Scotland’s major landowners should be charged a 'natural carbon capture tax', a leading conservation body has suggested.

The John Muir Trust has calculated that Scotland’s land has the potential to capture carbon annually from the atmosphere on a huge scale – and it advocates introducing a banded tax on all landholdings over 1000 hectares to prompt landowners into action.

This policy proposal is part of a wishlist published alongside the Trust’s 2021 Scottish Manifesto. Head of policy, Mike Daniels, said: “Scotland has an abundance of low productivity land which could be locking up vast quantities of carbon each year, while improving biodiversity and stimulating rural economic regeneration.

“Right now, our land is a net producer of greenhouse gases. Yet our vast uplands – which cover more than half our landmass – have the potential to remove and store millions of tonnes of carbon each year for centuries to come.

“We recognise that there are incentives in place, but these cost public money and have limited impact," said Mr Daniels. "We know that taxation – from the plastic carrier bag charge to minimum alcohol pricing and tobacco taxes – can be a powerful lever to achieve positive change.

“Scotland has won praise world-wide for its ambitious climate change targets. In this year of COP26, it can once again show global leadership by bold action to bring about progressive land use for the benefit of climate, communities and nature.”

Responding on behalf of Scottish Land and Estates, its head of policy, Stephen Young pointed out that landowners were already playing a huge role in helping meet the Scottish Government's climate change targets.

"Landowners have embraced peatland restoration and woodland creation, with privately owned land seeing the majority of the uptake of these schemes," said Mr Young. "Many have gone on to be accredited by Wildlife Estates Scotland for their work in conservation and wildlife management. Encouraging further progress on good environmental outcomes from hugely valuable sectors such as agriculture would seem more sensible than introducing punitive tax measures – measures that JMT only want to levy at certain types of owners.

"Such a tax would be hugely costly to administer for the public purse due to the extensive soil sampling, woodland and peatland surveys that it would require and would almost certainly cost more to organise than the tax income it would generate," he added. "It would also set land uses against each other rather than progress integrated land management which seeks the best outcomes by using the right land for the right purpose."