An open letter to Scottish Government’s New Ministers for Rural Affairs, Environment and Biodiversity

Heather bloom at Gairnshiel4 minute read

Today we sent this letter to Màiri McAllan MSP, newly appointed to the Scottish Government as Minister for Environment, Biodiversity & Land Reform. We have had useful contact over the last two years with the now new Cabinet Secretary with overarching responsibility for Rural Affairs & Islands, Mairi Gougeon MSP.

We hope the Minister Màiri McAllan MSP, who will deal with many of the issues that stare Scotland’s working conservationists in the face on a day-to-day basis, and the Cabinet Secretary work closely together on their to us obviously overlapping remits.

GWCT Scotland’s role is to evidence how economic land management activity such as shooting, farming and forestry are integral to Scotland’s environmental ambitions on biodiversity and climate; and the new Ministerial team’s role to welcome and grasp the opportunities these activities provide.

Adam Smith, Director Policy Scotland

Dear Minister,

Land management – the original ‘Green Finance’

Congratulations on your appointment. The Edinburgh Declaration makes it clear what a challenging and exciting time we have ahead of us, delivering Scotland’s ambitions for climate change mitigation, the conservation of species and ecosystems and economic recovery.

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has over 75 years of research and advice to offer you on how game management and farming represent ‘private green finance’, motivating and incentivising work that delivers outcomes of direct relevance to these three goals. It is GWCT Scotland’s policy to research, develop and advise on best practice, help land managers gather the proof of the national benefits of their work, and demonstrate this by our own commitment in running a demonstration farm. We would welcome an early meeting with you on our demonstration farm in the Cairngorms National Park.

Natural Capital: Gathering evidence of or proof of benefits to our country’s natural capital is the vital step in establishing land management’s contribution to conservation. We are helping landowners and managers use mobile technology so that they can demonstrate proof of their sound practice, counting birds of prey, mountain hares, black grouse, wading birds and recording their prevention of wildfire damage by managed burning. We can show land management protects what we have (our Scottish open landscape habitats of farm and moorland and the species that increasingly use these as UK level refuges) and is a mechanism for recovery (peatland carbon protection, habitats for pollinators and similar). We hope you will endorse and value the evidence gathered by land managers on their contribution.

Research: These data are key to improving our land management – continuing to expand our knowledge helps us avoid costly mistakes. Our work, typically unfunded by government, has shown mountain hares only thrive on grouse moors, that predator control is necessary for wading bird conservation and that muirburn does not damage the habitat in the long-term. Other researchers show, contrary to common perception, that heather moorland is a better carbon store than encroaching trees or rough grass and a fully wet peatland is less good for climate of biodiversity than partially wetted. We hope you will support further research into conservation techniques and the use of these findings in evidence-led policy.

Regulation: We have stressed the role of ‘private green finance’ in delivering conservation and climate goals. Guidance on public policy goals is valuable and helpful but there is a real risk that a regulatory burden could harm the motivation and/or incentives that stimulate this financial support.

At their best, gamekeepers and farmers are highly skilled practitioners undertaking best practice management and recording their contribution. Their reward is often not a financial one and public policy support or even acceptance may be all that is needed for Scotland to continue to benefit from our land managers. We hope that future regulation on deer and grouse management recognises the value and incentive of best practice game management.

Demonstration: A visit to our Auchnerran farm would illustrate as it has for many visitors, including the new Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & Islands Mairi Gougeon MSP, how farming and game conservation can and do interlock, all over Scotland, to address the biodiversity and climate crises. Best practice land management is vitally important because it enhances both biodiversity and the rural economy and can also contribute to climate mitigation – while some climate mitigation measures can irreversibly damage biodiversity.

We would be delighted to show you how ‘private green finance’ is helping address the Edinburgh Declaration challenges by providing more detail on any of these aspects in the letter.


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