A new report commissioned by the Highlands and Islands Agriculture Support Group highlights the significant challenges that could be faced by farming and crofting communities in the Highlands and Islands, post Brexit. The report assesses the likely impacts of different Brexit scenarios on the economy and communities and their related effects on wildlife, the environment and key sectors such as tourism.
The report concludes that existing trends such as declining agricultural activity, land abandonment and a shrinking agricultural workforce, could be accelerated by Brexit. These trends have negative effects on environmental land management and upstream and downstream sectors such as food and drink and tourism. Future policy and funding will need to respond to these challenges and reflect the distinctive needs and contributions of the Highlands and Islands.
The Highlands and Islands Agriculture Support Group (HIASG) which commissioned the report, is now calling on the Scottish Government to take note of its findings and ensure that future farming, land management and rural development policy provides a targeted response.
The work was carried out by consultants Dr Andrew Moxey of Pareto Consulting and Steven Thomson of SRUC for HIASG which is comprised of representatives of all Highlands and Islands local authorities and RSPB Scotland.
Fergus Ewing said: “I welcome this important report, which highlights the distinctive challenges of farming in the Highlands and Islands, both in terms of the land and those available to work it. It confirms what I have been saying ever since the Brexit referendum – that Brexit is going to be the biggest challenge that the industry and rural communities has faced for generations. It is therefore vital that the special circumstances of the Highlands and Islands are not ignored, and that their unique social, economic and environmental conditions remain supported.”
Douglas Irvine, Economic Development Manager for Shetland Islands Council, and Chair of HIASG said, “This report is a wake-up call and shows how important farming and crofting is to the economy, people and environment of the Highlands and Islands, but also how vulnerable it is. The challenges faced here look set to increase rather than diminish. “
He continued, “We urge the Scottish Government to ensure future farming and rural policy and funding responds effectively to the scale of the challenges faced by this region and is well targeted. The Government must set out its thoughts on this as a matter of some urgency to give farmers, crofters and other rural businesses time to adapt to the changes that are coming.”
Just over two-thirds of Scotland’s High Nature Value farmland is located in the Highlands and Islands region due to extensive farming methods and small-scale farming and crofting. The region has a high share of sites designated for their national and international environmental importance, benefiting birds such as corncrake and curlew, great yellow bumblebees and habitats such as machair and peatlands. This environmental quality draws visitors from far and wide.
Machair habitat and Northern Marsh orchid - managed by crofters at RSPB Balranald reserve. Image: www.rspb-images.com
Vicki Swales, Head of Land Use Policy at RSPB Scotland, which is a member of HIASG, said, “To date, the continuation of traditional farming and crofting practices have helped to create a region that is of enormous environmental importance, home to fantastic wildlife and iconic landscapes. We call on the Scottish Government to ensure that, in future, the environmental land management carried out by farmers and crofters – and all the public benefits that provides – are properly supported and rewarded.”
She continued, “A recent public poll showed overwhelming public support for farmers being paid for managing their land in ways that are good for wildlife, reduces climate warming greenhouse gases and improves water quality, amongst other things. The Highlands and Islands are well placed to benefit from such an approach.”
For the full report and a short briefing paper, follow the link here.