Category:

Scottish Environment LINK Statement on the Forestry Grant Scheme Budget

February 13th, 2024 by

Following the reduction in the Forestry Grant Scheme budget announced in December, Scottish Environment LINK is very concerned about the potential for damaging Scotland’s ability to create and manage native woodland, one of our few means for addressing the twin climate and nature emergencies.

We are aware that the budget cuts create uncertainty across the forest industry and woodland conservation sector, especially for tree nurseries and forestry contractors. Just prior to the budget, at the Forestry Summit, a record number of woodland creation approvals were announced. If the cuts could be revised to ensure that all current approvals were funded, this would maintain the trajectory towards meeting the Government’s tree cover expansion targets, thus inspiring confidence throughout the sector.

Given the stakes for climate and nature, it will become increasingly important for taxpayer support to prioritise multi-benefit woodlands. As money becomes tighter, we are calling on the Scottish Government to strongly focus funds in the grant scheme on woodlands and forests that will deliver the most optimal mix of multiple benefits for nature, climate and people. These benefits include biodiversity, forest diversification to enable local timber-based businesses, community wellbeing and carbon sequestration, which are all sorely-needed in greater supply in our landscapes. These woodlands need grant support as they generate little if any income, although their environmental, social and cultural value benefit us all and are felt by all of us. We are increasingly seeing these values recognised through natural capital accounting.

We recognise that some helpful details of how the reduced scheme will operate have been published, although how the scheme will prioritise its resources is still to be clarified. Our hope is that the revised scheme will see an effective means of ensuring support for native woodland creation, including productive native hardwoods, native woodland management, and landscape-scale deer management to enable natural colonisation from native woodlands.

LINK Deer Group welcomes consultation on reforming Scotland’s system of deer management

January 5th, 2024 by

LINK’s Deer Group welcomes the publication of a consultation seeking views on proposed changes to Scotland’s system of deer management.

The consultation builds on previous legislative changes made in 2023 and recommendations made by the Deer Working Group in their 2020 report  The Management of Wild Deer in Scotland.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Convener of LINK Deer Group comprising of all main landowning eNGOs in Scotland, said:

“The LINK Deer Group welcomes proposals by the Scottish Government to modernise deer legislation framed around the need to tackle the nature and climate emergencies.

These proposals build on the recommendations of the independent Deer Working Group Report already accepted by Scottish Government. New workable powers for NatureScot to intervene to reduce deer numbers where necessary in the public interest are especially welcome.

In the absence of predators, Scotland’s deer populations must be humanely managed by landowners to sustainable levels and to protect our environment from damage.

We expect that these new measures will provide opportunities for additional local employment. We understand that some more traditional sporting estates may have concerns about these changes to deer management systems and processes.

In this regard, we welcome steps that are being taken in parallel through the Deer Common Ground initiative to ensure a just transition, and to harness the essential skills and knowledge that will be needed for future sustainable deer management in Scotland”.      

Funding settlement for environmental agencies welcomed

December 19th, 2023 by

Commenting on the Scottish budget, Deborah Long, Chief Officer of Scottish Environment LINK, said:

“The Scottish Government has been clear that we face climate and nature emergencies. Ministers have set out an ambitious and wide-ranging series of actions to protect our environment, all of which require resourcing.

“We were highly concerned that funding for NatureScot and the other environmental agencies may fall, as had been reported in advance of the budget. If Ministers have heard our concerns, that is welcome.

“It is welcome that this budget recognises the urgency of investing in Scotland’s environment and our environmental agencies now. Ensuring they are resourced to deliver vital, urgent and increasing roles in protecting and restoring Scotland’s environment is welcome.

“There remain challenges in the funding of other policy areas that impact the environment. We will continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that our response to the climate and nature emergencies is up to the challenge.  

“We understand that the Scottish Government faces a very difficult fiscal outlook. But politics is about setting priorities, and we are continuously told that the environment is a priority for this government. The budget for our environmental agencies reflects that.”

ENDS

Image: Sandra Graham

Farm funding plan must change to meet climate and nature targets, say campaigners

December 11th, 2023 by

The Scottish Government must take a much more ambitious approach to reforming agriculture policy and funding if it is to meet its own climate and nature targets, campaigners have said.

Ministers have indicated that the new system of farm funding will mimic the current decades-old system that sees large landowners disproportionately benefit from government payments.

But in evidence submitted to a parliamentary committee, leading environmental campaigners have said that the current funding system is ‘unfair and inefficient’ and that the government should instead direct money to support food being produced in ways that are better for nature and the climate.

The financial memorandum to the Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill, published in September, indicates that the Scottish Government intends to distribute the majority of its farm funding in a way that effectively maintains the status quo.

The Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign, a coalition of environment charities and farmers’ groups, says that broadly replicating the current distribution of funds will leave little money left to help farmers take targeted action for the environment, or to support them in the transition to sustainable farming.

Deborah Long, chief officer of Scottish Environment LINK which coordinates the campaign, said:

“Under this plan, most of the money would go to area-based ‘direct payments’, which require farmers to meet very few environmental conditions and which result in those with the most land receiving most money, or to payments with only light-touch environmental requirements. This will not drive the transformation in farming that we need.”

The development of new Scottish agriculture legislation has been seen by many as an opportunity to radically change the way farming is funded, in order to help restore biodiversity, tackle climate change and support smaller farms that lose out under the current system.

For the financial year 2023-24, more than two thirds of the Scottish government’s £650 million farm support budget is being paid to farmers based on how much and what type of land they farm, with very few conditions attached as to how they manage the land.

In contrast, about five percent of the budget is being spent on supporting farmers to deliver targeted environmental benefits through dedicated Agri-Environment support payments.

Figures published in June show that climate emissions from agriculture have risen, making it the second largest source of Scottish emissions. At the end of last year, the Climate Change Committee reported that detail on a low-carbon Scottish agriculture policy was ‘urgently needed’. Current farming methods also make farming a major cause of biodiversity loss.

The Scottish government has ambitious, legally binding targets to reduce Scotland’s climate emissions. Nature restoration targets are due to be set in the Natural Environment Bill, expected next year.

The Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign is calling for the new policy and funding system to reduce the proportion of the budget spent on payments per area with few environmental requirements, and by 2026 for at least three quarters of public spending on farming to support methods that restore nature and tackle climate change while producing food.

Deborah Long added:

“We know that across Scotland many farmers and crofters are working hard to help nature and reduce climate emissions. But far too often they’re doing so despite the current funding system, which offers them very little support or incentive to farm sustainably.

“The huge challenges of climate change and nature loss affect us all. Farming has a major role to play in tackling these crises, and it’s in all our interests that farmers and crofters should be supported to do this vital work. Public spending on farming should reflect these priorities.

“Paying farmers and crofters based on how much land they farm, with few environmental requirements,  gives us extremely poor value for money. The new Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill is the opportunity to radically change the farm funding system so that it helps all farmers and crofters to produce food in ways that restore nature and tackle climate change.

“That’s why the plan to maintain the status quo in terms of where the money goes is so disappointing. We urge the Scottish government to reconsider, and not to waste this opportunity to make farming work for nature, climate and people.”

Image: Plantlife

Environment charities welcome Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill and call for radical change to farm funding

October 3rd, 2023 by

Environment charities have welcomed the publication on Friday of Scotland’s Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill, and have called on the Scottish government to introduce a radical new farm funding system to help the industry reduce climate emissions and restore biodiversity.  

The charities, who launched the Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign in 2022 alongside farmers’ groups, want at least three quarters of public spending on farming to support methods that restore nature and tackle climate change as well as producing food.

The Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill will require Ministers to produce a code of practice for ‘sustainable and regenerative agriculture’. But campaigners say that to meet its own targets to cut emissions and restore Scotland’s nature, the Scottish government must shift spending on farming so that it incentivises and supports sustainable farming, and move away from payments per hectare which disproportionately benefit large landowners.

Figures released in June showed that climate emissions from agriculture have risen to make it Scotland’s second biggest source of emissions. Current methods also make farming a major cause of nature loss.

Deborah Long, chief officer of Scottish Environment LINK, said today:

“Farming and crofting have a vital role to play in tackling climate change and restoring Scotland’s nature, as well as producing food. We need to transform the way Scotland farms, and we need our farm funding system to reflect those expectations.

“The current system was designed for a different era, and it’s woefully inadequate for the challenges we face today. A system that pays people based on the amount of land they farm, and not what they do with it, should be consigned to history.

“A radical new approach is needed to help all farmers and crofters make the transition to sustainable farming and to support the many different ways they can increase biodiversity on farms and reduce emissions.

“The Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill is a welcome step towards creating a better system, and we’re pleased to see the commitment to a Rural Support Plan, which will provide certainty for rural businesses with its programming periods. But the way funding is distributed in the new system will be key. We look forward to engaging with MSPs on this bill to help ensure that the new system supports farming methods that work for nature, climate and people.”

Image: Oystercatcher © Ian Francis (rspb-images.com)

New beginnings in Scotland’s upland deer sector

October 3rd, 2023 by

Organisations and individuals across the Highlands have come together to form The Common Ground Forum (CGF).  Initiated by the Association of Deer Management Groups and Scottish Environment LINK with the aim of setting aside long entrenched disagreements over some areas relating to deer management, the Forum includes deer stalkers, foresters, farmers, landowners, community representatives, nature conservationists and many others. 

This coming together represents a commitment to work together while respecting different viewpoints, and already a number of joint initiatives are planned.  Particular emphasis is put on what the coming changes will mean for those directly involved in managing deer and in providing support and reassurance in the face of the changes associated with the climate and biodiversity crises, for which an increasing level of deer cull has been identified as a required action by Scottish Government agency NatureScot.

Launched today is ‘Our Common Ground Accord’ which sets out seven commitments including identifying a common purpose, respecting others’ objectives, and working for mutually beneficial solutions.  The Accord has so far been signed by more than 25 of the key organisations with an interest in wild deer management. Those organisations that have signed up can be seen on the new website www.thecommongroundforum.scot

The Scottish Government is developing draft deer legislation, based on the 2019 Deer Working Group report and recommendations, for introduction in 2024, to be preceded by a consultation later this year.  While there will inevitably be a range of views on what may be proposed, the Accord is intended to ensure that areas of agreement can be identified and jointly supported while remaining differences can be debated and represented respectfully.

Tom Turnbull, Chairman, The Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) said:

“Whilst it is clear that there are still significant differences in approach to deer management there are also areas on which we can all agree. The Forum will endeavour to come together to discuss some of the divisive topics within deer management and find solutions where possible. Key to the process will be the deer managers tasked with delivering challenging Scottish Government targets for climate and biodiversity. Having been involved in collaborative deer management for many years this process and the creation of the Common Ground Forum has been a breath of fresh air in an often heated debate over deer management objectives.”

Representing Scottish Environment LINK’s Deer Group, Duncan Orr-Ewing said:

“Everyone in the deer sector is aware that significant change is coming as we look to respond to the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss and the associated need to reduce deer populations in some areas.  We accept that these changes will be hard for many and could create further divisions between the people involved, so the Common Ground Forum offers a long overdue channel for navigating change with empathy and building positive relationships that focus on solutions.”

Lea McNally representing the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) on the Common Ground Forum said:

“The SGA is pleased to be a part of The Common Ground Forum after participating in the successful Finding the Common Ground project. We now need to address some of the different approaches identified by the original project. It’s refreshing to see the momentum going forward as it is obvious there are still significant issues to address as we try to achieve the Government’s aims for sustainable upland deer management.”

LINK Deer Group Statement on vote for removal of season for male deer

September 28th, 2023 by

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Convener of Scottish Environment LINK’s Deer Group, said:

“We welcome the overwhelming decision by the Scottish Parliament yesterday to approve secondary legislation to remove the season for male deer and to permit the use of night vision equipment to facilitate deer management. This is part of a package of measures recommended by the independent Deer Working Group to modernise and to facilitate sustainable deer management in the public interest and in the wider context of the climate and nature emergency.

“Deer populations in Scotland have increased rapidly in the past 60 years, when the deer seasons were originally brought in, and it is now estimated that there are over 1 million deer in Scotland. Deer have no natural predators so need to be managed by humans to levels that their habitats can support and to prevent damage to a wide variety of public outcomes for both biodiversity and human health – for example road safety and reduction in Lyme disease. The current overpopulation of deer in many parts of Scotland is causing significant damage to native woodlands, to peatlands and to wider biodiversity through both excessive browsing levels and trampling. It is essential that we use the skills and experience of deer managers in delivering the changes we need as a society. The majority of deer management is carried out on private estates and their contribution and commitment is vital. The transition needs to be just to ensure livelihoods and cultural traditions are respected while adapting to change and new ways of working.

“Sustainable deer management and the reduction of deer populations is identified as a key outcome of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. We look forward to further primary legislation intended to deliver sustainable deer management as part of the Natural Environment Bill, expected to go out to public consultation shortly.”

Image: Mae Mackay

Landowning charities disappointed by block on deer reform

September 13th, 2023 by

The LINK Deer Group of environmental NGO landowning organisations today expressed its disappointment at the decision by the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee to block a key part of the Scottish Government’s move towards a modernised system of deer management.

Following a debate, the committee was split down the middle, with four MSPs supporting a motion from Edward Mountain MSP to annul a Scottish Government amendment that would end close seasons for male deer; and four MSPs opposing the blocking motion. We understand that the proposed reform to remove male deer seasons will now go to the full Scottish Parliament for a vote and where we firmly hope that it will be approved. 

The Scottish Government’s amendment to existing legislation was one of a number of measures proposed by the independent expert Deer Working Group to address the growing ecological, economic and social impacts of Scotland’s high deer population. Most of these recommendations were accepted by Scottish Government.

“As the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity made clear to the committee, Scotland’s deer population has quadrupled in the sixty years since male close seasons were first introduced,” said Duncan Orr-Ewing, the Convener of the Scottish Environment LINK Deer Task Force.

“At a time when we face a climate and nature emergency, we need urgent action to reduce Scotland’s one million strong deer population. We will not meet our targets for peatland restoration, woodland expansion, and biodiversity without taking the necessary action to reduce grazing pressures on our land. This is also firmly emphasised in the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy”

Mike Daniels of the John Muir Trust said: “For decades, there has been a growing consensus that we need strong action to reduce deer numbers to protect our natural heritage, curb damage to crops and forestry, reduce road accidents.

“Four out of five political parties included in their 2021 Scottish election manifestos a commitment to implement the recommendations of the Deer Working Group.  It is disappointing, therefore, that at the very first hurdle, a key recommendation of the Group has been voted down.

“This is essentially about private versus public interest. There is no biological or animal welfare reason for maintaining close seasons for male deer. The Scottish Animal Welfare Commission and major animal welfare organisations have scrutinised the need for this change and have raised no objections to the proposal.”

The change would not oblige any landowner to cull male deer all year round.  It would simply make it easier for land managers to choose the option of sustainable deer management for environmental, social and economic benefit to the nation.   

ENDS 

Image: Mae Mackay

Environmental charities welcome long-term action plan to reverse nature loss

September 7th, 2023 by

A coalition of environmental charities has welcomed the publication of a major consultation outlining the next steps in the Scottish Government’s approach to reversing nature loss.

The consultation includes elements of the forthcoming Natural Environment Bill such as the introduction of legal targets for nature restoration as well as the details of the first delivery plan for the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.

Scottish Environment LINK welcomes this opportunity to respond to the strategy, and will work to ensure the Scottish Government’s approach is ambitious enough to halt the loss of nature by 2030 and make significant progress to restoring nature by 2045.

Dr Deborah Long, Scottish Environment LINK’s Chief Officer, said:

“Scotland has suffered a high level of historic nature loss, and we face even greater threats today. We must protect and restore our precious natural environment for our benefit and for future generations.

“This new framework includes crucial steps to restoring nature, including the establishment of legal targets – putting nature restoration on the same standing as tackling climate change.

“The Scottish Biodiversity Framework must be ambitious, and must focus not just on nature protection, but, crucially, on restoration. Our battered ecosystems need to be rebuilt if they are to function properly.

“The overall Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and subsequent delivery plans must drive a step change to accelerate the pace and scale of our efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity. Business as usual will not be enough.

“This transition will require a whole of society approach. As stewards of our lands and seas, communities and industry have an important role as we work together to restore nature and create a greener, fairer and more prosperous Scotland for all.”

ENDS

Image: Sandra Graham

Programme for Government: Environmental commitments welcome but progress on delivery must not be allowed to stall

September 5th, 2023 by

Responding to the Programme for Government, Dr Deborah Long – Chief Officer at Scottish Environment LINK – said:

“We welcome the First Minister’s commitment to display leadership on the climate and nature crises, and will work productively with all parties as we face these enormous challenges.

“The Natural Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill are two key pieces of legislation that will be central to delivering progress for nature and climate in this parliament.

“It is disappointing that the timescale for the Natural Environment Bill’s introduction appears to have slipped since the Bute House Agreement. It is essential that the Scottish Government takes forward these pieces of legislation with the level of ambition that the environmental crises require.

“We do welcome the commitment to tackle the environmental impact of single use vapes, as well as to consider new legislation to improve resilience in the water industry. This is an excellent opportunity to tackle issues surrounding spillages from the sewerage network and water scarcity – key issues for our water environments and the life that they support.

“Improving connectivity in the natural world is key to tackling the nature crisis. The commitment to new financial support for Nature Networks is an important step, and we look forward to seeing details.

“This summer, with extreme weather across the planet, has shown just how serious the environmental crises we face are. We have the answers but need our political leaders to show a ruthless focus on delivery.”

ENDS