1. The Agri-Environment and Climate Scheme (AECS), part of the Scottish Rural Development Programme 2014-20, represents Scotland’s most important investment for securing environmental benefits from the land.
2. About £213 million has been committed to land managers to deliver biodiversity, climate change, water and sustainable land management benefits (at 2020).
3. About 20% of Scotland's agricultural land is being managed for biodiversity and climate benefit under the scheme. Almost a 20% CAP claimants participate in the scheme.
AECS contribution to national targets
Natural Performance Indicators
- Conditions of Protected Nature Sites
- Biodiversity – Index of abundance of Terrestrial Breeding Birds
- The Natural Capital Index
- Scotland’s Carbon footprint
- Green House Gas emissions
- EU Biodiversity Strategy and the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity
- Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 and the Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulation 1994
- Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009
- UK’s Air Quality Strategy for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
- Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Act 2003
- The Action Programme for Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (Scotland) Regulations 2008
- High Nature Value Farmland Index
- Wild bird habitat duties
- Scotland's organic action plan 2016-2020
Key facts about the Scheme
The Agri-Environment and Climate Scheme (AECS) forms part of the Scottish Rural Development Programme 2014-20. It represents Scotland’s most important investment for securing environmental benefits for Scotland’s land. About £30-40 million is awarded annually to land managers. It contributes to deliver national and international targets relating to biodiversity, climate change, water quality and flooding, an also supports organic farming, the historic environment and public access. For the year 2020, one-year extensions were offered to those with expiring contracts. For 2021 the application round was focussed on key prioirites. Key figures:
- over 3,200 farmers, crofters and land managers have AECS contracts out of the regular 18,000 CAP claimants
- covers 1,16 million hectares of agricultural land under management contracts representing about 20% of agricultural land.
- delivers biodiversity and climate change benefits from management of arable land, grasslands, peatlands and carbon-rich soils, designated sites, pollinators, wetlands and moorlands.
During 2019-20 we looked at uptake of the scheme for the 2015 to 2018 rounds (the first four years of the scheme) to understand the impacts and potential benefits of the scheme. Management contracts are for 5 years, so these four rounds cover the period 2016 to 2023. Highlights included:
- Arable Farmland and Birds – key management options that provide food for farmland birds have had a good uptake across the whole country. Many of these management activities also deliver water quality benefits. The area covered by key options for arable farmland birds was about 13,800 hectares with £31.6 million committed.
- Designated Sites – the scheme has a major role in helping to deliver the favourable condition of designated sites (SSSIs and Natura). About 621,444 Hectares are under positive management through AECS with, 1,399 contracts and a total budget of £45 million committed.
- Key vulnerable species – the scheme is making significant strides in helping address the decline of vulnerable species such as corncrakes, corn bunting and waders. The combined area of land managed for waders, including the provision of cover and food for their survival, was estimated as more than 48,880 hectares with a committed funding of more than £30.5 million. Funding was widely distributed including ‘hot spot’ areas in Caithness, Speyside, the Islands (Western Isles and Orkney), and parts of the North East, Central and South Scotland. Other key vulnerable species such as corncrakes have a more restricted range focussed on remoter area such as the Outer and Inner Hebrides, and Orkney. Over £4 million committed with 2,464 hectares under management.
- Pollinators – Farms within AECS had a higher number and diversity of pollinators with a significant number of options providing habitat for pollinators including hedgerow management and creation, wild bird seed, water margins and species rich grassland.
- Water Management – the scheme supported arable and grassland water margins to help improve water quality estimated at more than a 1,060 hectares with a committed funding of £6 million during the period. These interventions are targeted at catchments identified as having diffuse pollution or poor water quality.
- Grassland Management, Habitat Mosaics and carbon rich soils – More than 26,140 hectares of species rich grassland and habitat mosaic managed under the scheme with a committed funding of more than £20 million. These are some of the most diverse habitats which, without this support, are more likely to decline or disappear. Uptake of Species Rich Grasslands management and creation has been high across the country including parts of North and West Scotland, the North East, Islands and the Borders.
- Carbon rich soils and Climate Change – An estimated 7,400 hectares of carbon rich soils (lowland bogs and wetlands) were managed under the 2015-18 rounds with a £5 million budget and contributing to climate change and biodiversity targets. A cluster of contracts were in the Caithness and Sutherland peatland area, the largest blanket bog in Europe - a key carbon store in Scotland and at international level. Peatland restoration capital work was also funded under AECS with a £2.3 million budget spent or committed during this period.
- Moorland Management and climate change – About 653,079 hectares of upland moorland and heath is managed under the scheme with £27.4 million committed to help achieve biodiversity and climate change benefits.
- Hedgerows – The combined area of Creation and or Management/ Restoration, of Hedgerows is estimated at 1,214,700mtrs, with more than £8.4 million funding allocated, and contributing to increased habitat connectivity across the landscape.
- Organic Farming – A key achievement of the scheme has been supporting land under organic management, with 52,258 hectares of land managed or converted to organic farming with £15.8 million budget allocated under the scheme during the 2015-18 period.
|Farmland bird options have helped maintain a stable trend in the farmland bird index and the recovery of vulnerable species such as the corn bunting.||Management of moorland habitats in the uplands and special rare heaths to maintain habitat condition.||Protecting carbon rich soils such as the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands, the largest blanket bog in Europe - a key carbon store in Scotland of international significance.|
|Extensive management of species rich pastures, moorland and wetlands too maintain high nature value systems.||Conservation of unique habitat such as Machair only found in the Western Isles and Ireland.||Management of water margins to improve water quality, benefit fish, and management of other landscape features.|
The table above provides a representation of some of the main achievements from the scheme. During 2019-20 Nature Scot carried out two separate pieces of work to monitor and evaluate the scheme.
Monitoring of the Biodiversity outcomes of the Scheme
During 2019-20, NatureScot commissioned the James Hutton Institute to carry out some work to monitor the biodiversity benefits and impacts of the scheme. This involved field surveys and interviews on three case study areas covering about 30-40 farms (of which about half were inscheme and half not in scheme).
While the sample size was small and the survey covered only one season, the report includes some useful findings:
- Field surveys showed that a significant number of options improve habitat for pollinators including those for Hedgerow Maintenance and Restoration, and Hedgerow Creation; Wild Bird Seed for Farmland Birds; Water margins and Species Rich Grassland Management. In the case studies sample, farms under the scheme had a higher number and diversity of pollinators for these options.
- Hedgerow Creation and Management or Restoration of Hedgerows substantially increased plant diversity.
- Both for farms in and out of the scheme, the indicators of soil and water quality were good for the relevant options. There were also less differences in habitat quality for some options.
- Overall results were indicative that options supported the maintenance of habitats of environmental value.
- Analysis of the applications revealed that the management options were well targeted and were being used appropriately. Many lowland farms are widely dispersed so it was not possible to assess as part of this study how options might improve connectivity as this very much dependent on adjacent land holdings.
- Farmers interviewed identified a clear motivation for applying to the scheme was to improve biodiversity.
The overall results of the project are indicative that the Agri-Environment and Climate Scheme is benefitting biodiversity.
Geographic uptake of the Scheme
During 2019-20, NatureScot produced a series of heat maps to understand better the geographic distribution of scheme uptake. These maps show that two of the measures with widest distribution pattern across Scotland under AECS are the management of Species Rich Grassland and management for waders. Other options with good distribution uptake included, moorland management, water margin management, hedgerows, organic farming and measures for farmland birds in the arable areas. The heat maps show how the scheme has also made an important contribution to the management of designated sites.
For more information on these two projects see:
For further information contact: [email protected]