Time to discuss agri-environment future measures is right now

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Future agri-environment measures must enable farmers and crofters to play their key role in managing a significant majority of Scotland’s environmental interests, writes Environment and Land Use committee chairman, Angus MacFadyen, a hill farmer from near Oban.

Earlier this year, Scottish Government Ministers decided there would not be a normal AECS application round in 2020. Instead, one-year extensions would be available for those whose AECS contracts expire in 2020 to ensure continued support for vital land management required to protect biodiversity and tackle climate change.

While this may be pragmatic due to concerns about issuing a five-year contract without certainty of budgets beyond 2020, it is unacceptable that there is no defined commitment for farmers and crofters to undertake biodiversity measures, water quality improvements, flooding mitigation, organic conversion, public access provision, and the like.

AECS is intended to promote land management practices which protect and enhance Scotland’s natural heritage, improve water quality, manage flood risk and mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as improving public access and preserving historic sites. The funding available should enable farmers and crofters to play their key role in managing a significant majority of Scotland’s environmental interests – including valued species and habitats.

It is vital that piloting in the 2021 to 2024 period fully develop a bottom-up approach to build payments around desired outcomes rather than out-dated calculations of income foregone or additional costs. Prescriptive measures, compliance complexity and static payment calculations fail to foster participation or desired outcomes.

A major challenge is to ensure that there is no gap in support for agri-environment activity and that farmers and crofters have the confidence in future schemes to continue to come forward with applications.