Land and Rivers Management (Support for Farmers)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

8. To ask the Scottish Government what financial and advisory support is available to farmers to better manage land and rivers, including to prevent flooding. (S6O-03093)

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

The agri-environment climate scheme, which the Scottish Government reopened last week, offers support to manage land and rivers. That support includes the availability of more than £4 million to fund irrigation lagoons in order to improve water quality and drainage in rural areas.

In addition, the Farm Advisory Service offers a range of support on water and land management through events, peer-to-peer groups, videos, podcasts and technical notes. There is also advice line support, and up to £1,000 of bespoke consultancy advice is available to all registered agricultural businesses in Scotland.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

After Christmas, I met the families who had been flooded out of their homes in Cupar, and I promised that I would do everything that I could to prevent that happening again.

I am told by experts that part of the solution is to help farmers to cope with extreme weather events due to climate change through additional investment in fields and rivers. However, AECS, which the cabinet secretary talked about, is not primarily about flooding and dealing with those issues, and the flood bank repair fund, which she did not mention, is about repairing rather than adapting.

Will the cabinet secretary establish a new fund that will help farmers and landowners to deal with the effects of flooding, so that I can go back to my residents in Cupar and tell them that I have done everything that I possibly can?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

The member raises a hugely important point. I was sorry to hear about the impact on his constituents. Having experienced similar events in my constituency, I know how devastating the impact of flooding events can be.

I appreciate what the member said about AECS and the flood bank repair scheme. I am not in a position today to commit to a new fund, because the issue does not necessarily sit in my portfolio; it involves working with colleagues across Government, and particularly Màiri McAllan. However, we have committed to have a discussion with our regulators and farmers. That started from a commitment relating to water scarcity in the summer last year. However, with the events that we have seen over the winter, we know that we need to consider the issues more in the round, including some of the flooding events that we have seen.

There is a commitment for that work to happen, and I believe that a meeting in relation to that is due to take place next month. By starting that conversation—

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

— we can then look to develop solutions.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you.

I would like to squeeze in a brief supplementary from Rachael Hamilton.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

As Willie Rennie said, in the past few years, parts of Scotland have been devastated by extreme weather and flooding, which has exposed the Scottish National Party’s inability to deal with flooding in Scotland, leaving rural communities behind. What lessons has the Scottish Government learned from the adverse weather? Does the cabinet secretary support a regional catchment management approach to mitigate flood risk? Does she consider that natural flood management interventions should replace traditional prevention schemes as an objective through the lens of the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

First, I state that I am really disappointed with some of those comments. As I outlined in my response to Willie Rennie, I have experienced and seen at first hand in my constituency events that have caused utter devastation on a scale that nobody could have predicted and that no scheme could have prevented, given the sheer scale of the river and water levels that we saw.

As I outlined, it is vital that we look at the issues in the round. We are getting warmer summers with less water and we are experiencing storm events with increasing frequency. We need to look at the issues as a whole, as well as at what we can do at catchment scale on each of those issues. The discussion that I referred to, which is due to take place, will be critical in starting to address that and determining how we move forward.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes portfolio questions on rural affairs, land reform and islands. There will be a brief pause to allow the front-bench teams to change positions for the next portfolio questions.