Conservation continues to be firmly on the political agenda. It is woven into the Scottish Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement which includes promoting the protection and enhancement of the environment, describing those who hold land rights as 'stewards of Scotland's land resource'. 

Conservation also has a synergy with the concept of public goods (such as biodiversity, a stable climate, good air quality, flood prevention and mitigation).  The increasingly prominent role which conservation has to play in the rural economy was brought into sharper focus in the Scottish Government's A future strategy for Scottish agriculture: final report (31 May 2018) with its headline recommendation that: 'Stewardship of the countryside should be a key part of future policy' and include 'purely public goods such as wildlife and carbon sequestration'.  One of the few certainties arising from Brexit is that conservation and the promotion of public goods will be increasingly significant for rural support schemes in the medium term. Analysis of the Scottish Forestry Strategy Consultation at our seminar in October discussed key measures for the biodiversity and sustainability of Scotland's forests, which go hand in hand with stewardship of the countryside.

In respect to wildlife, there is also the live question of whether to introduce a licensing scheme for driven grouse moors.  Following the publication of a 2017 report by Scottish Natural Heritage analysing the fates of satellite tagged golden eagles in Scotland – which suggested that the disappearance of many tagged eagles was largely due to human intervention – the Scottish Government set up the Grouse Moor Management Group to examine the environmental impact of management practices such as muirburn, the use of medicated grit and mountain hare culls.  The aim of the Group is to identify what can be done to balance the important contribution which grouse moors make to the rural economy with environmental sustainability and compliance with the law.

The Group is due to submit its final report by the end of June 2019. By that time we hope to have greater clarity on some of the broader political issues too.

This article appears in the Scottish Land & Business Winter 2018 issue.

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