Scottish Land & Estates has written to Ian Jardine, Chief Executive of SNH, to seek assurances that some of the current challenges faced by members are understood and will be addressed as we move forward to begin designing the next SRDP. In particular, we have highlighted concerns about SNH’s policy of encouraging landowners to enter the SRDP when their Natural Care management agreement comes to an end and concerns about the difficulties that occur when support schemes end up contradicting each other.
Many members have told us that they do not want to go down the route of entering the SRDP so we have sought to flag with SNH the need to think carefully about how it delivers ongoing SSSI maintenance support. Scottish Land & Estates believes that it is essential that Scottish Government and SNH design an effective scheme that works for applicants: it is in no one’s interests that bureaucratic systems get in the way of conserving the natural heritage.
We emphasised that any future scheme must be built from the applicants’ or land managers’ viewpoint and that from the land managers perspective a simple, easy to access scheme for low value ongoing SSSI maintenance payments would seem to make most sense.
SNH assures us that it is working to address the issues surrounding the SRDP. In particular the move to continuous approval for support on designated sites was specifically aimed at getting past the problems associated with RPACs and that the vast majority of cases have been approved. SNH hopes that the continuous approval process will get past some of the issues that made the SRDP unattractive as a funding route. SNH is also seeking to improve the level of advice that is provided throughout the application process.
SNH has expressed its commitment to working with Scottish Land & Estates to ensure that the future support for the management of designated sites works for land owners.
We also sought to ensure that some of the bizarre unintended consequences of policy change do not happen again. In particular we flagged the cases of those people that have found themselves worse off as a consequence of voluntarily signing up to SSSI management agreements. We highlighted the problems experienced by those who had reduced stock numbers as part of a management agreement when it came to the re-basing of LFASS. Some members have been encouraged by one arm of government to manage the land differently for the benefit of biodiversity and to deliver a public good to society, but they have subsequently found themselves penalised by another arm of government for doing so. This sort of situation could clearly put many off entering any sort of agri-environment scheme for fear of making oneself worse off, a situation that is clearly against everyone’s interest.
While there does not seem to be any immediate resolution for those affected by these rules at present, Scottish Land & Estates is particularly keen to ensure that similar problems do not occur again as LFASS is replaced by the Areas of Natural Constraint designation.