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