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 (

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

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.   


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.”


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.”


Legal targets for nature recovery can mark turning point for threatened species

August 30th, 2023 by

The introduction of legal targets for nature recovery can serve as the turning point for threatened species and habitats, environmental charities have said.  

The Scottish Government has committed to introducing statutory nature recovery targets in the upcoming Natural Environment Bill. A consultation is expected imminently.  

This would put nature recovery on the same legal basis as climate change, where the government is already required to meet legal targets for emissions reductions. 

A new report by the environmental coalition Scottish Environment LINK has outlined how these targets could function in practice.  

The report argues that legal targets must set out to achieve both a reversal of current negative trends and an effective regeneration of biodiversity in relation to past and historic losses, with a clear date for achievement and milestones leading to that date.  

As well as statutory targets, a new Natural Environment Bill will set out a framework for new legislation to support the delivery of Scottish Government’s commitments to conserve 30% of land for nature by 2030, strengthen the powers of Scotland’s national parks and drive a sustainable reduction in deer numbers. 

The report proposes that targets cover key indicators of species abundance, distribution, and extinction risk, as well as targets to cover habitat quality and ecosystem resilience. LINK also proposes targets to tackle the drivers of biodiversity decline. 

The twin crises of climate change and nature loss are linked and we must tackle them together. Restoring nature will reduce carbon emissions, and tackling the climate crisis is essential if we are to prevent extinctions.   

Bruce Wilson, Head of Policy and Advocacy at Scottish Wildlife Trust, said: 

“Our natural world is in trouble, and the challenges we face today – most notably climate change – come on top of high levels of historic nature loss.  

“Legal targets can mark the turning point for Scotland’s threatened species and habitats. As we have seen with climate change, putting targets in law can help drive change across all parts of government and the economy.  

“Getting those targets right is vital. There is not one simple metric that captures the complexity of the natural world, but fundamentally we do understand the problems we face – and how to fix them.  

“This is an incredible opportunity to put Scotland on the path to nature recovery.” 


Read the summary report 

Image: Mark Hamblin/2020VISION

Exhibition opens to celebrate ten years of MSP nature initiative

August 28th, 2023 by

A successful environmental initiative which has partnered MSPs with threatened and iconic Scottish species and habitats celebrates its ten-year anniversary this year with an exhibition outside the Scottish Parliament.

The Nature Champions initiative was developed by Scottish Environment LINK in 2013 to encourage MSPs to champion Scotland’s threatened species and habitats. Including iconic species like the red squirrel and golden eagle, to more obscure but equally as important species like the bilberry bumblebee, flapper skate and Manx shearwater.

Over the years, MSP Nature Champions have taken trips to visit their species and habitats all around Scotland. These have included boat trips to Scotland’s rainforest to see mature oak woodlands, snorkeling in sea lochs to discover important flame shell beds, or even night walks around Holyrood Park to search for native bat species.

The free public exhibition, titled ‘A Voice for Nature’, opens outside the Scottish Parliament on Monday the 28th August and will run until Friday the 22nd of September.

It will highlight how past and present MSPs have been working with local communities and conservation organisations through the initiative to be a voice for nature in the Scottish Parliament, raising awareness of everything from the smallest pond mud snail to the mighty blue whale. 91 current MSPs are Nature Champions in this Parliamentary session.

The exhibition will also raise awareness of some of the extraordinary species and habitats that Scotland is home to, including those represented by MSPs in the Nature Champions initiative. Images and facts about Scottish species and habitats will be displayed alongside case studies and QR codes within the displays will link to short audio clips narrated by the MSP Nature Champions themselves – thereby being a literal ‘voice for nature’ in the exhibition itself.

Through the exhibition, visitors can learn more about Scotland’s natural heritage, partnership working in conservation and the work that Members of the Scottish Parliament are undertaking as Nature Champions to protect and restore threatened and iconic species and habitats. 

Deborah Long, Chief Officer of the initiative’s host organisation, Scottish Environment LINK, said:

“Since its launch in 2013, the Nature Champions initiative has gone from strength to strength. As of July 2023, some 173 different MSPs have become Nature Champions over the past three Parliamentary sessions.

“We are really looking forward to this opportunity to showcase the many successful partnerships which the initiative has played host to over the last ten years, for the ultimate benefit of Scotland’s nature and biodiversity, and look forward to the next ten years!”

Nature charities call on political leaders to increase ambition on environment

August 14th, 2023 by

A coalition of leading nature conservation and environmental charities has called on Scotland’s political leaders to work together with increased ambition in the face of growing crises of climate and nature.

The call, directed at the leaders of all five political parties, was made in an open letter signed by the leaders of 26 organisations. The signatories to the letter have a combined supporter base of more than 500,000.

The charities have warned the party leaders against rolling back on their existing commitments or attempting to exploit the environmental crises for short-term electoral purposes.

The intervention comes following a summer extreme weather globally, heightening concerns over the immediate impact of the environmental crises.

The open letter warns that “the impacts of climate change and nature loss are increasingly visible in our lives” and says that “we are deeply concerned that our political leaders are not responding to the intertwined nature and climate crises with the urgency required”.

The charities have highlighted the need for ambitious legal targets for nature restoration and a well-resourced Biodiversity Strategy as crucial in reversing nature loss. Reforms to agriculture and forestry funding, marine protection, and reducing resource use are also key areas where progress must be made in this parliamentary term.

The letter states: “The status quo is not sustainable. Yet we have seen key environmental commitments shelved or delayed, and increasing signals that differing views on environmental policy will be exploited for electoral purposes or treated as disposable.

“All parties committed to strengthening environmental protection and restoration at the last Scottish election. Scotland – as a wealthy country, as an early industrialiser and as one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world – has a moral obligation to show leadership.

“There are opportunities in this parliament to deliver meaningful progress. We call on you all to reaffirm your commitment to the health of our planet – our life support system – by working together to rapidly support measures to reduce emissions in line with statutory targets agreed by this parliament, and halt and reverse nature loss.”

Read the full letter

Image: Sandra Graham

Environmental experts urge the Scottish Government to ‘be bold’ as it prepares to incorporate the right to a healthy environment into Scots Law

July 5th, 2023 by

A new report backed by experts from across Scotland’s environmental sector has welcomed the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporating the substantive and procedural elements of the right to a healthy environment in its upcoming Human Rights Bill. The report suggests Scotland could become ‘a global leader’ in protecting environmental rights, but only if new rights ‘have teeth’ and are enforceable against public bodies and polluters.

The report, compiled by the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS) on behalf of Scottish Environment LINK, draws on guidance from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment and international best practice to identify the definitions, standards and enforcement mechanisms to uphold the six interdependent features of the substantive right to a healthy environment: – clean air, safe climate, healthy and sustainable food, safe water and adequate sanitation, non-toxic environments, and healthy, biodiverse ecosystems.

The procedural element of the right to a healthy environment is already enshrined in the Aarhus Convention, but Scotland is in breach of the Convention’s access to justice requirements and has until October 2024 to ensure that court proceedings for environmental cases are ‘fair, equitable, timely, and not prohibitively expensive’.

Shivali Fifield, Chief Officer at the Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland, said:

‘We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporate the substantive right to a healthy environment in a Scottish Human Rights Bill, and this should rightly be celebrated. However, the devil is in the detail. Our report provides a route map for the government to be bold in upholding the highest standards and effective enforcement mechanisms for clean air, safe climate, water, food, non-toxic environments and healthy biodiversity and ecosystems. Without this, the right has no teeth and will be meaningless. Equally, we need to see concrete reforms to legal expenses and a dedicated environment court to achieve full compliance with the Aarhus Convention and to make our procedural right to a healthy environment a reality.’ 

Juliet Caldwell, Advocacy Officer at Scottish Environment LINK, said:

‘Following the UN General Assembly declaring access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment as a universal human right, the government must be bold in how it incorporates this right into Scots law. Scotland has the opportunity to become a global leader in protecting our environmental rights. However, the six features of the substantive right are interdependent and need standalone protection if we have any hope in tackling the climate and nature crisis.

Read the report

Notes to Editors

[1] The Scottish Government has committed to incorporating the Human Right to a Healthy Environment as part of the Human Rights (Scotland) Bill by May 2026. This follows recommendation 2 of the National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership Report: ‘to include the right to a healthy environment with substantive and procedural elements into the statutory framework.’ A public consultation on the Bill opened on 15 June 2023, with the right to a healthy environment addressed in Part 5. The consultation is available at:


[2] The Environmental Rights Centre for Scotland (ERCS) assist the public and civil society to understand and exercise their rights in environmental law and to protect the environment. We carry out advocacy in policy and law reform to improve environmental rights, and full compliance with the Aarhus Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice on environmental matters.


[3] Scottish Environment LINK is the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community, with over 40 member bodies representing a broad spectrum of environmental interests with the common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society. We are a Scottish Charity (SC000296) and a Scottish Company Limited by guarantee (SC250899), core funded by Membership subscriptions and by grants from NatureScot, Scottish Government and Charitable Trusts.


[4] The report addresses only the six standalone features of the substantive element of the right. The procedural element is covered under the Aarhus Convention on access to environmental information, participation in environmental decision-making, and access to justice. The full report, ‘Substantive features of the right to a healthy environment: a review of definitions, standards, and enforcement mechanisms’, The report urges the Government to follow international best practice, following recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to a healthy environment, and standards set by International agencies such as the World Health Organisation and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

[5] The right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment was recognised in resolution A/76/L.75 at UN General Assembly in July 2022.,and%20sustainable%20environment%20for%20all.

Read the report