|The Moorland Forum at Carsphairn last week|
Last Friday, Scotland’s Moorland Forum held its summer away day at Carsphairn in Southwest Scotland. For many this is traditional hill sheep country, but in more recent years tensions have emerged between forestry (trees grow pretty well in this part of Scotland) and renewable energy, tourism and environmental management such as peatland restoration.
Carsphairn is also in Scotland’s first designated biosphere (http://www.gsabiosphere.org.uk). The ideal place then to discuss the future of land use in Scotland and what role regional decision-making might play. The Heather Trust’s Director, Anne Gray, gives her thoughts below -
You just had to listen to the views being presented by the local population at Carsphairn to know that land matters to more than those who own and manage it. It matters because how land is used impacts jobs, local prosperity and quality of life. It affects flood management and water quality, biodiversity, landscapes, recreation opportunities, tourism and mental health to name but a few - the list goes on. Land management can impact these things in a positive way or a negative way depending on how it is done, and there are trade-offs. You can’t get everything from every piece of land - decisions are required. Who should make these decisions is perhaps the trickiest question faced by rural policymakers today.
On the one hand you could say that those who own and manage the land should make the decisions, but then many land uses have been (and continue to be) supported by the public purse, so government surely must have a say in how that money is spent. And if, as above, land use matters to those in its vicinity, then shouldn’t their views should be considered too? Plus, to get better outcomes for some environmental agendas such as reversing declines in nature and better managing flooding, then acting collaboratively across a river catchment or some large area involving a number of farms and estates needs to occur. The question is perhaps not so much “who should make the decisions?”, as “where does everyone fit into the decisions?”
Scotland’s Land Use Strategy, born from the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009, recognises that tensions exist between different land uses and that trade-offs need to happen if we are truly to find a way to do sustainable development. The Strategy sets out to find ways in which decisions can be reached. The first Strategy (2011-15) focused on running two Land Use pilots, one in the Scottish Borders and the other in Aberdeenshire. Although each approached things in their own way, the outputs were around mapping the various uses that land in the area could be put to whether or not these represented economically viable choices at that stage – “Opportunity Maps”. This shone a spotlight on the type of management that would need support from somewhere other than traditional markets.
The second Strategy (2016-2021) proposes to take this work to the next stage through the piloting of Regional Land Use Partnerships (RLUPs) which would decide how to priorities the various “opportunities” available. How these partnerships would operate and the level of decision-making they would undertake is not yet clear, but the pilots provide a chance to explore this.
After a day’s discussion both in Carsphairn Village Hall and out on the hill, the conclusions that the Moorland Forum’s summer visit reached were that –
National Level – was where high level objectives for land should be set by government.
Regional Level - was where regional partnerships could decide how their region would best deliver national objectives, while considering regional issues and priorities. Budgets would be held at this level.
Local Level – was where farmers, owners and managers would work with agencies such as SNH, RPID, SEPA (better if they could work as one) to develop local delivery plans which met the regional priorities.
The process might look something like the below -
Regional partnerships don’t need to be created afresh necessarily, there are existing partnerships that already bring the various interests together and could do the job. The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere was an obvious example discussed at Carsphairn. The Tweed Forum in the Borders is another. National parks, deer management groups (provided they could expand their remit) might also work well, since they already operate at scale and collaboratively.
As we move into a post-Brexit era with the challenges that will bring for rural policy and rural funding, now might be a good time to start testing whether effective land use decisions can be made through regional partnerships. If discussion last Friday is anything to go by, there is certainly plenty of appetite for it.