Farm­ers en­cour­aged to fo­cus on na­ture

Argyllshire Advertiser - - FARMING -

A ground-break­ing new project, en­cour­ag­ing 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 said: ‘Hav­ing the op­por­tu­nity to be in­volved in this new points-based, agri-en­vi­ron­ment scheme from the start has been a step for­ward. This project brought to­gether a group of like-minded prac­ti­cal farm­ing folk who have had the chance to give in­put from the start to help cre­ate a scheme which is 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 £150,000, 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 triedand-tested ap­proach that can be­come an im­por­tant part of fu­ture ru­ral sup­port be­yond 2024.

Clau­dia Rowse, Na­tureS­cot’s head of nat­u­ral re­sources, ex­plained: ‘With more flex­i­bil­ity than tra­di­tional en­vi­ron­men­tal sup­port schemes, this ex­cit­ing project has the po­ten­tial to trans­form ru­ral pay­ments.

‘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 ways 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 of the Na­tional Farm­ers Union of Scot­land (NFUS), added: ‘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 change needed to se­cure a na­ture rich fu­ture.

Pho­to­graph: Na­tureS­cot

Farm­ers in Ar­gyll try a score­card which re­wards species com­po­si­tion and struc­ture of grass­land.

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