Balance the needs of the environment, landowners and communities across Scotland for sustainable land use that achieves emission reductions.

Children’s Parliament: Allow only sustainable ways of farming, fishing and crofting. This would include using natural fertilisers and reducing the numbers of animals being farmed or fished.

Children’s Parliament: Protect wild spaces, coastlines and ancient woods. This would involve creating special sea defences to protect the coastline, cleaning up beaches and rivers, and stopping cutting down trees.

Scotland’s land, its marine environment, and the natural capital it supports have a fundamental role to play in our response to the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, and our green recovery from COVID-19. The way land is managed is one of the most important drivers of biodiversity loss in Scotland. Ministers have defined two key milestones in developing our new biodiversity strategy: halt biodiversity loss by 2030; and restore and regenerate biodiversity by 2045.

Achieving our net zero target, alongside restoring our natural capital will need fundamental changes in the way we use, think about and manage our land and seas. It will require significant changes in land use to deliver substantial increases in forestry and peatland restoration and sustainable land management practices must become standard in all sectors. It will require balancing the increasing demands on our sea space with growth in renewable energy development, marine protected areas and supporting sustainable harvesting of marine products. These changes must be managed and delivered in a just manner, ensuring this transition helps to provide an economic and environmentally sustainable future for those involved. Following the recommendations from the Just Transition Commission we have committed to a Just Transition Plan for Land Use and Agriculture. As set out in Scotland’s Third Land Use Strategy, determining the sustainable mix of land use is and will continue to be a complex task and one that varies throughout Scotland. We will need to work closely with all farmers, crofters, land owners, land managers, stakeholders, the public and delivery partners to reach our goals.

To achieve this, we are taking action to transform our land including:

  • Incentivising the maintenance of ancient woodlands and expanding both our native and productive woodlands. We have already created almost 33,000 hectares of new woodland over the last three years and are committed to delivering upon our commitment to plant 18,000 ha a year by 2024/5 increasing new planting, expanding Scotland’s national forests and land, and increasing nursery capacity.
  • Restoring our peatlands. We are already committed to invest over £250 million to restore 250,000 hectares of degraded peatland by 2030, with over 30,000 ha already restored.
  • Supporting our farmers, crofters and land managers to cut emissions, improve efficiencies, and integrate more trees on farms, helping to deliver wider biodiversity and environmental benefits. We have committed £51 million of investment in the National Test Programme over three years to support and encourage farmers and crofters to learn about how their work impacts climate and nature and support carbon audits and nutrient management.
  • Establishing five Regional Land Use Partnership (RLUP) pilots during 2021/22 and committing to a second phase from 2023, if the current pilots meet expectations. The pilots are presently setting up their partnership structures, and will develop their Regional Land Use Frameworks by 2023, taking a natural capital approach.

We are also taking action to transform our coastlines and seas including:

  • Changing the way we manage the marine environment, introducing a Blue Economy approach, setting out how the marine environment and marine sectors support climate, biodiversity and wider sustainability outcomes in the Blue Economy Vision, due in 2022.
  • Continuing to take a marine planning approach to managing Scotland’s marine resources. Scotland’s National Marine Plan (NMP) was reviewed in 2021, and Scottish Ministers continue to support the implementation and development of a marine planning framework for the sustainable management of our resources out to 200 nautical miles. The NMP supports development and activity in Scotland’s seas while incorporating environmental protection into marine decision-making to achieve sustainable management.
  • Leading research to build the evidence base for the inclusion of saltmarsh and seagrass habitats in the UK Greenhouse gas inventory, which will help leverage investment for habitat recovery.
  • Stepping up marine protection by designating at least 10% of our seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas by 2026, and putting in place the necessary fishery management measures in our Marine Protected Area network by 2024.

Recommendation 44: Marine Carbon Sequestration

Fulfil the carbon sink potential of the marine environment to establish an holistic enterprise that maximises carbon sequestration and supports sustainable marine food production.

Children’s Parliament: Protect wild spaces, coastlines and ancient woods. This would involve creating special sea defences to protect the coastline, cleaning up beaches and rivers, and stopping cutting down trees.

 

Scottish Government Response

The Scottish Government supports the recommendation to fulfil the carbon sink potential of the marine environment and is funding a programme of work through the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum to develop our understanding of Scotland’s blue carbon systems to enable policy action.

 

Blue Carbon research is a developing area of growing importance. Scotland recognised this early, establishing the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum (SBCF) in 2018 and, through the SBCF’s research, developing the evidence base for blue carbon. The SBCF is also investing in early career researchers to grow the research capacity and the skills base for blue carbon in Scotland. To date we have invested over £650,000 to support research by the SBCF, leveraging additional funding from partnerships.

The focus of the publications of the forum to date, have been on establishing where and how much blue carbon stocks are in Scotland’s sediments, saltmarshes and other blue carbon habitats, highlighting hotspots for blue carbon in Scottish inshore and offshore waters. We are also working to understand how blue carbon cycles through, or is stored in these dynamic ocean systems, including how human and environmental factors impact the ability of the ocean to sequester and store blue carbon.

Other live focus areas of the SBCF include investigating blue carbon in coralline algae beds, blue carbon contribution from seaweed detritus and bivalve shellfish beds, blue carbon sequestration in saltmarshes and seagrasses, blue carbon in Scotland’s sea lochs, intertidal environments and sedimentary blue carbon on the Scottish continental shelf and coastal sea and blue carbon land to sea connections.

The next stage in our work on blue carbon is translating the outcomes of this research, as they become available, into policy action, to inform our approaches for integrating ocean ecosystems into current climate mitigation, adaption and resilience policy and where appropriate inform marine management and marine protected area policy to protect and enhance Scotland’s blue carbon habitats. Specific areas of consideration are highlighted below.

We have established that Scotland's shelf and coastal seas hold large quantities of sedimentary carbon but the stability of this carbon is poorly understood, especially where there are increasing anthropogenic pressures from fishing. The SBCF is currently taking forward research to examine and quantify the potential impacts of management practices, particularly the impacts of mobile benthic fishing gear on the long-term stability of Scotland’s marine sedimentary blue carbon stores, refining research already undertaken in this area. This work, alongside other research will inform future policy actions under the Futures Fisheries Management Strategy, launched in December 2020 which confirms that sustainability, support for biodiversity and consideration of the wider ecosystem is at the heart of how we manage Scotland’s fisheries. The Strategy sets out a vision for Scotland to be a world class fishing nation delivering responsible and sustainable fisheries management, which provides access to a high protein, low carbon food.

In Scotland, we have already exceeded proposed targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity with 37% of Scottish waters being designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). All necessary fishery management measures for these MPAs will be in place by 2024 at the latest. The current MPA network includes representation of habitats known to be carbon stores, and we are working to better understand the extent and importance of these stores. In addition, the Scottish Government has also committed to designating at least 10% of Scotland’s seas as Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) by 2026, with the protection of blue carbon to be considered in the site selection process.

In Scotland we have three native oyster restoration projects underway, showing the benefit of academic, private and public sector partnerships. Their focus is to improve biodiversity and water quality, and to stabilise the fragile remnant populations of native oysters in Scotland but research is also underway to assess the blue carbon storage capability of native oyster beds and how these restoration projects may contribute to climate adaptation.

As part of our 21/22 Programme for Government, we committed to developing a Blue Economy Vision for managing Scotland’s marine environment. This approach recognises the interconnectedness of social, economic and environmental outcomes. Through the Blue Economy Vision, we will set long term outcomes for Scotland’s marine space up to 2045, which will include protection and restoration of marine nature, resilient communities, ocean literacy, innovation and entrepreneurship in marine sectors, decarbonisation and support for Net Zero commitments. Development of Blue Carbon policy actions will support the long term outcomes set out in the Blue Economy vision.

Seagrasses and saltmarshes meet the criteria for inclusion in climate mitigation policy and are already recognized for their climate mitigation value by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Scotland’s indicative Nationally Determined Contribution, published in July 2021, includes blue carbon. Through the research of the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum and work across the UK, we are building the evidence base so that saltmarsh and seagrass can be included in the UK Greenhouse Gas inventory. There is still a lot of work to be done to achieve this but the addition of saltmarsh and seagrass would see a step change in how blue carbon is viewed and will be critical to attracting future investment and driving restoration.

We are also aware of the climate adaption and resilience contribution blue carbon habitats can make in terms of the ecosystem services they provide and their importance as areas of high biodiversity. For example, there is growing recognition that blue carbon habitats are valuable for coastal protection, and act as nursery grounds for commercially important species such as cod and numerous other services. These multiple benefits of blue carbon habitats are also being factored into our decision making.

Globally, market-based approaches are now being trialled for blue carbon, including carbon credits for blue carbon projects and biodiversity credits for blue carbon habitat protection and restoration. Enabling innovative financing models will be essential for scaling mitigation actions for the protection and enhancement of blue carbon ecosystems in Scotland. Through the SBCF we are considering the international examples of financing models and actions required to support development of these approaches in Scotland.

Across the UK Scotland has been leading the way on blue carbon research, and there is now increasing recognition of the importance of blue carbon, with two new UK groups, the UK Blue Carbon Forum and the Blue Carbon Evidence partnership launched during COP26. The SBCF is working with both of these groups to share our learning and help support coordinated activity across the UK.

In recognition of the SBCF’s work on blue carbon, it has become the newest member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, International Partnership for Blue Carbon (UNESCO-IPBC). During COP26 the SBCF brought together the international community for a workshop, Blue Carbon: Beyond the Inventory to share knowledge and build new collaborations. Illustrating our commitment to our new partnership with the IPBC and international leadership on Blue Carbon, the Scottish Government announced the Blue Carbon International Policy Challenge which will be led by the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum and provide seed funding for up to five blue carbon policy challenge projects in 2022. These projects will seek to establish blueprints for international and domestic policy action post-COP26, building the momentum to turn research findings into action on the ground which will help protect and restore our seas and oceans, and forge strong relationships with our international partners.

In addition to the marine protected area commitments highlighted above, we are also taking action to reduce marine litter and plastics entering the marine environment through actions committed to in Scotland’s Marine Litter Strategy. We also continue to support action by others to reduce marine litter, with £180,000 announced in October 2021 through Marine fund Scotland for the Fishing for litter scheme which has to date removed 1,844 tonnes of marine litter since 2005.

Photo of Mairi Gougeon MSP

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon MSP

“Assembly members have made clear the importance of tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. That’s why, during COP26, I was delighted to announce our support to six Scottish islands in their journey to be carbon neutral by 2040.”


Recommendation 45: Peatland Restoration and Native Woodlands

Commit to higher levels than in current Scottish Government plans of restoring peatlands and native woodlands for carbon sequestration and improving biodiversity.

Children’s Parliament: Create more woodlands and peatlands. This would involve helping people who own land to use their land to do this.

Children’s Parliament: Create a national tree planting day in Scotland. Everyone would plant a tree, every year.

 

Scottish Government Response

The Scottish Government supports the Assembly recommendation, and commits to increased action on peatland restoration and native woodland creation.

 

As a result of a number of calls for an increase in native woodland creation, including the Assembly’s, the Scottish Government and Scottish Green Party shared policy programme committed to an increase in our annual native woodland creation target from 3,000 to at least 4,000 hectares for the next 2 years. It also commits to exploring opportunities to go further than this by setting new evidence-based targets for both native woodlands and natural regeneration as part of the 2022 Biodiversity Strategy. Any increase to our existing woodland creation targets will be dependent on further funding being made available.

Woodland expansion is a critical element of our plans to address climate change and help achieve net zero and our updated Climate Change Plan included new and increased woodland creation targets, rising in steps from 12,000 hectares last year, to 18,000 hectares by 2024-25. Despite the impact of COVID-19, Scotland’s woodland creation continued at pace last year with around 89% of the 12,000 hectares target being achieved by 31st March 2021. This means that 10,660 hectares of new woodland were created – the equivalent of over 21 million trees in the ground, roughly four trees per person in Scotland. Around 40% of this new woodland was native – as was the case in preceding years – with native woodlands being created at varying scales across Scotland, from large landscape-scale projects to small community woodlands.

We are supportive of all types and scales of appropriate tree planting and woodland creation, assisting a range of individuals, organisations, businesses and sectors to do this and encouraging delivery partners to involve children and young people in tree planting.

As woodland creation continues at pace across Scotland, there is a need to balance planting of both faster-growing coniferous trees, and slower-growing broadleaf trees. Both types of trees have a role to play in tackling the climate emergency. Faster-growing coniferous tree species sequester carbon very quickly in the short-term up until harvesting, and in the longer-term provide a carbon store in wood products, avoiding greenhouse gas emissions by substituting materials that involve high greenhouse gas emissions in their manufacture and use, such as concrete and steel. Wood products produced here in Scotland also substitute for imported wood products, including from natural forests elsewhere in the world.

Slower-growing broadleaf tree species can accumulate high carbon reserves, within the woodland itself, in the longer term. Recent research suggests that, typically, for every tonne of carbon sequestered in a new wood product, about one tonne of carbon is also “saved” by avoiding the use of alternative materials. Home grown wood products will also reduce carbon miles to import the wood we use. The forest industries in Scotland support around 25,000 jobs and generate £1 billion every year. Peatland restoration also has an important role as a nature-based solution to the twin crises of the climate emergency and loss of biodiversity and to achieving a just transition to net zero by 2045. As a key component of Scotland’s natural capital, alongside their role in capturing and storing carbon and supporting unique ecosystems and biodiversity, peatlands also deliver a number of other benefits including improvements in water quality, contributing to natural flood management and offering spaces for community amenity.

The Scottish Government began funding peatland restoration in 2021 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from degraded peat. Since then over 30,000 hectares of degraded peatlands have been set on the road to recovery. In the 2020-21 budget we announced funding of £20 million for peatland restoration with a commitment to invest more than £250 million over 10 years to support restoration of a total of 250,000 hectares by 2030. This level of commitment is recognised internationally and will help to support SMEs that deliver restoration projects, often in remote or rural areas, as well as having wider economic benefits through supporting ancillary businesses such as hospitality, accommodation, and food services providers. It is estimated that by 2024, our investment in peatland restoration will support over 200 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs.

We are committed to significantly increasing annual rates of peatland restoration in Scotland above current levels of around 6,000 hectares per year, up to and beyond our current annual target of 20,000 hectares per year. New total and annual targets for peatland restoration will come through work next year towards our next full Climate Change Plan, informed by new sectoral envelopes and on-going scenario analysis on what combinations of peatland restoration, agricultural change, and forest and energy crop planting are needed, and where, in order target our investment to achieve the greatest benefits from each hectare of land and meet any new emissions targets.

In the meantime, we have recently launched a new Scottish Government-led Peatland Programme that, with a wide range of interested parties, will take a holistic approach to protecting, restoring and managing Scottish peatlands and will focus our work on a number of fronts to overcome the barriers to upscaling peatland restoration beyond current levels. This includes streamlining the way our funding flows to a pipeline of multi-year projects, linking with the new Regional Land Use Partnerships, boosting the confidence of contractors to invest in the people and machinery needed to deliver at scale, and facilitating the flow of private finance into restoration projects to significantly supplement our investment from the public purse.

Peatland ACTION is the Scottish Government-funded peatland restoration programme. Land owners and managers can apply to Peatland ACTION for funding and technical and project management advice to support peatland restoration on their land. The Scottish Government is also committed to helping interested crofting communities play a role in peatland restoration on common grazing land as part of our just transition to net zero.

Case Study: Native Woodland Creation, Sutherland and Isle of Eigg

Native woodland creation is already happening at varying scales in Scotland, from large landscape-scale projects to small community woodlands.

  • The biggest woodland creation scheme in a century was approved by Scottish Forestry last year. The scheme in Sutherland will cover 933 hectares from end to end and will stretch over 12km along Strath Carnaig.
  • Nearly all the new trees – 1.4 million in total – will be native species, mostly scots pine and birch, with rowan, oak, aspen and alder. The plan will also see natural regeneration to help grow the woodland over time. The scheme will strengthen the current native woodland networks on a landscape scale.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust took ownership of the island in 1997 and in 2020, in partnership with the Woodland Trust Croft Woodlands Project, they created a new 13 hectare native woodland. This was achieved entirely locally – all the trees were grown in the Eigg tree nursery and the team of planters were all residents.

Cambusmore, Sutherland Photo © Scottish Forestry

Cambusmore, Sutherland

Recommendation 46: Incentivise Land Use to Support Net Zero

Fulfil Scotland’s carbon sink potential by incentivising landowners to maximise the land available in order to meet net zero targets.

 

Scottish Government Response

The Scottish Government supports this recommendation and commits to incentivising landowners to increase carbon sequestration and protect carbon stores in Scotland’s land.

 

This will require a cross-government approach and collaborative working with stakeholders across Scotland.

Regional Land Use Partnerships (RLUPs) can potentially play a part in supporting this collaboration. The five pilots being established this year will test approaches to engagement that help enable stakeholders, including communities, land owners and managers, to work together to identify ways to optimise land use and meet our goals in a fair and just way.

We will continue to encourage and support land use change through grants to support afforestation and peatland restoration. The land use change required to meet our statutory targets presents opportunities for farmers, crofters and land managers to access new income streams. We will work with these sectors to ensure that they as well as local communities share the benefits that come from these opportunities.

We will also seek opportunities for upskilling which will need investment and support to ensure such opportunities are maximised.


Recommendation 47: Farming Subsidies to Support Transition

Given the exit from the EU (and the end of the Common Agricultural Policy funding model), the government should work with the farming community to develop a subsidy regime that encourages farmers to transition to more sustainable land management practices, to be fully implemented in the next 5 years.

Children’s Parliament: Allow only sustainable ways of farming, fishing and crofting. This would include using natural fertilisers and reducing the numbers of animals being farmed or fished.

 

Scottish Government Response

The Scottish Government supports this recommendation, and we are working with the farming community to develop a subsidy regime that supports sustainable land management practices.

 

Our vision for farming and crofting in Scotland is based on producers contributing value to our nation by; producing high quality food, being custodians of the countryside and forming the backbone of our rural communities.

We are committed to working with industry and partners to best enable the sector to contribute to our world-leading emissions targets and ensure a just transition for all involved. We have established an Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board, and launched the Agriculture Transition in Scotland consultation, based on recommendations from Farmer-Led Groups, to inform work on the development of agricultural policy to replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

We have announced a National Test Programme which will begin in Spring 2022, with up to £51 million of investment over three years. This Programme will support and encourage farmers and crofters to learn about how their work impacts on climate and nature, including offering financial support to carry out carbon audits and nutrient management plans, establishing a clear baseline and options for action for all who participate.

The Programme will also help to understand how sustainable farming can be supported and rewarded in future, through work with a focus group of farmers and crofters. This will ensure the right tools and support are in place when, from 2025, the climate and biodiversity performance of businesses will determine the level of agricultural support payments.

It will also put in place livestock data and performance systems for businesses in the beef sector with the aim of improving both business and emissions performance.

This will build on work to date such as the pilot Sustainable Agricultural Capital Grants Scheme which offered £17 million funding to over 3,700 farmers and crofters for low emissions farming equipment to support them in the delivery of direct and indirect greenhouse gas reductions. NatureScot is currently piloting a range of approaches, including a farmer-led outcomes based approach with a small number of farmers, to inform what rural support could look like after CAP (see case study).

We have also run a consultation, “Agricultural Transition in Scotland: first steps towards our national policy”. It will ensure everyone can play their part in shaping the future of farming, food production and land use in Scotland.

We will bring forward a further consultation on the options for future agriculture and wider land use support, and through a Parliamentary Bill to replace the current CAP framework, provide a support structure that will deliver climate mitigation and adaptation, nature restoration and high quality food production.

Case Study: Piloting an Outcome Based Approach with NatureScot

Piloting an Outcomes Based Approach in Scotland (POBAS) is an established NatureScot-led project working with 70 farmers and crofters in seven clusters across Scotland (Outer Hebrides, Shetland, Skye, Argyll, Strathspey, East Lothian, and Dumfriesshire) to test innovative approaches to delivering environmental outcomes on farms and crofts in Scotland. The project is testing the implementation of a less prescriptive, results-based approach in Scotland where the level of payment received is dependent on the quality of the outcome delivered.

Phases 1 & 2 ran from April 2019 to March 2021 and received positive support and feedback from participating farmers, crofters, and stakeholders. This initial work focussed on working with farmer clusters to identify outcomes that could be delivered for different farm types in their region; developing habitat scorecards for measuring quality of outcomes and monitoring, and setting out the basis for trialling actual payments and management on the ground in future years.

Phase 3 is due to run from April 2022 and beyond to 2024. This involves individual farmers and crofters working with NatureScot to test the score cards on their farms/crofts, trial use of a Natural Capital App, explore management required to improve their scores, and explore payment rationales that would incentivise positive action.

Islay Farmland © Lorne Gill/NatureScot NatureScot is the operating name of Scottish Natural Heritage.

Islay Farmland