From Durness in the north, down the western seaboard and across to the Cairngorms, some 40% of Scotland has been identified as High Nature Value farmland. This is where traditional farming and crofting methods – primarily livestock production – have created a rich diversity of wildlife habitats, home to corncrakes, corn buntings, flag iris, great yellow bumblebees and marsh fritillary butterflies, to name just a few species.
Farmland everywhere in Scotland can be managed to create space for wildlife but it is in our HNV areas where farming is in greatest harmony with nature and the balance between food production and the environment most closely achieved. Maintaining this delicate balance offers the best hope of securing the future not just for wildlife but for the people and communities that live there.
What is it about HNV farming and crofting systems that makes them so special for wildlife? In general, these are low input-low output types of farming. Grazing by cattle and sheep, often using traditional breeds, at the right times of year creates the conditions for wildlife to thrive. Low intensity arable cropping is also found in some places, for example, alongside machair grasslands in parts of the Western Isles. Although some more ‘intensive’ farming practices can be found in HNV areas, the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides remains relatively low compared to farming in other parts of Scotland.
Farming and crofting in HNV areas is not an easy occupation. Harsh climatic conditions, poor soils and distance from markets conspire to make it difficult to earn a living from the land. Financial returns from the food produced there are low and alternative income streams are limited, although tourism – with visitors attracted by the stunning landscapes and wildlife – is a lifeline for some communities. Faced with such low financial returns, many HNV farmers and crofters are under pressure to either adopt more intensive farming practices in order to increase production or to give up production completely. Both courses of action spell disaster for the natural environment.
Financial support for farmers and crofters across Scotland as a whole is delivered through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). HNV farmers and crofters currently get a low share of the c.£650 million CAP budget spent each year in Scotland. This has to change if traditional farming and crofting systems are to survive and the benefits they deliver be secured for future generations.View Case Studies of HNV farming in action in Scotland ›
Photo credits: Loch Corr (Louise Muir, RSPB), Highland cows grazing machair on Isle of Tiree (Jamie Boyle, RSPB), Orchid on Isle of Coll (Andy Robinson, RSPB)