The Press and Journal (Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire)
Environmental issues vital for public funding
Support: Upland sector needs a common voice Professor Davy McCracken of SRUC offers an insight into work at the rural college’s hill and mountain research centre
There has been much talk in recent months about Scottish farming trading on its green credentials.
Hill farming and crofting certainly have the potential to do so.
Especially as maintaining livestock on some of our poorest land can also bring important environmental benefits to those areas.
But just because hill farming and crofting “can” produce such benefits does not mean that there will be an automatic assumption in policy circles that they already “do”.
A recent European Court of Auditors report highlighted that more than 50 years of Common Agricultural Policy has been ineffective in reversing the decades-long decline in European biodiversity.
The report also indicated that intensive farming remains a cause of biodiversity loss.
It is therefore essential land managers realise that, if biodiversity and other environmental outcomes are not achieved from future public funding, the rationale for continuing that funding is fundamentally weakened.
I know hill farming and crofting is markedly less intensive than lowland farming systems.
The issue is that many across wider society – and even across government and public policy – do not.
Making the case for hill farming and crofting being different will require a common agreed message when industry representatives are making that case to government and the general public.
But it will also require that case being based on evidence that such wider environmental benefits are already being – and will continue to be – produced.
And that will mean Scotland’s upland livestock industry not only developing a common voice, but also being clear and consistent on what those messages are.
The case for biodiversity has already been well made by myself and others over the years. And hence it is a much easier “sell”.
But there is still uncertainty about how much a case can be made for carbon being sequestered – rather than simply cycled – from livestock grazing on areas other than over deep peatland.
There is therefore a danger that messages going out externally from the industry either become mixed or are easily picked apart by anti-livestock campaigners.
I am not suggesting there are no benefits associated with upland livestock production.
Rather, I am highlighting a need for more quantification of what is actually being produced to back up what will otherwise be viewed as “sweeping statements” from an industry on the defensive.
Only by being proactive can we ensure that “trading on our green credentials” actually reflects reality on the ground.