Scotland’s new Rural Affairs secretary breezed in and out of the Ingliston showground, overseeing the fruits of the Scottish Government’s £750,000 contribution to the Royal Highland Showcase but giving little away about the shape of future agricultural policy .
The Royal Highland Show’s industry breakfasts and plethora of press conferences were missing from the Showcase, and Mairi Gougeon gave only a hint of her priorities for the sector after spending her first days in office meeting the chairs of the farmer-led climate change advisory groups.
She confirmed that an implementation board would be set up within the government’s first 100 days in office to drive forward each sector’s recommendations, and this would be followed by pilots that would work towards helping the industry meet emissions reduction targets.
However she refused to be drawn on farmer concerns that top civil servants have called for a reduction of 300,000 cattle, or whether farmers who reduce livestock numbers would be compensated.
Instead she emphasised the government was looking at land use in Scotland on a wide “strategic” scale, and had ambitious targets for peatland restoration and forestry.
She said: “We’ll be looking to see if farmers can co-operate on more tree-planting on their farms to see if there are ways like shelter belts that work alongside the practices they have at the moment.”
Ms Gougeon added she wasn’t aware of the specific concerns of some farmers in Aberdeenshire who are worried that too much productive land is being turned over to forestry.
She said: “If there are particular issues, I need to have a look at that because I don’t know those specific areas they’re talking about, but we want to make sure our policy is coherent and have those discussions with farmers about ways to incorporate trees on their land. It’s not necessarily a case of forcing people off their land and forcing them to plant more trees, but seeing how we can incorporate the two.”