Land Use and Farming in Modern Scotland

Land Use and Farming in Modern Scotland

In the 1950s, sixties and 70s there was a nationwide drive in the UK to make farming more productive. This brought about intensive farming and the inclusion of more and more marginal land into agriculture. Farming in the Scottish highlands was increasingly mechanised and became significantly less labour-intensive. With the UK’s membership in the EEC in 1772 and later in the EU came a change in Scottish farming. Subsidies became the only way to make hill sheep farming and some other sectors viable. Reforms in the 1990s limited incentives for intensive farming to discourage overproduction and control environmental damage. This led to the emergence of a duel farm structure, where farming was divided between smallholdings or crofts and large commercial farms.

At the beginning of this century almost three quarters of Scotland’s total land area consist of agricultural holdings. At the time, just over half of this was rough grazing. The remaining area was either woodland, ponds, yards, or land for other farm uses. A further 580,000 hectares of common grazing could be added and would bring the agricultural land use in Scotland up to nearly 80%. All of this land was at the time in the hands of only about 350 people. As a result of this, the Scottish Parliament passed a Land Reform Act in 2003, which allowed communities and tenant farmers to purchase land, even if the landlords didn’t intend to sell.

According to the agricultural census in June 2013 the most significant crop grown in Scotland was barley, with nearly three quarters of all crops. Wheat, oilseed rape, oats and potatoes were also grown in significant amounts. The main horticultural crop was strawberries, grown mostly under cover.

Although livestock numbers have fallen in recent years, including the distinctive Highland Cattle, grazing is still by far the biggest land use in Scotland today. Sheep provide by far the largest numbers of livestock in Scotland, followed by cattle. Pigs and poultry are relatively rare.

15 percent of Scotland consists of Forests, which are mostly in public ownership and regulated by the Forestry Commission and by the Highland Council. The timber crops are processed in saw mills and used in the paper production and manufacture of other goods. The forrests also provide recreational spaces.