Guest blog by Andrew Stark, Land Use Policy Officer, RSPB Scotland

On the 6th May, Scottish voters will go to the polls to decide the make-up of the next Scottish Parliament. Staff in Scotland are busy ensuring that nature is included in discussions around relevant election issues as much possible, and we will be hard at work after the elections to ensure elected parties deliver on their commitments.

RSPB Scotland’s main ask related to food and farming is number 10 of the 11 transformative actions for nature that make up our Nature Recovery Plan, a joint Plan with WWF Scotland and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. This specific action is to “transform Scottish agricultural policy by 2027 so that it facilitates and rewards nature- and climate-friendly farming”.

How can this be achieved?

In order to transform Scottish agriculture so that it works for nature and climate, there are three steps to implementation:

1. Develop and publish detailed proposals for a new system of rural support payments to farmers, crofters and other land managers for the delivery of public goods, by the end of 2020.

2. By summer 2021, finalise proposals for a new support system, outline a roadmap to transition farmers from the current system to this new system by 2027 at the latest and establish pilot schemes to trial and test this new system between 2021 and 2024.

3. Bring forward agriculture legislation, establishing the purpose and legal basis for new rural support payments, no later than 2024, in order to affect changes over the transition period.

What would some of the wider benefits of this be? 

  • Economic – In 2016-17, 45% of farms in Scotland generated income less than the minimum agricultural wage. Under a public money for pubic goods model, these hardest hit farms in marginal areas could benefit most from rural support.
  • Climate change – Agriculture and related land use is the second largest greenhouse gas emitting sector in Scotland. Extra money for public goods would encourage more farmers to deliver activities such as farm woodland, peatland restoration and better soil management.
  • Integrated land use – A reformed agricultural policy could play an important role in breaking down the barriers that exist between land management sectors such as farming and forestry, by encouraging farmers to plant woodlands. It could also promote collaborative land management.
  • A better use of public money – The current £650m a year spent on direct support is a poor use of public money, especially if money is then required to rectify environmental problems caused by some farming methods. Reformed agricultural policy would be a more efficient use of public funds.

The food system as a whole

As part of a reformed agricultural policy, we are calling on political parties to bring forward big changes to our food system. In Scotland, we are advocating for a Good Food Nation Bill to be brought forward in the next Scottish Parliamentary term. We are delivering this work in conjunction with the Scottish Food Coalition, a wide-ranging coalition of nearly 40 organisations all committed to changing our food system. The food system we want to see is one where Scottish agriculture is transformed so that it works for nature and climate, food workers’ rights are better protected and the Right to Food is implemented into Scots law to make food available, accessible and adequate. We are organising a food hustings event with candidates from the five main political parties in Scotland to ensure they are being held to account for their commitments to fixing our broken food system.

After the election

Post-election, the team in Scotland will be hard at work to ensure that all the political parties who have made commitments in their manifesto are held to account. We will continue to ensure that nature is part of both the new agricultural policy that we want to see brought forward, as well as a Good Food Nation Bill that we are working to bring forward.