The Scottish Government aims to become a global leader in sustainable agriculture, deliver high quality, nutritious food while minimizing impact on climate and our environment. This will clearly require a collaborative and inclusive approach to enable understanding of the competing issues and where different sectors can work more effectively together to achieve the required goals.
Within the context of the Scottish Government’s vision to seek to transform support for farming and food production in Scotland, a conference was held at Moredun Research Institute in March to hear and discuss the viewpoints of a wide range of different stakeholders. The conference invited short, focused presentations with a brief to outline the challenges and opportunities within each sector, along with the main ask of government, to stimulate discussion and participation with the audience.
The conference was hosted by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) along with SEFARI Gateway and the Moredun Foundation and additional sponsorship was obtained from Scottish Land Commission and Nature Scot. The conference was designed and delivered by the RSA Fellows’ Rural + Environmental Issues Network Scotland. The RSA has been at the forefront of civic debate and social impact for over 260 years with an interest in rural affairs initiated by the late HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
The key aims of the conference were to highlight the different perspectives of people working within and connected to Food, Farming, Forestry and Fisheries industries and to articulate the key challenges and asks of government going forward in the context of the new Agricultural Bill for Scotland introduced to Parliament in September 2023.
The conference also actively encouraged the views and perspectives of young people. The younger delegates attending the F5 conference were encouraged to write short blogs on their impressions and inspirations from the event and SEFARI Gateway awarded prizes for the best contributions. The blogs are available here:
- Rebekah Hill, University of Edinburgh.
- Jake McLaughlan & Malcolm Haddow, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire UNESCO Biosphere.
- Alexandra Bernardini Cantarelli, University of Edinburgh.
- Sofie Brøgger, University of St Andrews.
- Maisie McDavid, University of Edinburgh.
To set the event’s scene the conference was addressed by three speakers; Professor Julie Fitzpatrick Chief Scientific Advisor to Scottish Government and Scientific Director of Moredun Research Institute, Dr George Burgess , Interim Director of Agriculture and Rural Economy, Scottish Government and Dr Clive Mitchell of Nature Scot.
Image: Opening Conference Panelists
Professor Fitzpatrick emphasized the key role of livestock in the provision of nutritious food, textiles, fertilizer and vital income for many families across the world. She highlighted the importance of new innovations in science and technology to combat disease, improve health and welfare of animals and to develop more sustainable agricultural practices reducing waste and reducing greenhouse gases associated with livestock farming. She also encouraged knowledge exchange between different sectors to work together to tackle the complex challenges and choices for land use involving food production, tree planting and conserving biodiversity.
Dr Burgess outlined the key challenges facing the agricultural sector including the repercussions from Brexit and the associated supply chain and export issues, the war in Ukraine, soaring energy and fertilizer costs, the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. He went on to discuss how the Scottish government were working on addressing the issues. The Scottish Government has set up a Food Security and Supply Taskforce and as a result a new Food Security Unit has been set up. In addition, the Good Food Nation Act underpins the work being done over the last few years to develop Scotland as a good food nation. He also warned of the importance in protecting the high animal health and welfare standards we have in Scotland and the UK, and how some of the new trade agreements may undermine this with the importation of high carbon beef and low welfare pork. There are many issues around the UK decision to exit the single European market with Scotland now unable to export seed potatoes to Europe. The Scottish Governments Vision published in 2022 looks at how to provide support for agriculture and a key part of delivering this strategy is the new Agriculture Bill. The Cabinet Secretary recently published a route map to help farmers and crofters plan for the new changes in support and the phased implementation of this framework from 2025. The support will be conditional on meeting essential standards relating to climate, biodiversity and business efficiency outcomes as well as promoting high standards of animal health and welfare.
Dr Clive Mitchell from Nature Scot highlighted the significant role of the leaves, soils and water in underpinning the hydrological, carbon and biogeochemical cycles that underpin life on earth. He emphasized the need to develop a circular economy that would eliminate waste and pollution, circulate materials and products and regenerate nature. He argued that we need to shift away from dependency on fossil fuels, monocultures and over exploitation and instead work to restore the diversity and resilience of nature. Nature literacy needs to be improved to enable people to become more involved as stewards of nature. Decisions about land use needs an inter-disciplinary approach and major efforts are required to have a more robust food labelling system to help people make informed choices.
The second session of the conference looked at the challenges of specific sectors.
Image: Second Session Panelists.
Dr Janina Costa of the Sustainable Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre emphasized the economic benefits of farmed fish as a sustainable low carbon source of protein. The Scottish Government has recognized the potential for growth within aquaculture with the aim to double in value by 2030. The currently challenges for the industry are the recruitment and retention of skilled staff in more remote areas of Scotland and the health of the farmed fish.
Professor David Millar of the James Hutton Institute looked at how we might work together to reach consensus on land use and to understand the benefits and tradeoffs of different land uses.
Dr David Signorini, Chief executive of Forestry Scotland outlined the Scottish Government’s target to increase forest cover in Scotland from 19% to 21% by 2032 with 40% of the trees being native species.
Mr Martin Kennedy, President of the National Farmers Union in Scotland emphasized the importance of sustainable food production and food security. He highlighted the many pressures faced by farmers in dealing with food production and land management, sustainable and low carbon farming approaches, regulatory requirements covering traceability, animal welfare and environmental standards. He also warned that food prices will need to increase as people have got used to cheap food prices and the farmers will need to get better process for their produce to enable high standards on food production and quality to be maintained.
Bruce Wilson of the Scottish Wildlife Trust highlighted the real challenge we have in conserving our biodiversity in Scotland. The Biodiversity Intactness Index showed that only 56% of Scotland’s historic land based biodiversity has been retained. Data on the biodiversity challenges facing Scotland are outlined in the new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy 2045. There is a real need to consider and prioritise nature in land use policy and to be aware of the impacts on land use within the private market driven by companies wishing to offset carbon emissions.
The third session of the conference discussed Scotland’s natural resources and how we can value and use these optimally to bring most benefit and sustain them for future generations.
Professor Lorna Dawson of the James Hutton Institute discussed the hidden treasure chest in our soils. She discussed the different compositions of soils, their resilience to pollution, chemicals and erosion. It is important that we look after our soils using integrated nature-based solutions and regenerative farming methods.
Professor Chris Spray, University of Dundee and Trustee of Tweed Forum highlighted the critical importance of water for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes along with hydro-electric energy. He also discussed the other services provided by water including carbon sequestration, natural flood management, water based recreation and tourism. He emphasized the importance of taking an integrated catchment approach to water management and plan for climate change effects. Look to restore wetland ecosystems, bring in Farm Water plans and increase the efficiency of Scotland’s water and sewage system as leakage rates have increased significantly to around 463 million litres per day.
Jo O’Hara of Changeworks and Future Ark said that planting trees is often seen as the solution to reducing carbon emissions but it needs to be done the right way to prevent greenwashing. Scotland has been very active in increasing forestry planting targets and a key tool to use in relation to climate mitigation for forestry and woodland is 3S Model: Sequestration, Substitution and Storage.
Dr Crick Carleton of Nautilus Consultants highlighted the importance of local knowledge and the role of communities in rural areas in navigating the transition to Net Zero. He emphasized the importance of encouraging higher paying and full time jobs in rural areas and to build more resilient communities that people want to live, work, play and learn in. Resilient rural communities need strong community based local decision making structures and networks and these need to be funded appropriately to ensure they are sustainable.
Catherine Maxwell Stuart of Traquair Estate discussed the strategy they have developed at Traquair to diversity and become more sustainable. This has involved projects to encourage greater public engagement with the estate involving a new footpath to provide direct links to the local town, an edible garden project, a bio blitz looking at biodiversity on the estate and an international Centre for Peace and Meditation. She said that the legislation around tourism can create some bureaucratic burdens for landowners and the land reform thinking in Scotland should give more recognition to the role of private estates.
The final session at the conference looked at the importance of collaboration, dialogue and ambition to help achieve a more joined up inter-disciplinary approach to engaging with the many challenges we face in deciding agricultural and land use policy going forward.
Marion MacCormick, Agriculture reform Implementation Oversight Board Scottish Government emphasized the big changes happening in the world related to climate change and the fact that 70% of the global population lived in cities. Many of the younger generation do most of their shopping on line and social media is a strong influencer. Local food sources and manufacture is important and needs to be supported by public procurement policies, a reliable and sustainable Scottish food supply chain and education of the public into the importance of buying local and Scottish food.
Tim Bailey, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society Chief executive highlighted the opportunities provided through cooperative working between farmers, landowners and government to help change mindsets and incentivize collaboration within producer groups.
Finally, John Thomson summarized some of the challenges in expanding dialogue and engagement in this complex area where everyone is a stakeholder. Land and water are fundamental to life and there are many demands on them from utilitarian to more spiritual. We have an increasing population and more pressure on our natural resources and we are dealing with global warming and loss of biodiversity. He emphasized the importance of ensuring that everyone with an interest has a chance to put forward their view and that the creation of frameworks to identify and reconcile differing objectives is required. We need to break down silos, proactively facilitate dialogue and sharing of perspectives and knowledge and broaden educational curriculums.
The delegates participating at the F5 conference were from a diverse group of organisations including: Abertay University, Acuti Associates, Annandale Estates, Angus Local Employability Partnership, Angus Rural Partnership, Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, Astanor, Campaign for National Parks, Changeworks, Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM), Community Development Trust Dumfries & Galloway, Outdoor Access Trust, ENRA (Environment & Natural Resources Accounting), Fife Countryside Trust, Food and Drink Federation Scotland, FutureArk Ltd, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere Partnership, Heriot-Watt University, Historic Environment Scotland (Friends of), Institute of Chartered Foresters, James Hutton Institute, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority, Moredun Research Institute, Moredun Foundation, National Farmers’ Union Scotland, National Trust for Scotland, NatureScot, Nautilus Consultants, Peebles Community Trust Place making Partnership (Peebles), Rowett Institute, Royal Agricultural Society, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, Royal Scottish Geographical Society, Royal Highland and Agriculture Association of Scotland, Royal Highland Education Trust, Royal Society of Arts, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Royal Society of Biology, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, South African Centre for Infectious Disease Surveillance, Scottish Environment Link, Scottish Food & Drink Federation, Scottish Food Commission, Scottish Forestry, Scottish Forum on Natural Capital, Scottish Government, Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Land Commission, Scottish Science Advisory Council, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scout Association, The Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutions (SEFARI), Slow Food Movement, South of Scotland Enterprise and SOSE managed RLUP, South of Scotland Regional Economic Partnership, Strathmore Estates Ltd, Sustainable Aquaculture Innovation Centre, Tweeddale Area Partnership Place Making Working Group, UK Export Council, UK Science Partnership for Animal and Plant Health, University of Aberdeen, University of Glasgow, University of St Andrews, VistaMilk (Ireland), VIDO Scientific Advisory Board (Canada).
In conclusion, the conference succeeded in bringing together a wide range of different people working in and representing many different sectors that will be affected by the new Agricultural Bill. The diversity of delegates enabled a wide range of different viewpoints to be articulated and discussed and in the panel question and answer sessions new areas for working better together were explored. The importance of harnessing advances in science and technology was highlighted along with community based local decision making and effective dialogue to encourage a just transition to new working practices. The contributions from the young delegates was very valuable and they appreciated the opportunity to engage directly with the expert speakers. In particular, the young delegates were positive about the willingness of those attending the conference to look at how problems might be solved or a way forward found that might balance the optimal management of our natural resources to give the greatest benefit in future years.
Professor Elisabeth Innes, Moredun Research Institute.