Evidence and emotion: getting the balance right in Scottish land management

Sarah-Jane Laing ,
30 Jan 2019

I think it would be fair to say that most people love Scotland’s countryside. That’s certainly the case with Scotland’s land owners and managers, who live, work or play in our communities. It’s their passion that drives them to invest in and care for rural Scotland, especially in those projects that deliver public benefit rather than an economic return.

We also recognise that there are others who are equally passionate about Scotland’s land but who take issue with some aspects of how it is managed. They are entitled to their opinions and to express emotions about subjects they feel strongly about.

When it comes to decision-making though, we need to base these on facts and evidence, whatever side of the argument we might find ourselves on. Many of the issues that we face as a nation are not straightforward and there are real world consequences of making the wrong decisions, such as poorer rural communities or reduced biodiversity.

We have always put a lot of emphasis on gathering evidence to strengthen our arguments. Sometimes this is empirical, based on quantitative research or other data; at other times, it’s based on the insight that we get from speaking to our members about their experiences on the ground.

It isn’t ever possible to achieve perfect information, but we should still strive for the best quality that we can realistically achieve and use that to guide our decisions. We strongly believe that this should apply equally to all organisations that want to influence laws or other controls that govern what happens in our rural communities.

2019 is set to present our politicians with a number of important choices. The course they take on each is likely to have a material and long-lasting effect, so it’s vital that they are as well-informed as possible. 

What happens on Scotland’s land has long been an emotive topic, and it’s likely to remain that way for a long time to come. The passions on all sides are a potential strength but they can’t be the sole basis on which to make responsible, sustainable decisions. Rather, what we need to do - collectively - is lead with our heads and our hearts together, recognising that both have their place.


Farming and forestry are the vital enterprises that form the backbone of life in rural communities.     Both are essentially long term industries needing continuity of support and financial investment.     Both have to contend with uncertainty including the the vagaries of the weather.

As the dominant enterprises in rural Scotland it is the duty of government to ensure that they operate profitably because without this support  and understanding a myriad of local contractors , builders , plumbers , electricians etc would fail and unemployment would rise and unnecessary misery would be caused to many families.

Failure to ensure a profitable rural community would mean that the environmental benefits generated by numerous generations of families would be neglected.