High Nature Value Farming Indicators established for Scotland

Published on 17 October 2011 in Ecosystems and biodiversity , Food, health and wellbeing


A previous Knowledge Scotland Research Briefing (Identifying And Supporting High Nature Value Farming Systems, May 2009) has provided a background to the development of the European High Nature Value (HNV) farming systems concept. That Briefing highlighted that there was a requirement (set by the European Commission) to establish a baseline of the extent of HNV farming systems occurring in Scotland and to develop mechanisms to track trends in that HNV farming system resource within the life-span of the 2007-2013 Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP). Although not a focus of that briefing, there was also a requirement to establish a similar baseline and track trends in Scotland’s HNV forestry system resource.

To achieve this, the Scottish Government established a small High Nature Value Farming and Forestry Indicators Technical Working Group, comprising Scottish Government analysts, scientists and policy advisor together with representation from Forestry Commission Scotland, RSPB Scotland, SAC and Scottish Natural Heritage. The remit of the group was “To assess the feasibility of producing HNV indicators for Scotland by exploring data availability and associated methodological issues”. The findings of the Group were recently published on the Scottish Government’s website.

HNV Farming - Percentage of UAA Estimated to be HNV

Key Points

Scotland is the first country in the United Kingdom to assess the extent and broad distribution of High Nature Value Farming and Forestry systems.

The report highlights that in 2009 2,284,000 ha (equivalent to 40%) of Scotland’s Utilised Agricultural Area was estimated to be under HNV farming systems, while in 2010 529,000 ha (equivalent to 41% ) of the woodland area of Scotland was under High Nature Value forestry systems.

Crofting and common grazings are an important element of Scotland’s HNV farming system resource. For example, although common grazings only cover about 9% of Scotland’s agricultural land, over 20% of the agricultural land under HNV farming systems was on common grazings.

Given their overall HNV farming system importance, there is a need to know much more about crofting and common grazings and how aspects of their management and underlying nature conservation value may be changing.

In this respect, a recent assessment of some of the underlying issues conducted by the European Forum on Nature Conservation & Pastoralism (Trends in Common Grazing: first steps towards an integrated needs-based strategy) has provided recommendations as to what could be done to obtain more information on Scotland’s common grazings.

Research Undertaken

SAC provided advice and guidance on how best to asses the extent and broad distribution of HNV farming systems across Scotland. The approach taken focussed on characterising the livestock grazing systems occurring in Scotland’s islands, hills and uplands.

HNV farming systems in Scotland are particularly associated with livestock grazing systems where a high proportion of the on-farm forage and fodder resource comes from semi-natural habitats such as species-rich machair grassland, moorland and heathland.

Data drawn from annually collected agricultural statistics was used to estimate the number and extent of farm holdings with HNV farming system characteristics. The proportion of rough grazing on the farm holding was used as a surrogate for the amount of semi-natural habitat which may form the available forage and fodder resource. This was combined with a broad calculation of livestock densities at the holding level as a surrogate for the intensity at which those forage resources were utilised across each farm holding.

This approach allowed Scottish Government statisticians to estimate that 44% of Scotland’s agricultural land was under High Nature Value farming systems in 2007, 43% in 2008 and 40% in 2009. The decline between 2007 and 2009 is likely to be associated with the retreat of farming from Scotland’s hills which has been highlighted in previous SAC (Farming’s retreat from the hills) and SNH (An analysis of the impact on the natural heritage of the decline in hill farming in Scotland) reports.

Policy Implications

A large proportion of Scotland’s agricultural area is under HNV farming systems, but changes in these farming systems in Scotland’s islands, hills and uplands have increased since European-wide changes to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) support mechanisms were implemented in 2005. There is therefore a need to consider not only what types of HNV farming-specific support mechanisms are required in Scotland but also what policy framework will ensure that such support can be developed and implemented effectively.

These needs are made all the more important given the additional changes to CAP support mechanisms scheduled to come into place post-2013. No specific mention of HNV farming systems has been made in the draft text of the CAP Reform proposals released by the European Commission in October 2011. However, it is highly likely that the extent, distribution and condition of HNV farming systems, together with the amount of CAP Rural Development Programme (RDP) support being directed to these systems, will remain as a means by which the European Commission will evaluate each Member States’ RDP.

SAC is currently working with the Scottish Government and Forestry Commission Scotland to consider the impact that current SRDP measures have on HNV farming and forestry systems in Scotland. SAC has also produced a report for the UK Land Use Policy Group (Alternative payment approaches for non-economic farming systems delivering environmental public goods) which could help inform thinking on the development of relevant polices frameworks and strategies.


Dr Davy McCracken Davy.Mccracken@sruc.ac.uk


Ecosystems and biodiversity , Food, health and wellbeing

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