A LONG-TERM commitment to agri-environment schemes has been announced by the Scottish Government, with funding to reopen for the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme in 2022.

Although funding of new rounds of AECS is still subject to future budgetary decisions, Scottish Ministers have agreed to deliver future rounds of the fund up to and including 2024.

NFU Scotland has welcomed the announcement for giving confidence to farmers and crofters to continue to deliver essential environmental benefits alongside producing food.

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“The clear commitment to deliver a full Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) round in 2022, and to extending the scheme right up to the end of the period of stability in 2024 will give confidence to Scottish farmers and crofters as they continue to tackle biodiversity and climate change whilst producing high quality, sustainable food,” said NFUS vice president Andrew Connon.

“A fully-funded AECS is vital in supporting Scottish farmers and crofters to deliver essential environmental benefits including peatland management, conserving and enhancing vulnerable species, and providing habitats for pollinators on farm,” he continued.

“The Scheme has huge buy in from the sector – evidenced by the participation of more than 3000 farms, crofts and estates.

“We will seek further clarity on the Cabinet Secretary’s statement, especially for those with existing agreements that are about to expire.”

Commenting, Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “Our vision for the future of rural Scotland is a positive one. We want Scotland to be a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture. As part of that, we are committed to supporting farmers, crofters, and land managers to support and deliver nature restoration.

“AECS provides important funding to the sector to help achieve this commitment and I have visited many farms, including the organic Peelham Farm recently, which have benefited from AECS and are playing their part in helping to restore and enhance nature. This will help to deliver increased biodiversity, improved soils and contribute to mitigating climate change at the same time as providing high quality, locally produced food,” she explained.

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“We have already invested £213 million in the scheme and we are committed to not only delivering a full round in 2022, but to extending the scheme right up to the end of the period of stability.”

The Scottish Government’s Biodiversity Minister, Lorna Slater, added: “It’s great news that farmers and crofters across the country will be able to apply for funding over the next three years to help combat the crises of climate change and nature loss. This is essential while we explore other ways in which farmers can be supported in their roles delivering a nature-rich Scotland.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to improve the state of vulnerable wildlife and habitats, improve water quality, and reduce flood risks, improve soil health, among other environmental benefits. Projects can be as diverse as improving public access in rural areas, protecting the habitat for our wildlife such as corn bunting, corncrake and chough, restoring peatland, supporting the management of protected sites, or converting to an organic system.”