Biodiversity paper leaves the cold again

From the Croft by Russell Smith

As always, there is a lot going on in the crofting world.

The Scottish Government has been soliciting views for its Biodiversity Strategy, due to be published in 2022, in recent months. The strategy is the starting point of a process leading to the development of ongoing implementation plans and, through the introduction of a Natural Environment Bill, statutory targets for nature restoration.

Russell Smith.

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has responded to the consultation on behalf of its members. We pointed out that biodiversity and quality food production are not mutually exclusive. Crofting can give you both.

Crofting was not mentioned at all in the consultation document, indicating a lack of government understanding.

We also pointed out that you need to consider the role of people and traditional/local knowledge in any system. The environment cannot be viewed in isolation. Native breeds and seeds play a role in maintaining biodiversity as they are well adapted to the climate and conditions.

The crofting commission has a draft plan for comment now that we have a new group of commissioners.

In my opinion, their focus needs to be on slowing the turnaround in regulatory filings. That’s the interface most smallholders have with the commission, so they’re judged on that.

They say, “We are committed to continually improving the level of service we provide to applicants who have an application in process” – but there is no target for how long it should take to process an application. That’s a feature of the plan — there’s nothing to measure their performance against in two to three years.

Interestingly, they say they would “in principle support the extension of designated areas to allow crofts to be created on a larger scale across Scotland”.

There are welcome commitments to create new smallholdings, to retain land on smallholdings for future generations, to take action against those who breach their responsibilities, and to prevent large-scale land consolidations.

The Scottish Government’s consultation on future farming support schemes has been published and was met with a loud chorus of disappointment that, after so many consultations and advisory groups, there are few details and no figures.

Donald Mackinnon, Chairman of the SCF, said: “The Scottish Government has had years to develop policy. As the vague document presented to us represents the grand total of this work, it is disappointing at best. With a number of new programs set to launch in 2025, the lack of progress is appalling.”

The Scottish Red Meat Resilience Group described the Scottish Government’s stakeholder engagement as “dysfunctional and broken” and said it wanted more clarity and guidance for its members.

We need to know what the new system means for us as individual companies. This fall we are making decisions on how many replacement animals will be kept for lambing in 2024.

As costs soar, prices stagnate, and government support may decline, where is our profitability? Where is our ability to live and make a living in the Highlands?

Russell Smith is a small farmer at Bonar Bridge and a director of the SCF.

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