A debate about the future of rural policy and support for Scottish agriculture and forestry needs to commence regardless of constitutional uncertainty, according to Scottish Land & Estates.

At the heart of this debate will be the structure of support for farms and rural businesses. Scottish Land & Estates supports a long-term strategy of greater emphasis on farming and land management delivering public goods.

The organisation, which represents landowners and rural businesses across Scotland, has today published its new policy paper: A new direction for Scottish land management. The document is the starting point for research being carried out by Scottish Land & Estates over the forthcoming year on the future of rural policy in Scotland.

Scottish Land & Estates believes that there will be an ongoing need to support farming and wider rural land use but also that current policy and support structures will need to change.

David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Scotland needs to develop a fresh vision for what we want the land to deliver and how we see our land-based industries developing in the decades to come. We are pleased today to be setting out our broad position which should give a solid platform for the future regardless of how the constitutional landscape evolves.

“We do not think we can simply seek to maintain the status quo. We need to identify the challenges and opportunities we face and decide what we want rural Scotland to be like in 2030 or beyond so that we can make informed policy choices in the years ahead.”

Scottish Land & Estates believes that in future:

· It will be increasingly important that farming and forestry are able to put forward the strongest justification for ongoing public investment in these sectors.

· There should be a greater emphasis on farming and land management delivering public goods, such as helping mitigate flooding, providing clean water, enhancing biodiversity or reducing carbon emissions.

· In the shorter-term, enhancing the profitability of our land-based businesses needs to be a top priority.

Mr Johnstone added: “We want to continue to make the case for positive reform that delivers for land managers but also for society as a whole. While Scottish Land & Estates does see a need for a long-term change in the nature of support to land-based businesses, it is important to acknowledge the current challenges.

“Given the economic challenges, it is vital that there is a phased transition to a new era to ensure there was no ‘cliff edge’ for rural businesses; we need a managed transition rather than immediate, drastic change. While change is desirable it is also important to be pragmatic and practical and avoid unnecessary damage to our land-based industries.

“In setting out a broad position in our New Direction paper, we hope to make a positive contribution to kick start what we hope will be a constructive debate about the future of the countryside.”