Agri-environment cuts are a backward step in climate change fight, says far north Lib Dem candidate
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Far north Liberal Democrat candidate Molly Nolan has described planned cuts to an agri-environment programme as a backward step in the fight against climate change.
She underlined the importance of agriculture to the economy of the Highlands and Islands and urged the Scottish Government to help the sector "tackle the climate crisis”.
The Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) promotes land management practices that protect and enhance Scotland’s natural heritage, improve water quality, manage flood risk and mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The funding allocation for the scheme is set to be reduced in the 2021/22 budget from £42.7 million to £34.2m.
Ms Nolan, the Scottish Liberal Democrats' spokesperson for environment, climate change and land reform, and candidate for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, pointed out that the agricultural sector supports more than 20,000 people in the Highlands and Islands.
She said that annually it adds around £285 million directly, and £387m in total, to the area's economy.
“Climate change is the defining challenge of the modern era," Ms Nolan said. "We are facing a crisis which in a few years could wreak even more damage than the devastating coronavirus pandemic.
“Agriculture is an integral part of the Highland economy and the Scottish Government should be doing all it can to support the sector in the transition to sustainable production.
“Instead, they have made harsh cuts to the environmental support budget for this sector, which amount to a backward step in the fight to end climate change.
“The Scottish Government must put the recovery first and help the agricultural sector tackle the climate crisis.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Farmers and crofters play a key role in managing Scotland’s environment and landscape along with being part of the climate solution. We continue to support farmers, crofters and land managers to play their part in cutting emissions, addressing climate change as well as delivering wider biodiversity and environmental benefits.
“We know how important agri-environment support is to farmers and crofters in helping them to deliver a wide range of environmental measures. A further round of AECS was opened in January 2021 to support delivery of a wide range of environmental measures.
"We continue to invest in our natural assets by maintaining investment of £40 million in the Agricultural Transformation Programme. This is while we work with the five sector-led groups to start implementing climate change activities.
"We will create green jobs, cut emissions, address climate change and enhance our environment.
“We have prioritised agri-environment support in the face of significant cuts to the budget resulting from the UK government reneging on public commitments that farmers and crofters would not be worse off as a result of leaving the EU. As it stands, Scotland’s farmers and rural communities stand to lose £170 million over the 2021/22 to 2024/25 period as a result of Brexit.
"We have repeatedly asked the UK government for clarity and certainty but we, along with the other devolved administrations, are still without answers.”