Innovative farming pilot could replace traditional EU payment schemes

17 September 2020

A ground-breaking new project, incentivising farmers to manage flower-rich meadows, help vulnerable populations of wading birds thrive, and restore peatlands has the potential to replace EU schemes.

The pilot, which launches this month, is led by NatureScot on behalf of the Scottish Government. A successful first phase, completed in spring this year, consulted with more than 60 farmers and crofters across Scotland, in Argyll, East Lothian, Shetland, Skye, Strathspey and the Outer Hebrides.

Participating farmer Jim Simmons of Ruthven farm near Tomintoul says;

“Having the opportunity to be involved in this new points-based, agri-environment scheme from the start has been a real step forward. This project brought together a group of like-minded practical farming folk who have had the chance to give input right from the start to help create a scheme which is both practical and likely to achieve its aims, while continuing to allow productive farming. In the past, schemes have sometimes been too prescriptive, not allowing flexibility, for example, for differences in geographical areas and the timing of seasons.”

Now ready to run up to 2023, and with an initial development phase spend of £150K, the project will see participants paid for the results they achieve through managing nature rich areas on dairy farms in south west Scotland; developing flower rich habitats in Argyll and Skye, and managing habitat for wading birds in Strathspey. The aim is to develop a fully tried-and-tested approach that can become an important part of future rural support beyond 2024.

Claudia Rowse, NatureScot’s head of natural resources, explains:

“With more flexibility than traditional environmental support schemes, this exciting project has the potential to transform rural payments as we know them. Farmers decide how to achieve a positive environmental result on their land, and their fields’ environmental quality is scored. The more the land supports nature, the higher the score and consequently the higher the payment.

“Farmers know best how to improve nature on their farms, and we want to help build on their knowledge and expertise. Investing in nature is one of the most cost effective way of making our communities sustainable and more resilient. As lockdown lifts, farmers across Scotland have a vital role to play in a green recovery that puts nature, and nature-based solutions, at the heart of rebuilding our economy.”

Martin Kennedy, Vice-President, National Farmers Union of Scotland says;

“It is great to see NatureScot taking forward these trials in consultation with Scottish farmers and crofters. At NFUS we believe in farming that supports a healthy environment for the next generation and in a way that integrates food production alongside biodiversity and climate change. Higher payments for delivering greater environmental outcomes is a sensible approach as long as the farmer has control over the result.”

The launch comes in the month Scottish Natural Heritage became ‘NatureScot’ as part of its drive to adapt the organisation to meet current environment challenges, and deliver the transformational change needed to secure a nature rich future for Scotland.