In December, NEMT responded to the above consultation, which, like the previous two five-year Strategies, aims to “demonstrate ambition for sustainable land use”. The third version is to reach a wider audience, and to “bring together key strands of various Scottish Government (SG) policies that touch on land use.” The consultation was not focussed on these policies as such, but rather sought “views on our long term vision and objectives, as well as views on areas such as the proposed landscape based approach to raise awareness on land use in Scotland”. This “approach” employs ten “landscapes” or non-mapped-based terrain types (Urban, Peri-Urban, Fertile Land, Marginal Land, Uplands, Semi-Natural Land, Rivers and Water Bodies, Coastal, Islands and Offshore). The online NEMT response focussed on three sections, as follows:
Vision: The text here needs to reflect the generally worsening situation as regards climate change and the Scottish environment and its biodiversity. Biodiversity continues to degrade (State of Nature Report, 2019, RSPB) and the current progress on climate change mitigation is insufficient to meet legal requirements (Reducing UK Emissions: 2020 Report to Parliament, Committee on Climate Change, 2020). Scotland is doing better than England but still not enough. The public needs to be convinced that the rhetoric will translate into action this time.
“Landscapes”: are probably a good way of engaging the public by using a simple, easily understood concept, although they lead to confusion with the conventional meaning of landscape. However, their use leads to an awkward document with topics such as the Local Food Strategy appearing in multiple places. Possibly an overarching section could include this, the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund (RTIF), etc.
Uplands: The upland landscape is said to be “land with a high nature value”. The text here needs to be more realistic, acknowledging that much of Scotland’s uplands are severely degraded, mainly due to over-grazing by sheep and deer, commercial forestry, and land management almost exclusively for driven grouse shooting. Farming and crofting haven’t supported a wide “range of species and habitats”. Increasingly intensive farming is a major driver of biodiversity loss.
Little or nothing is said about farm subsidy spend, whose annual budget is over £600m. This sum dwarfs most others (eg £7m to the Biodiversity Challenge Fund), and moreover how this is spent by the SG will be a major policy influence on future land use across much of Scotland in the coming years. Similarly, the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund, at about £3m per year, is very small compared to expenditure directed at farmers.
There is a strong emphasis on tree planting. Planting is appropriate in some places, but the document needs to acknowledge a greater role for natural regeneration, which is better at sequestering and retaining carbon and for wildlife.
The issue of “dirty camping” is mentioned, but only in very general terms (to “address issues”) and, given the problems this year, needs to get a higher profile. The solution involves education and better tourist infrastructure (see above comment on the RTIF). An effective approach will preserve the environment and help to grow the local tourism economy.
Important aspects of land use not mentioned concern:
The consultation ended on 17 January 2021. Most responses and an analysis
report are to be made available to the public at http://consult.gov.scot,
and the Strategy is due to be published in March 2021, ie.
before this issue of Mountain Views.
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