Seismic change required to grow Scotland's rural economy

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Press Release

Scotland’s rural businesses need to embrace seismic change and break the barriers that exist between land uses in order to flourish in the next decade and beyond.

David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, made the comments as he addressed the rural business organisation’s annual conference in Edinburgh today.

With Scottish agriculture facing an uncertain future due to the unknown shape of future subsidy regimes, Mr Johnstone said it was crucial that the rural economy adapted to create new business ventures but also ensure farming was a valuable proposition moving forward.

Mr Johnstone said: “We need to rise to challenges and embrace opportunities if we are going to create an even more prosperous and vibrant rural Scotland delivering an increasing range of benefits to wider society. 

“I firmly believe that our core rural industries will continue to thrive, but innovative and out-of-the-box thinking is needed for many businesses to diversify and prosper. We must acknowledge that more than 90% of our land is marginal and if agriculture is to flourish, it needs to be part of a mix of land uses that support rather than compete with one another. 

“Farming and moorland management is important but so are other land uses such as forestry and tourism. We also continue to see other burgeoning sectors, such as gin production, hospitality and energy. Crucially, Scottish land use is facing global challenges as well as those driven by agendas closer to home. We should be under absolutely no illusion that the countryside has its part to play in reducing our carbon footprint, but it also has an enormous potential to provide some of the solutions to the wider global problem and assist the delivery of public goods.”

Mairi Gougeon, Minister for Rural Affairs and Natural Environment for the Scottish Government, gave the keynote address at the conference exploring the business opportunities that will arise as carbon footprint is reduced.

The willingness to innovate has been at the heart of Laggan Outdoors’ success, an adventure and recreational centre based in Dumfries & Galloway. Owned by the McConchie family, the last decade has witnessed the creation of a thriving tourism and hospitality business sitting alongside their farming enterprise.

Duncan McConchie, owner of Laggan Outdoors, said: “Our family has been farming since 1911 and we’ve had to change and innovate in order to sustain the business and support more people.

“In 2007, we had a farming business and a caravan business and I had to look at new ways to move forward. We had 1,500 acres of farmland, which included 1,000 acres of rough hill terrain. By using just five acres to create an activity centre, that same area of land is now employing 80 people in peak season and has an impact of £2 million into the local economy. 

“Change isn’t easy, and it is scary at times, but when it works then the feeling is incredible.”