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Farming's Contribution to the Environment

Farming’s contribution to the environment can be measured in a number of ways. Along with other features such as woods and forests, agriculture shapes the landscape on which much of our leisure and tourism industry is based. In some parts of the country this means cultivated, relatively gentle landscape, while in others farming practice results in the wider biodiversity and flora and fauna with which we are all familiar. Some areas of Scotland are recognised as needing particular protection. In those areas, farmers are encouraged, and where appropriate assisted, to manage their land in ways which preserve and enhance its natural heritage interest.

The Government commissioned the Countryside Survey 2000 to find out about the landscape and habitats of Great Britain. The Survey builds on surveys undertaken in previous years (1990, 1984 and 1978) and therefore assesses the changes in our countryside. The Survey's conclusions included:
• Plant diversity has increased in arable fields especially in the boundaries of fields.
• Plant diversity continued to decline in the least agriculturally improved grasslands of Great Britain.
• There was no significant difference in 1990 and 1998 estimates of hedgerow length. There's some evidence that losses in the early 1990s have been reversed.
• Broadleaved woodland expanded by 9% in Scotland.
• The number of lowland ponds increased by around 6% between 1990 and 1998 in Great Britain.
• The biological condition of streams and small rivers improved in Great Britain. Over 25% of sites improved in condition and only 2% were downgraded.
• Streamside vegetation became more overgrown. Fen, marsh and swamp increased by 19% in Scotland.
• More broadleaved woodland was created on formerly developed land than was lost to new development in Great Britain in the 1990s.

Rural Scotland and farmers can also play a huge role in tackling climate change. They can grow arable crops to produce biodiesel, and woody crops for biomass production to deliver renewable heat and power. Likewise, processing animal fats and crops into biodiesel can reduce Scotland's carbon emissions significantly, and the development of biogas technology to capture methane from slurry can deliver renewable heat systems.

Scotland's farmers can also provide a local food source which could, in many cases, prevent produce (for example lamb from New Zealand or beef from South America) from being needlessly transported to the UK from the other side of the world causing environmental damage in the form of 'food miles'.

 

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