LAND managers and farmers have an exciting and unique opportunity to play a pivotal role in tackling climate change and reverse biodiversity loss, an environmental conference has heard.

Wildlife Estates Scotland (WES) held its inaugural ‘WES Assembly’ in Aberdeenshire attended by delegates from across the UK and Europe as well as charities, public bodies and land business professionals.

WES is part of the international Wildlife Estates best practice accreditation scheme, made up of 19 national delegations across Europe. Since the first pilot estates were WES accredited in 2013, Scotland has moved to second in the league table of Wildlife Estates accredited land on 1.25 million acres, with several large-scale accreditations also currently in the pipeline. With only Spain ahead on approximately 1.6 million acres, WES is aiming to double accredited land to 2.5 million acres.

WES properties stretch from large estates covering thousands of acres to small farms including the recently accredited Easter Bavelaw Farm in the Pentland Hills at just under 500 acres.

Dee Ward, chair of Wildlife Estates Scotland and owner of Rottal Estate in the Angus Glens, told delegates that landholdings of all sizes had the opportunity to be recognised for the key role they were playing in helping the environment.

Dee said: “Caring for wildlife and biodiversity has been a labour of love for many farms and estates, often self-financed as we acknowledge the importance of looking after our natural surroundings.

“With recognition of the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, there is growing interest not only in carbon but in nature-based solutions which can help wildlife. Businesses are becoming more conscious of their footprints and their requirement to meet Environmental Social Governance (ESG) standards. As more is demanded of them, farms and estates are well positioned to deliver for these organisations which in turn, will help us to carry out more environmental work.

“For a landholding such as my own in the Angus Glens, this will mean more peatland restoration that locks in carbon, improves biodiversity and allows slower release of water into the burns and rivers, which mitigates flooding impacts and creates cleaner water. It will mean more riparian tree planting, more native woodland planting, more wetland creation, more hedgerows, more river improvements, more appropriate and better-quality livestock, and grassland improvements that will sequester more carbon, and this in turn will help the Scottish and UK Governments achieve their ambitious net zero targets.”

Read more: Scotland must recognise the efforts of its land managers

Mr Ward added that accreditation schemes such as Wildlife Estates Scotland would give confidence to stakeholders that land managers could act as dependable partners in environmental projects.

Dee continued: “The Wildlife Estates label accreditation gives us recognition for work already being carried out and we are increasingly starting to be seen by government, NGOs and even the general public as ‘trusted operators’ in sustainable land management. In time, we hope this can lead to WES being a gateway scheme to obtaining public funding for environmental projects.

“It is a really exciting time to be a land manager despite the numerous challenges facing the world. Every landholding, no matter location or size, can play a positive role for nature and accreditation such as WES will be vital in encouraging more land managers to strive for better outcomes.”