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Scottish farmers and crofters no clearer on biodiversity asks

After biodiversity announcements last week, are Scottish farmers and crofters any clearer on what is required of them asks NFU Scotland’s Environmental Resources Policy Manager Sarah Cowie.

The Scottish Government published the ‘final draft’ of its biodiversity strategy last week – available to read at: https://bit.ly/3YCp2YD . It coincided with the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal, where world leaders agreed a landmark deal to protect 30 per cent of our land and oceans by 2030 – see: https://www.unep.org/un-biodiversity-conference-cop-15 

But how does the Scottish Government redraft compare to the original? Are we any clearer on what farmers and crofters are expected to do to address biodiversity loss? 

How does the ‘final draft’ meet our asks? 

In our original response to the consultation, we made three key policy demands:

  • Food production must be at the core of policies to protect and improve our natural environment. 
  • There must be cohesion and joined-up thinking between other government policies, strategies, and aims. 
  • There can be no one-size-fits-all solution to solving the nature crisis. 

From our reading of the redraft, the government commits to an agricultural support framework which delivers for nature as well as high quality food production. This is key. The participation of our farming community is essential to meeting climate and biodiversity targets. But for our sector to continue to thrive, food production must be at the heart of these aims and strategies. 

The redraft also acknowledges that for the strategy to work, biodiversity must be ‘mainstreamed’ across sectors and the wider policy landscape. And Scottish Government must work more strategically and at scale. Again, we believe this is vital. In a congested policy area, we cannot have aims and targets which are contradictory and lead to unintended consequences. 

However, we are disappointed that the draft strategy still does not contain clear information on what actions farmers and crofters will be expected to take to address biodiversity loss. 

Delivering on biodiversity is something that farmers have done for generations. While we understand that the strategy intends to set out high level ambitions and commitments, if we are to go further, we urgently need to address the ’what’ and the ‘how.’ 

We will continue to engage with Scottish Government throughout 2023 as they consult on the upcoming delivery plan and Natural Environment Bill, which will set out the much-awaited details that the biodiversity strategy lacks. 

But we need to see progress quickly. 

If the Government is serious about a twin biodiversity and climate crisis, our habitats and wildlife deserve the same attention and commitment as greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration. 

In a similar vein, if farmers are to play their critical role in addressing biodiversity loss and protecting the natural environment, they need confidence, certainty, and stability from government policy to do this.

Author: Sarah Cowie

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About The Author

Sarah Cowie

Sarah Cowie graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2012 and started her career at Scottish Enterprise, where she held roles in renewable energy and IP development. Following this she joined political monitoring company Newsdirect, where she was responsible for a wide range of clients in the environmental and agricultural sector. She joined NFU Scotland in 2021 as environmental resources policy manager and is responsible for the implementation and content of environmental regulation and legislation including Nitrate Vulnerable Zones, pollution prevention and control, waste, flooding, air quality and biodiversity.

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