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Scotland for Sale, Green Incentives +a Not so Just Transition

Green News                                                  20/07/22

Scotland’s Land Policy and the Market

            Scotland’s Land is under attack as never before.  Land prices are rising sharply on both farmland and estates, leading to higher food and timber prices, and making both low- and high-grade farmland a target for speculators wishing to cash in on the green bonanza. Colin McLean of SVM Asset Management questions this headlong rush.  The plan to net-zero and beyond, currently being finalised as ‘Scotland 2045’, aims for radical change involving climate, biodiversity and wellbeing.

            Inflation is affecting timber, diesel and fertiliser prices, and since 2017, 40% of estates changing hands have gone to investors and corporate buyers looking to cash in on carbon offsetting and forestry grants from the Scottish government, as well as lifestyle and rewilding aims.

            Wales has sounded a warning that these investors are not just after low-grade agricultural land, but also productive farmland, driving up prices and threatening our food security long-term.

            Long term sustainability is needed and competing interests may be at odds.  New tree-planting will affect rewilding and biodiversity if a balance is not struck, and the suspicion is that carbon offsetting will not reduce carbon emissions, but rather perpetuate them at the same level overall.  Some have suggested a carbon emissions land tax.

            The Scottish government’s aim in 2014 of one million acres in community ownership by 2020 achieved only half of this amount due to rising land prices. Should restrictions be introduced on price levels, or at least a public interest test for large-scale land sales or transfers? 

Brewdog

             has just received a £1 million grant from the Scottish government to assist its tree planning in the Cairngorms. But some query whether Brewdog’s Kinrara estate needs this investment.   The land at the western edge of the Cairngorms National Park is in the Monadhliath Wild Land Area, and includes part of the Old Caledonian Pine Forest, which has been self-regenerating since the last Ice Age.  

            Self-seeding trees capture far more carbon than trees raised artificially in nurseries and then planted somewhere else.  So it is doubtful if the tree-planting incentive is even necessary or desirable. The aim is to make it the single biggest native woodland and peatland restoration project ever in the UK.  But unchecked deer numbers may be for hunting trips, which itself hinders the recovery of native woodland, moorland and Arctic alpine vegetation

The Good Food Nation Bill

            was passed by Holyrood in June 2022.  Government, local authorities and health boards will all be tasked with creating good food nation plans, overseen by an independent Food Commission, which will play a key role encouraging good health, promoting local, environmentally-friendly food, improving animal welfare and supporting food supply to transition to net zero. It aims to give everyone in Scotland access to healthy, nutritious food.

Retrofitting

            Scotland is aiming to rid all properties of heating generated by fossil-fuels, which will cost an estimated £33bn in total.  Attacking the housing shortage by bringing derelict buildings back into use unfortunately attracts 20% VAT on construction work on already-existing buildings.  This is a measure which might help housing pressure but cannot be done unilaterally by the Scottish government, as VAT is a tax reserved to Westminster, and calls to remove this tax have so far gone unheeded by the UK government.

Green Jobs

            Scotland has already lost out on a green jobs bonanza.  The offshore wind tower factory planned for Nigg is under threat as Spanish firm Haizea is focussing instead on domestic production and the Global Energy Group is reviewing the case for Nigg.  Scottish subsidies are providing jobs elsewhere, for example, the contracts for the Moray West development have gone to China and the United Arab Emirates, but the Scottish government insists the ScotWind projects will deliver £25bn from 17 offshore projects.

Hare Coursing

            Police Scotland are calling on the government to close loopholes in the new hare coursing legislation.  They are concerned that owners may be letting dogs loose but claiming they just escape and police want the wording redone to penalise those who ‘wilfully/ intentionally or recklessly’ let animals chase hares.  The police want the law tightened up on disqualification from keeping an animal to include those who  merely live in the same home as the dog and not just the owner.

            Angus and the north-east of Scotland are currently hotspots for wildlife crime, but the law is patchy. The Protection of Wild Mammals (Scotland) act 2002 is the current legislation, with the Hunting with Dogs (Scotland)Bill designed to upgrade hare protection.

Wild Salmon Restoration

            A partnership between Salmon Scotland and Fisheries Management Scotland is seeking to boost wild salmon numbers, which have been declining for decades on both the east and west coasts of Scotland.  Their Wild Salmon fund of £1.5 million is from Salmon Scotland and managed by the independent Foundation Scotland.

            Fincastle Dam at Loch Fincastle will get £35,000 to plug leaks, £20,000 goes to Argyll Fisheries Trust to improve works at the River Ruel and River Eachaig on Cowal to halt riverbank erosion and stop fine sediments entering the rivers.

            The Ayrshire Rivers Trust gets £17,000 for a project aiming to clear excessive silt in the Brockloch Burn and Loch Lomond Fisheries Trust gets just over £22,000 for work on tree canopies, in-stream cover and bank erosion problems in the area.

            Skye and Lochalsh rivers Trust gets nearly £26,000 for technological equipment to carry out an acoustic telemetry tracking study of adult sea trout.

            And residents near Loch Hourn near Skye have stopped Norwegian seafood firm MOWI developing their Creag an t’Sagairt salmon farm further, claiming it would threaten wild salmon, sea trout and freshwater pearl mussels.  The campaign group said MOWI’s work over the last 22 years has changed the area, but not for the better, citing increasing numbers of sea lice coming from the farm and the damage caused by chemicals which MOWI are using to try and kill them, which in turn devastate crustaceans and can harm humans.  

Rewilding Initiative

            Scotland’s largest rewilding initiative is in line for UN Flagship status for the Affric Highlands connecting Loch Ness, the central Highlands, Kintail, Glens Cannich, Affric, Moriston and Shiel.  This Trees for Life Initiative is part of Rewilding Europe’s nine rewilding landscapes and its purchase of Dundreggan Estate in Glenmoriston has seen half a million trees planted, with more than 3300 species recorded, at least 68 of which are priority conservation species, including the strawberry spider, never before recorded in the UK. Other new-for-the-UK species discovered are sawflies, aphids, aphid parasitoids, fungus gnats and a mite.

How Not to do a Just Transition

            Sri Lanka’s financial woes are being blamed in some quarters on their headlong rush to make farming organic within a decade, by reducing, then banning, chemical fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides.   Food production tumbled and the people are going hungry.  Coupled with covid, which ended the tourism industry for 2 years, President Rajapaksa had announced a total and immediate ban in April last year on fertilisers.  The real reason may have been a lack of foreign exchange which they weren’t prepared to use on importing fertiliser even for the short-term.  As a result, rice and tea yield collapsed by 20%, and rice prices rose by 50%.

            Power outages last 13 hours a day, there are long queues for petrol and cooking gas and food prices have risen by up to 20%, with rice up 50%, leading to widespread rioting and the collapse of the government. 

Meat Production

            In Western Europe, farmers are protesting against what they see as draconian and dangerous green policies which will decimate food production. Italy, Germany, Poland and particularly the Netherlands are affected.  Dutch farmers are one of the biggest meat exporters in the EU, but Prime Minister Mark Rutte wants to cut the use of fertiliser, and halve nitrogen compounds in animal manure and ammonia fertilisers by 2030, which will reduce livestock by 30%.

            A concerted effort appears to be underway to turn people away from meat-eating and onto plant-based nutrition.  The Scottish government has guaranteed farm subsidies of £637 million up to 2024, most of which comes from the UK, but has not yet committed to subsidies beyond 2024.  Without subsidies, the National Farming Union for Scotland estimates that only 37% of all farms would be viable.


Julia Pannell                                               20/07/22         

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