Scottish Government must do more on environment in farming claim Greens

SCOTTISH Government ministers should do more to encourage farmers to invest in looking after the environment, rival politicians have claimed.

The Scottish Greens criticised the SNP administration over what it says is a lack of vision in the  latest agriculture plan, saying it lags behind Westminster on the issue.

Their attack came after Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing  launched a consultation into the future of agriculture payments post-Brexit.

The Greens say the proposals don’t go far enough to ‘outline a clear vision’ for the sector.

Mark Ruskell MSP, food and farming spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “I welcome the fact that, nearly two years after the Brexit vote, we finally have a public consultation on the issue of what will replace the Common Agricultural Policy.

“But this document is sorely lacking in vision, with the focus around tweaking and deregulating the current system, rather than radical reform based around a clear set of environmental principles.

“The UK Government’s recent consultation contained strong commitments to promote farming methods that benefit wildlife, biodiversity, and climate change targets whilst mitigating flooding, and to reward farmers for the vital role they play in enhancing and protecting our environment.

“The Cabinet Secretary’s statement did not even mention the environment or climate change, and it’s clear the Scottish Government are now lagging far behind Westminster on this.

“CAP is a complicated system, but it is based around simple, clear aims. We have a rare opportunity to develop our own aims for what will replace CAP, but there is no indication that this kind of leadership or vision will come from the Scottish Government any time soon.”

The Scottish Government set out its stall in a document entitled ‘Stability and Simplicity’.

And for its part, the paper states: “Sustainability – Tourism, timber and food production are key sectors of our economy with potential for growth in both home and export markets. Any change in our approach to providing support should take us closer to a comprehensive new rural policy which helps to protect and enhance the natural assets on which our farming and other rural industries depend and to contribute to Scotland’s world leading climate change ambitions, also promoting efficient and innovative rural businesses and thriving rural communities.”

The proposals for a five year transition period for farming and rural support, should Scotland leave the EU, were announced by Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing yesterday.

They aim to provide stability, certainty and simplicity for farmers, crofters and land users, with the key measure of a transition period of between three and five years being one of the main recommendations of the Agriculture Champions.

He insisted some measures will be streamlined and simplified, to free up resource to pilot and test activities likely to feature in a future farming and rural support policy.

The key changes being proposed include a limit on payments, reduced inspections and penalties.

Launching the consultation, Mr Ewing said: “As we are taken out of the EU, we must now decide how radical we wish to be, and importantly, how fast we wish to change. My priority in the short term is to provide people in rural businesses with as much security as possible and this paper sets out options to try and achieve this.

“In the short-term, I am proposing that support schemes for active farming, food production, environmental improvements, forestry and rural development fundamentally stay largely the same.

“However, where schemes and processes can usefully be simplified and streamlined, we should do so, particularly if that frees up resource to test new approaches and measures.

“I also want to hear views on the longer term direction of travel. All ideas and proposals will be explored as part of the wider civic conversation around how best to sustain a vibrant and flourishing rural economy in the future.

“With Brexit representing the biggest challenge to rural Scotland for a generation, people deserve security and stability, and that is what I am determined to provide.”

The row coincided with the launch of this year’s RBS Royal Highland Show at Ingliston near Edinburgh, one of Scotland’s premier agricultural events.

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Read: Stability, certainty and simplicity in rural support

IMAGE CREDITS: cc Shad0wfall

 

Shaun Milne is a Scottish based journalist with a particular interest in environmental issues, politics and travel.

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