A new vision for land use in Scotland: six conversations

The report highlights the need to address issues affecting Scotland’s sparsely populated rural communities.


The Scottish Ecological Design Association (SEDA) is a network of around 350 members which aims to share knowledge, skills and experience of ecological design, encourage sustainable thinking and promote environmentally proactive behaviour.

Earlier this year, SEDA hosted a series of six online Conversations to establish a new vision for land use in Scotland. Each focused on a different aspect of how land is used - and how it could be better used - in Scotland. Recordings of each Conversation can be accessed from the SEDA website.

Collectively, the Conversations addressed topics such as biodiversity, food production, renewable energy, health and well-being, with the aim of identifying opportunities for cross-sector initiatives which deliver across a wide range of policy areas.

I worked with SEDA colleagues to produce a report A New Vision for Land Use in Scotland: 6 Conversations – published earlier this week – which provides an overview of the discussions and debates during these events.

SEDA’s Recommendations

Although the focus was on land use, the need to address many other inter-related issues affecting our sparsely populated rural communities – such as the lack of affordable housing or employment opportunities for young people leading to rural depopulation – was a common feature of all the Conversations.

The report calls for the Scottish Government to develop new Healthy Food, Agroecology and Sustainable Place strategies.

Food is not only a fundamental human need, but the type of food system we support in Scotland will have major implications for human and environmental health, the economy and communities. How that food is produced also needs to change.

Agroecology promotes farming practices that reduce emissions, recycle resources and support local supply chains. The move to agroecological systems of production will not only provide biodiversity benefits on farm but also create opportunities for new businesses to grow in the processing, marketing and distribution sectors.

Planning support and financial incentives are needed to encourage investment in both refurbishment and new high quality sustainable community facilities, visitor accommodation and housing developments. These provide reasons to visit and reasons to stay in Scotland.

Tourism, together with a diverse range of other industries and service demands, creates jobs and improves lifestyles encouraging repeopling and the strengthen of existing communities. Hence a new Sustainable Place Making & Mending strategy will encourage the repeopling of rural areas, which is vital if there are to be people available for employment in expanded and new industries.

The report highlights the need for landowners and managers to include a soil condition survey, a biodiversity survey and a job impact analysis, which together show there will be no degradation and a positive improvement as a result of any proposed land use change, as part of The Good Stewardship of Land Protocol that helps put the Scottish Government’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement (LRRS) into practice.

There should also be a requirement for all landholdings over a certain size to provide a Climate Impact Certificate (CIC). These CICs would detail the CO2 (equivalent) emissions associated with the use to which the land is put. In the same way that Energy Performance Certificate data is used to identify opportunities to upgrade building performance, CICs would build up a detailed national record of the emissions related to land use, tracking improvements and highlighting those land use changes which deliver positive benefits.

The report also calls for continued investment in transport, renewable energy and communications infrastructure across rural Scotland along with seed funding for innovative new businesses. In addition, these new approaches would need to be underpinned by support for secondary and tertiary education in creating a climate conscious, motivated and skilled workforce.

Crucially, each part of the eight-point programme is dependent on the others to deliver a sustained improvement in climate change mitigation, biodiversity enhancement, health & wellbeing, economic activity and community resilience across Scotland.

The management of natural capital is key

Appropriate management of Scotland’s natural capital will be essential to achieve Net Zero by 2045. A recent SRUC Rural Policy Centre Policy Spotlight briefing outlines how Scotland’s rural businesses and communities can be at the forefront of a green economic recovery.

Bringing marginal and abandoned land back into productivity could help sequester more carbon, increase the variety and quality of local food production, support jobs and communities and maintain and enhance biodiversity.

But changing the way land is used will only be of value if the social, environmental and financial benefits reach all across society. And current policies act as a constraint to achieving this as they poorly match the complexity of geography, current land use and ownership.

What we need in all our rural areas is more opportunities for new and innovative businesses to become established, either drawing on existing resources in the landscape or having the ability to create and manage those resources themselves.

That means there is a need for a radical change in how Scotland’s land is used and in how it supports local, regional, national economies and food systems.

Co-ordinated place-based policy is critical

It is also clear that a ‘single policy, single outcome’ approach does not address the needs of rural areas. Hence, much more coordinated policymaking is required to promote better, more productive and more financially rewarding uses of the land, skills development, job creation, repeopling and community building. This coordinated place-based approach requires all stakeholders to work together in partnership and the voices and experiences of local people to be heard. SRUC researchers have been exploring what place-based policy means and its implications for rural Scotland – find out more on our Pure site.

The changes to Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary and associated Ministerial portfolios after this spring’s Scottish Parliament election recognises the need for integrated, cross-sectoral working. However, it will always be difficult - if not impossible – to capture the full complexity required in any one portfolio without making it too large and unworkable.

Hence, the Deputy First Minister’s additional role as Cabinet Secretary for Covid Recovery – and especially the responsibility for the coordination of delivery and outcomes across all Scottish Government portfolios – will be fundamental to helping steer rural policies in the same positive direction.

Davy McCracken
Head of SRUC’s Integrated Land Management Department

Posted by SRUC on 23/08/2021

Tags: Rural Policy Centre, Agriculture, Climate and Environment
Categories: Sustainability