The 2021 Scottish election – rural management sign-posts

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The results of the Scottish election next month could be highly influential regarding the impact on rural management for the next five years and beyond. Key amongst potential impacts are the pressures on game management (specifically, the proposed licensing of driven grouse shooting), the direction of funding support for agriculture, and the overarching climate change and biodiversity concerns. We summarise the manifesto statements of the main political parties on these three broad issues.

Game and wildlife management issues

Four of the main parties are committed to implementing the licensing of driven grouse shooting – the SNP, Scottish Labour, Scottish Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Greens.

The Scottish Greens oppose blood sports and wish to end driven grouse shooting. They argue that the management of intensive grouse moors causes many wider animal welfare and environmental concerns. They intend that licensing of grouse moors is properly resourced and enforced, that the killing of other animals to maximise grouse numbers is ended and the banning of spring traps, snares, stink pits, decoy birds, and cage traps. Scottish Labour aim to ban snares.

The Liberal Democrats  would license the practice of muirburn in the uplands, whilst the Greens would ban the burning of peatlands and license any other proposed burning. The Greens also propose to prohibit medicated grit and will seek workable sanctions for removal of grouse management licences.

Other than for grouse management licensing, none of the parties mention any restrictions on other forms of shooting.

The Scottish Greens are committed to restricting predator control, stating that they will pursue a real fox hunting ban by removing legislative loopholes in the next Parliament. They also propose to end the use of General Licenses for protected species. The SNP will also close loopholes in the law protecting foxes and other wild mammals. Scottish Labour will  seek a comprehensive ban on fox hunting and snares and also the use of electric shock collars.

The SNP, Greens, Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrats intend to implement the recommendations of the Deer Management Review. The Scottish Conservatives make no comment on this or game management in their manifesto.

The future direction for farming

In many respects, there are broad similarities across the parties regarding the future of farming. These recognise the climate emergency, biodiversity concerns and changes to agricultural support.

The Scottish Conservatives would introduce a new farm payment system and work with Scotland’s food and drink sector to boost demand for Scottish produce. They aim to improve the Basic Payment System to provide essential funding to all farmers and crofters carrying out responsible agricultural activity. They acknowledge that farmers and crofters make a significant contribution to efforts to reduce carbon emissions, often without any financial support. They would reverse cuts to the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme and agree a multi-year extension until the new agricultural policy is implemented. The Scottish Conservatives would ensure that the agricultural sector is sufficiently represented in Regional Land Use Partnerships.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats aim to provide new incentives to help farmers transition to more sustainable agriculture, provide support for high quality food production, ensure fairness in the supply chain and help young people into the industry. They will use the recent conclusions of the expert working groups on agriculture support to drive transition to more sustainable food production systems.

The SNP intend that by 2025, half of all agricultural funding will shift to conditional support, with targeted outcomes for biodiversity and low carbon approaches. They will support farmers to produce more of Scotland’s own food needs sustainably, absorbing the recent reports from the farmer-led groups.

Scottish Labour will maintain current levels of funding until 2024 and then put in place a new scheme that provides certainty. They state that new financial support must recognise farmers’ knowledge, recognising their experience in reducing emissions and protecting Scotland’s landscape.

The Scottish Greens will ensure that farmers, crofters and land managers are rewarded for delivering public goods, including rewilding and species reintroductions. They would make emission reductions and climate mitigation measures compulsory for all subsidies, intending to deliver this change at no extra cost. Current grants would be replaced with Land Management Contracts for a range of public benefits including organic farmland conversion, agroforestry, soil conservation and peatland restoration. The Scottish Greens would also ensure tenant farmers can participate in tree planting and natural regeneration and receive fair benefit from such schemes.

Climate change and biodiversity concerns

On the over-arching concerns around climate change and biodiversity, the parties again take broadly similar positions. The Scottish Greens aim to restore Scotland’s Natural Environment and halt declines in nature. They observe that 18% of Scotland’s land has protected status but suggest that many sites are in poor condition and that designation can mean little in practice. They intend that a third of Scotland’s land and seas are properly protected by 2025, although they do not set out how such designation can be made more effective.

The Scottish Conservatives, SNP and Scottish Greens comment on the importance of Nature Networks to connect species and habitats. Scottish Liberal Democrats will build net zero carbon and nature recovery objectives into decision-making, reward rapid progress and encourage behavioural change. They state that they would expand woodland using at least 50% native species, increasing Scotland’s forest cover by an additional 36 million trees every year and propose to develop a formal strategy for Scotland’s Wild Land Areas, setting a national target that 30% of all publicly owned land should be used for rewilding.

The Scottish Greens would increase Scotland’s forested area to 40%, of which 60% should be native woodland. The Scottish Conservatives will undertake to increase new tree planting in Scotland to 18,000 hectares annually by 2025, but emphasise that quality and biodiversity are also important, so they too would increase the proportion of new planting of native species.  Scottish Labour envisage the same planting target, as recommended by the Committee on Climate Change.

Peatland recovery is a key theme for the main parties. The SNP is committed to a ten-year investment of more than £250 million to support the restoration of 250,000 hectares of Scottish peatland by 2030. Both Scottish Conservatives and Labour would increase peatland restoration to 20,000 hectares annually and end peat extraction for use in compost. The Liberal Democrats would protect and restore carbon-rich habitats while phasing out harmful practices. The Greens see peatland recovery in the context of restoring damaged ecosystems, arguing that this recovery is necessary following deforestation, over-grazing and intensive management to support blood-sports.

Who holds influence after May 6th?

Given the electoral system in Scotland, much after May the 6th will depend on the balance between the main parties for delivery of the principal themes described here. However, given the apparent coalition of interests around grouse management licensing, it would appear this is likely to happen. The only question might be whether other social, health and economic agendas take precedence and therefore relegate both extent and implementation to a later slot. Farming and climate change initiatives are clearly pressing so we may well see a level of collaboration to drive progress.

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