Scottish Natural Heritage
It is my pleasure as SNH’s Chief Executive to extend a very warm welcome to this conference focussed on “Rewarding the Delivery of Public Goods: How to Achieve this in Practice?’’ This is the twelfth biennial conference in a series which began in 1995 – and which is now considered as Scotland’s Premier Agriculture & Environment Conference.
This conference series is organised in close collaboration between a range of partners in Scotland, led by SRUC and including Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, Forest Research, the James Hutton Institute and SEFARI (Scottish Environment, Food & Agriculture Research Institutes).
I am honoured to open this conference at such an important time. The land-based industries in Scotland are facing a new era. While it is still some time before we know the definitive shape and scale of future public funding to farmers and land managers, our exit from the EU is quickly approaching and with it the need to collectively think about what we want from future land use policy and how to deliver it in practice.
You will note that I said land use and not purely agricultural policy. This reflects the fact that this is a land use and the environment conference, not a conference focused solely on the role that either agriculture, forestry, game management or nature conservation can play. Important though all those sectors are, it also reflects the fact that if we are to achieve the major environmental aspirations we have in Scotland, then this will depend on how we mobilise and integrate delivery.
Looking ahead, major changes to the historic model of agricultural support are inevitable and this was confirmed in the Agriculture Champions’ report which presented strong arguments that “no change is not an option”.
There has already been a significant debate across Scotland, and the rest of the UK, and proposals made of new models of public support. At a time of competing needs for public money, a major topic of debate revolves around the suggestion that future support for land management will primarily be targeted at the provision of public goods.
Previous land use policies and various projects and initiatives over the years have started to address some of the environmental threats we are facing. However there are still significant challenges ahead to restore degraded ecosystems and these are now compounded by a changing climate. The way we manage the land and the consequences of these choices can be complex and impact on both nature and people. Globally we are witnessing a dramatic loss of the planet’s biodiversity. In 2018 the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity - the CBD - acknowledged Scotland as the first country to report on all twenty internationally agreed biodiversity targets. While we are currently on track to meet seven of these in Scotland, a further thirteen are requiring additional action if we are to meet these targets by 2020.
Following the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report on the 1.5oC limit in the Paris Agreement, it is clear that far-reaching transitions in our societies and economy are required to remain within this limit. The land-based industries have much to contribute in terms of increasing carbon sequestration in addition to GHG emissions reduction.
Looking ahead, land managers will continue to play a crucial role in the provision of ecosystem services and the delivery of multiple outcomes that benefit society at large. Increasingly, our natural environment is recognised for its fundamental contribution to Scotland’s economy, health and well-being. Scotland is a world leader in developing the concept of natural capital. Our natural capital values are integrated into Scotland’s mainstream planning, policy and reporting frameworks. Now in its eighth year, reporting shows that after decades of decline, there has been steady improvement since 2012. Important drivers of this rise include expansion in forest habitats, improvement of freshwaters, greenspace and recovery of heathlands and peatlands. SNH will continue to play a strong role in advocating a natural capital approach, including in the land-based industries. Land managers will benefit from understanding better the natural capital they rely on. This will help them make more informed decision-making on planning the economic future of the enterprise while taking care of the natural resources they depend on.
As SNH’s CEO, I see that an important task is to connect people and nature. The more we are able to demonstrate the ways that people benefit from nature, the more they are likely to call for investment in nature across the public and private sectors. The healthier and more resilient nature will be, the more benefits to people nature will provide. I believe that supporting the delivery of public goods is not only good for the environment but also for dynamic rural communities. Healthy ecosystems and land managers are at the heart of the sustainable rural economy. Scotland’s nature underpins our global reputation. It supports farmers and land managers in producing the high quality produce that is the pillar of our food and drink industry, and in enhancing the landscapes that attracts tourists. At SNH, we are very committed to work with farmers, crofters and other land managers to identify solutions that can work for them and for nature. We cannot achieve our biodiversity targets without those who manage the land.
In Scotland and the rest of the UK, we have now in front of us a potentially wider range of approaches to help deliver public goods than in the past. This gives us a crucial opportunity to decipher how best to reward land managers to deliver public goods as an integral part of business activities.
This is why the focus of this conference is important and timely.
The conference has been designed around three themes:
1. What type of environmental public goods should be prioritised for delivery by land managers in the future?
2. How can land managers be encouraged and helped to deliver those public goods effectively?
3. What mechanisms are available for rewarding land managers for the provision of public goods?
This will be followed by a panel-debate on what changes in policy or governance are required to reward land managers for the delivery of environmental public goods in a cost-effective and transparent way.
Each theme title has been deliberately set in the form of a question. It is not expected that this conference will by itself provide a full range of detailed answers to these questions. However our discussions and the panel debate over the next two days will help us progress towards identifying the most effective approaches to deliver public goods – approaches that should be working for land managers and the environment, and benefit the people of Scotland. Though the conference is set in Scotland, we will also hear from other parts of the UK and have the opportunity to learn from experiences overseas.
The National Council of Rural Advisers called for a new approach and delivery model for rural policy, development support and investment in Scotland. I am confident that the two days of the conference will give plenty of food for thought on the ways we can achieve our goals for an ambitious vision for rural Scotland, which delivers benefits for Scottish society at large.