A funding channel that supports environmental land management is to reopen after months of intense lobbying by Scottish farming, crofting and environmental organisations.
The Scottish Government announced a new round of the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) will open in late January – but only for a targeted range of options, and without any detail on what funding is to be made available.
The AECS will focus on designated sites, organics, management supporting farmland waders, corn buntings and corncrakes, slurry stores and improving public access for activities such as walking and cycling.
The announcement was welcomed by the farmers’ union (NFUS) which, together with 10 other groups, has been pressing for the scheme to continue.
NFUS president Andrew McCornick said: “It was crucial AECS was opened for applications in 2021.
“While the projects to be supported are known, level of support going forward is unclear.
“This is a Pillar Two Rural Development Scheme traditionally co-financed by Europe and Scottish Government.
“As for the future, failure to support AECS in coming years may result in existing contracts ending year on year from 2022 onwards and a very large area of land falling out of environmental management.
“Decisions on the future of agri-environment schemes from 2021 and beyond must be a priority. Farmers, crofters and their advisers need certainty and time to plan for applications so they can deliver on high-quality food production whilst meeting challenges of biodiversity and climate change head on.”
According to Rural Secretary Fergus Ewing this AECS round has been restricted because of a £170 million shortfall in UK Government funding in the 2021-22 to 2024-25 period.
He said: “We know some will be disappointed we are not running a full round of AECS, but, as it stands, Scotland’s farmers and rural communities stand to lose £170m over the 2021-22 to 2024-25 period as a direct result of the UK Government reneging on public commitments.
“We have repeatedly asked for clarity and certainty, but we are still without answers.
The £170m figure was disputed by UK Government minister for Scotland David Duguid, who said last month Scotland’s farmers would have far greater security in the coming year than they would have had inside the EU.