‘THE FUTURE of Scottish hill and upland farming is facing extinction’ – according to many hill and upland farmers and crofters across Scotland, prompting calls from the sector to ensure a fair proportion of the £160million convergence funding is redirected back to the uplands.

Since it was announced that Scotland was to receive that money, overdue since 2014 – and that the future Scottish farm support budget was to be boosted in line with the recommendations of the Bew Review – there have been widespread discussions throughout Scotland’s agricultural sector as to where and how the extra funding should be distributed within the industry.

The exceptionally low payment rates to Scottish hill and upland farmers and crofters was the inherent reason why the convergence money was allocated to Scotland in the first place, with Scotland receiving only 45% of the EU average per hectare.

Through Scotland’s Basic Payment Scheme, Scottish Government figures from 2018 revealed that 87% of the budget was allocated to region 1 land which makes up 45% of land in Scotland, compared with only 13% of the budget allocated to region 2 and 3 land, accounting for a combined 55% of total eligible land area.

Hill farmers and crofters are calling for convergence funds to be distributed as part of a top up to the BPS, with the lion’s share of funds going to region 2 and 3, with an emphasis on active farmers and as ‘fair acknowledgment and compensation’ for the very reason Scotland qualified for this money in the first place.

There has been concern that politicians could favour distributing finds on a Less Favoured Areas basis which would see the money spread over 85% of Scotland, with many farmers arguing that would unfairly disadvantage many of the lowest earning farmers who were deprived in the first place.

The SF spoke with a number of region 2 and 3 farmers across the country who spoke with great passion about their role as custodians of the countryside and expressed their pride in producing high quality produce on poor quality pasture. They all attested to the growing fragility of the hill regions, with land abandonment on the rise and many farmers and crofters failing to see a viable future in the sector without a serious cash injection to revitalise the uplands.

The Scottish Farmer:

A steep hike to check on the sheep at Torloisk Farm, Mull (Photo: Claire Simonetta)


Upland farmer and NFUS chair of Lochaber and Sunart, Paolo Berardelli, reflected on the impact these missing funds have had on the uplands of Scotland and why returning the money to the hills is so essential: “There is no doubt that hill and upland farmers and crofters have been kicked in the teeth since BPS came in. We are the only sector which is experiencing severe levels of land abandonment – if there was viability in hill farming there wouldn’t be the pressure for businesses to pack up and leave or move in to planting trees.”

“A fair uplift of payments to region 2 and 3 land would throw a vital lifeline to hill farmers and crofters and could serve to stop the land clearances. With current tight rules on activity, slipper farmers in regions 2 and 3 are largely a thing of the past. A fair proportion of convergence money returning to Scotland must go to active farmers on regions 2 and 3 who also deliver public good – those who are looking after the landscapes which draw in huge numbers to Scotland’s ever growing tourism industry.”


Hill farmer Sandy Taylor looks after around 3000 ewes and 100 cattle on his farm in Killin, Stirlingshire as well as running a livestock haulage business. He has experienced first-hand how the hill clearances in nearby Lochaber and in the surrounding farms has affected both his grazing livestock and haulage business over the last 15 years.

“Livestock are disappearing out of this area – three farms in a 10-mile radius went in the last two years to trees and another one is about to follow suit.

“People are no longer seeing a future in the sector, but it also means that the people left behind are disadvantaged. Our sheep are spreading on to the planted ground and we don’t have neighbours anymore to help us gather them in. Planting is a temporary business; it doesn’t bring year-round investment in the local community – our schools and post office.

“We used to have a really busy livestock haulage business in the Lochaber region which is where 90% of my services were required to transport sheep, that number has dropped to 30% – the hills are bare. I used to transport 9000 to10,000 hoggs for wintering and now it’s dropped to 2000. Two thirds of the ewes in Lochaber have gone in the past 15-20 years.

“This convergence money is vital for the hill and upland businesses who are all suffering from a poor bank balance with last year’s lambing being one of the worst on record, coupled with heavy losses in the winter and rocketing feed prices.

“When the money is delivered, there needs to be a distinction between LFA and region 2 and 3 areas – regions 2 and 3, the lower income regions that were supposed to get this money to improve their incomes – they are due it!”

The Scottish Farmer:

Sheep grazing on Sandy Taylor's near-by rented farm, by the Rivey Lochay in Kilin


Oban farmer Angus MacFadyen, who farms at Braglenmore, Kilmore, stressed that without a cash injection into the upland areas, Scotland will lose even more livestock and the great environmental benefits they deliver.

“Decisions on the allocation of this money need to take in to account the region 2 and 3 areas which qualified Scotland for this convergence money, but most importantly, these areas are delivering huge environmental benefits which further justify why they should be receiving most funding. Upland farmers and crofters properly manage moorland which leads to carbon capture, if we keep seeing abandoned hills then this is a disaster for fragile habitats and the environment.

“In the last two years there has been a slow drift away from sheep, in Mid-Argyll – two farms went two years ago, another went just last week. It takes a lot of skilled staff to work a hill and shepherds are becoming less available and no young people are coming into the industry. If we want to ensure a viable future for young farmers that is financially attractive, then these upland areas need a cash injection of both money and confidence by the government.”


Argyll farmer John Semple manages Ellary farms in Lochgilphead where he looks after hill cattle and sheep in both region 2 and 3 land. In the past 30 years that he has farmed in this region, he stressed that the future survival of Scottish hill farming and crofting has never hung so limply in the balance.

“Our livestock prices are down dramatically with farmers round here losing £150 a calf. For us to keep farming in these areas we need a top up of some kind, especially when we are predicted to lose more LFASS funding next year.

“Fergus Ewing promised over 18 months ago that he would make up the 20% loss in LFASS funding, but nothing has been shown for it and now we are predicted to drop a further 40% next year.

“We cannot farm without this money – these subsidies are vital or else we can say goodbye to the beautiful Scottish landscapesshaped by grazing livestock and so often the image used to draw in huge numbers to our tourism industry each year.

“I’ve sat on the NFUS LFA committee for four to five years and there is definite concern that the convergence money could follow the BPS allocation system and direct the majority of the money to region one farmers. NFUS will have to tread carefully on lobbying this matter as they have to appeal to everyone, but hill areas must be considered first. We have no other option, it's either graze our livestock or sell up for trees.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Cows and ewes battle against the elements at John MacAuley's farm at Kinlochmoidart in Acharacle


Invernesshire-based tenant farmer John MacAuley farms 120 suckler cattle and 600 ewes at Dalilea, Kinlochmoidart. He explained that region 3 farms have felt the squeeze in recent years with cuts and proposed cuts to the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme and a ‘poorly performing’ Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme.

“Region 3 farmers were told that SUSSS and LFASS payments would go part of the way in making up for the low BPS payment (region 3 only received 4% of total BPS pot) but these promises have been misguided.

“The SUSS scheme was well intentioned but it wasn’t designed by hill farmers and you have to be a really productive region 3 farmer to come close to receiving a region 2 payment – which is what was intentioned through the hogg scheme.

“It is also frustrating that we are being encouraged to produce more hoggs but then we are at the mercy of rising numbers of sea eagles, who are preying on our lambs. Even the compensation scheme with the eagles offers peanuts, if you work out the money you lose on the whole farm – everything seems stacked against us.

“The people farming on a real hill system have been hit the hardest and we are now facing a further 40% cut to LFASS next year which is a significant payment for many farmers. This convergence money is absolutely critical to come back to the areas which qualified for it in the first place and the urgency of its swift delivery is needed to ensure the survival of the sector.”


Biggar hill farmer and chair of the National Sheep Association Jen Craig expressed her disappointment at the lack of support by the government for the upland areas of Scotland.

“I’m fairly horrified at the percentage of the total BPS budget which is allocated to region 2 and 3 areas – only 13% – which goes against what we are so often told by the government, that they supposedly value our upland practices.

“There could be serious consequences in many areas of this country if something major doesn’t happen with the correct allocation of convergence money or the loss of LFASS. We could see large scale land abandonment and once that land is gone to trees, it’s lost for farming forever.

“Where I stay, hill farms come up for sale and are immediately bought for forestry and in a lot of cases, the farmer has had no other choice but to go down this route. It is so important when this convergence money returns to our farmers that acknowledgement is given to region 2 and 3 farmers who contribute hugely to Scotland’s wider economy and tourism industry.

“It only looks the way it does because of what we do managing the land in remote areas, providing employment, keeping schools open and investing any money back into rural communities.

“This money needs to come to region 2 and 3 but it can’t be as simple as delivering it via the LFA principle, a top up to the BPS would be the most direct way. We need to ensure this money gets to active farmers in the areas which qualified for it in the first place and not risk it going to people who aren’t entitled to the uplift.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Blackface sheep scramble over the rough terrain in Glencoe during the summer gathering


Sybil MacPherson farms at Brackey Farm in Dalmally which has been in her family for over 150 years. Due to the surge in hill clearances in the region she is finding it increasingly hard to manage her land without the support of people working in the surrounding glens.

“We all used to work together historically on the glens but now with farms selling up and turning to trees, it is difficult to gather your sheep at 3000 feet without neighbours to support you. The local schools, post office, village shops all relied on people in the glens for year-round investment – now the rural communities are suffering.

“I appreciate that the whole of Scottish agriculture is feeling the squeeze, but the case needs to be made that this convergence money was specific to region 2 and 3 land alone and this is where it must be delivered to.

“Putting money back in to the hands of upland farmers will mean an immediate cash injection in to the surrounding rural community, nobody in these regions uses this money for their own personal gain.

“This convergence money has to be used to top up the current BPS payment as I can’t see any other way the Scottish Government can deliver it. I firmly believe that the funds must go to active farmers, no matter what region it is in and this should be decided using the most recent statistics we have available from this years IACS forms. We cannot be paying for ground which is inactive or being used for planting trees.

“It is really critical that when we move forward, we can’t base monetary decisions on historical figures, otherwise we will stifle innovation and we won’t attract young people into the sector. We need to restore confidence back into Scottish agriculture and make this a productive and attractive environment for them to choose to enter in to.”


Skye NFU Scotland group secretary Jack Sayles echoed a similar sentiment that any form of top up funds must go to active farmers: “Crofting In Scotland is in a fragile state and the union is well aware of this and has visited a number of the region 2 and 3 farms in the western isles of Scotland. Decisions are still a while off from being made but there are some concerns that this top up money via the convergence funds must go to people who are actually working.

“There is a genuine feeling of making sure this money is to top up low payments on areas where there are active farmers,as these are the ones in the margins where the sheep and cattle are being pushed off the hill. There is a unique thing within crofting in relation to common grazing hectares with the former often being on the worst land and receiving the lowest payments. We mustn’t forget that crofts in the western isles are fuelling so much of the store trade therefore ensuring their future viability is crucial.”

The Scottish Farmer:

David Colthart's cattle make the most of a spell of summer sunshine on the hills of Appin


Appin hill farmer David Colthart voiced his disbelief at the dividing up of the current BPS money pot and stressed that this system of allocation must not be adopted for divvying up the convergence funds.

“Hill farmers in region 2 and 3 are currently only receiving 13% of the existing budget and specifically for region 3 it is a lowly 4%. Region 3 farmers are disproportionately losing out against other sectors. The convergence money is only coming in the first place because of them, so morally a good chunk should go back to region 2 and 3 farms.

“Scotland's tourism and farming produce is sold on images of the hills and mountains and keeping livestock on the hills is one of the most important parts to this. When the government distribute the money, it should not be down to the current split of 87% for region 1 versus 13% for regions 2 and 3, or for region 3 farmers, we might only see £6 million of this pot.

“When this money is delivered it needs to go to current active farmers not the ones who have got rid of stock which also applies to farms in region 1, holding on to empty hills and fields and doing the minimal just to claim money is simply wrong. Some of the funding could also go for capital improvements to these businesses for activities such as liming and fencing.”


Iain Mackay of Torloisk farm in Mull warned that lack of investment in Scotland’s hill and upland areas combined with falling cattle prices and stock numbers could be the‘last nail in the coffin’.

“We’re seeing a real lack of investment in the sector right now because the money simply isn’t there. There is the added complication for people like myself on region 3 land who qualify for the hogg scheme, as we have to hold on to our hoggs to try and get as much money as possible.

“We have to go through all of these hoops to get money and if we lose a beast we open ourselves to strict penalties in the process – region 3 farmers are constantly on the back foot and paying the price for the slipper farmers of the past.

“These convergence funds need to come to region 3 land to allow farmers and crofters to reinvest as if you drive around the countryside there is no infrastructure being built, no fencing being putting up.

“We are asked to do so much in the agricultural sector to keep animal welfare at a high standard, produce high quality food and deliver environmental benefits. However, we are doing all of this in an increasingly difficult financial environment – we can’t do all of that and make a healthy profit – we need to be supported.

“If we don’t invest now in region 3 we are in danger of losing our hefted flocks and carefully managed moorlands. Already we are losing people in these areas and there is nothing worse than when you’re out handling sheep all day and you’re the only person in the fank for hours on end – the mental health of many of our farmers is at a critical point. We need more people in our rural environment and we need them quickly.”

The Scottish Farmer:

Typical region 3 land in Mull at Torloisk farm where there is no other option than to graze livestock (Photo: Claire Simonetta)


NFU Scotland’s vice-chair Charlie Adam agreed that the convergence funding must be prioritised on active farmers: “Times are hard for Scottish agriculture and we need to make sure that the money is distributed to active farmers, with the benefit of the whole sector in mind.

“This isn’t just a discussion about compensation but one which needs to take in to account reasonable needs – as an industry we need to look at maximising the viability of the whole sector.”