Research project to explore agricultural policy impacts on island communities

SRUC has been awarded a £100k research grant to gather the views of island communities in Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides on the forthcoming agricultural and land use policy changes.

Led by Steven Thomson, Professor in Agricultural Economics and Policy at SRUC, the project will consider the risks and opportunities for these island communities arising from the proposed agricultural policy changes, as support becomes increasingly ‘conditional’ based on climate and biodiversity outcomes.

It coincides with the current passing of the Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill through the Scottish Parliament and the re-emphasis on global commitments to tackling climate change and biodiversity decline at the recent COP28.

The project will provide a stock take of agriculture on the islands, including long-term trends, as well as considering the additional costs associated with agricultural activity in these areas. It will also consider the relative importance of agriculture, underpinned by agricultural support payments, to the islands’ economies and communities.

Funded by the Scottish Government’s Community Led Local Development Fund, as part of the Scottish Rural Delivery Programme, the project is delivered by the Orkney Local Action Group in collaboration with Orkney Islands Council.

It was commissioned by the Orkney Local Action Group (LAG) which includes Orkney Islands Council, in partnership with Shetland Islands Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and the Local Action Groups from Shetland and the Outer Hebrides.

Working with Andrew Moxey, of Pareto Consulting, and SAC Consulting offices in Lerwick, Kirkwall, Stornoway and Balivanich, the project – which runs until early April – will gather valuable insights from farmers and crofters, stakeholders, supply chains and communities through a combination of in-person and online events, as well as the submission of written views. This will be used to inform recommendations fed back to Scottish Government policy makers.

Professor Thomson said, “This is a very exciting opportunity for us to take a close look at the agricultural situation in these island communities, identifying concerns and opportunities. Speaking also as a Just Transition Commissioner, this project is important as it will allow us to consider, in full, what proposed changes in agricultural policy might mean to agriculture and the wider rural economies on these islands. We know that some island economies are very heavily reliant on agriculture which, when coupled with ageing populations, poses risks to local economies and even to public services.

“While this work has a challenging delivery time frame it can provide a useful template for an Islands Communities Impact Assessment from agricultural policy changes that can be replicated elsewhere, such as in the Inner Hebrides and Clyde Islands.”

Alison Barclay, Community Led Local Development Officer at Orkney Islands Council, speaking on behalf of the Orkney LAG, said, “We are delighted to have worked in partnership with Shetland and Outer Hebrides to commission this essential study.

“It is really important that people now engage with SRUC through their local SAC Consulting office to ensure that this work meets its purpose by capturing the key issues facing island agricultural communities. This will allow the researchers to establish the facts and potential solutions for the future, to ensure future support effectively addresses the changing funding landscape.”


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