In this blog post, Sniffer’s Climate Resilience Manager, Iryna Zamuruieva, reflects on our recently published Land Use & Climate Change Adaptation in Scotland: Insights report and what it means for the future of land and all the life it supports in Scotland. 

Climate change in Scotland will have increasingly significant impacts on everything and everyone, affecting the systems that sustain the lives of people and other creatures. The interlinked climate and nature crises mean we need different approaches to the ways land in Scotland is owned, used and managed. This is also crucial for how we address related issues of food security, prosperity, wellbeing, and cultural heritage.  

Sniffer’s new report Land Use & Climate Change Adaptation in Scotland: Insights, published as part of the Adaptation Scotland programme, draws on interviews with 42 participants to offer helpful insights into what needs to happen for land use and ownership to contribute to a more climate resilient and flourishing Scotland. 

Reducing emissions to slow down the pace of climate change is crucial, but adapting to its impacts is also important for the future of land as well as the health of people and the environment. Through the Adaptation Scotland programme, we see these impacts first-hand. For example, recently we were in North Uist mapping climate change impacts with the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership. We learned how houses, bridges and roads are affected by more frequent flooding; and places where wildfires are posing an increased threat to grazing areas and livestock. There are many similar impacts across Scotland. It is important we urgently understand how land-related decisions can contribute to building resilience to climate change, both now and in the coming years. 


Scotland is working towards reducing emissions that cause climate change whilst also trying to adapt to the unavoidable impacts. As of 2023, Scotland had two cycles of the main adaptation policy – Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme with the third due to be developed and announced in 2024.  At the UK and Scottish levels, there have been a wealth of documents, websites and reports produced to understand climate change impacts, such as: Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk (with a dedicated Summary for Scotland), Climate Projections for Scotland, 15 key consequences of climate change for Scotland. Yet whilst interviewing our research participants, it became clear that this information is not visible to the wider public, but remains largely within the institutions and networks of public-sector affiliated organisations involved in producing it.  

Talking to the interview participants, we saw that for a land-owning community group or a land-based business, learning about how your activities and your land are impacted by climate change now and in the future is a confusing process. Anyone with access to the internet, TV or radio can easily learn if their area is likely to experience heavy rains over the next few days. However, if you are trying to understand if the house you just bought is likely to flood, if your rental flat in a tenement is going to struggle with overheating, or what crops it might make sense to plant over the next few years – there currently are no straightforward ways to go about answering these questions.  

This makes the simple question of what is to be protected and where, an incredibly difficult one to answer. Our report proposes more nuanced, targeted adaptation communications co-developed in close collaboration with key land use membership bodies, such as Scottish Land and Estates, Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, National Farmers Union Scotland, Landworkers Alliance Scotland, Community Land Scotland, Community Woodland Association, Development Trust Association Scotland and others. In Scotland there already are excellent cases of integrating collaboratively produced climate change knowledge, that include both the environmental and social dimensions. In the report we draw on examples from Dynamic Coast’s Map of coastal erosion disadvantage in Scotland; Highland Adapts’ Climate Story Map; and Climate Ready Clyde’s Climate Vulnerability Map for Glasgow City Region. The latter brings together key climate risks, like flooding and overheating with Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation data, making it clear where to prioritise investment for just adaptation to reduce climate vulnerability.  


However, knowledge will only get us so far. Another prominent topic across our interviews was the need for appropriately designed funding to support long term adaptation and resilience. Currently funding for the land-based climate action is skewed towards woodland planting, while funding for maintenance and care for the existing places, environments, land is extremely sparse. The report makes specific proposals for embedding adaptation across all Tiers of support in the new Agriculture Bill and also establishing targeted funding support to those most vulnerable to climate change impacts. This may involve household grants, long term support to community groups, support for community-led data gathering, infrastructure funding for crofters and farmers, catchment-scale funding for NFM to enable real adaptation on the ground. 


Beyond knowledge and resources, what also matters is how we imagine climate change adaptation in land use. Some participants stated that “adaptation needs to make business sense”reducing costs, avoiding losses, or making a profit – a tricky proposition when dealing with the uncertainties of climate change impacts. Mainstream responses to the shortfall in adaptation finance emphasise the need to develop adaptation revenue streams, and for the private sector to play a greater role in funding nature-based solutions, alongside efforts to ensure natural capital contributes to the just transition. Our report considers these options, as well as a broader range of views that go beyond market-driven logics to explore land commoning and economic redistribution through a more just tax system, valuing land first and foremost for its life-supporting capacity. This is especially important in the context of drastic land ownership inequality (something the forthcoming Land Reform Bill will hopefully address) and the dramatic land price increase we’ve seen over the past couple of years. It is important to recognise that land has intrinsic values beyond economic considerations, and this needs to be reflected in decisions about current and future land use. 


Finally, historic context. We need to learn to see climate change adaptation in the historic context of land use decisions in Scotland if we are to address the root causes of climate vulnerability. One of the interview participants speaking from the Highlands and Islands stressed that the current implementation of climate change policies can feel like “the new Highland Clearances, referring to the perception of how decisions about local land, historic fishing sites have been made remotely without involvement of those affected by these decisions. A fair and just approach to adaptation in Scotland can learn from other places working to embed indigenous knowledges into decisions, not in a tokenistic “inclusion” way, but in a way that gives more power and resources to these communities. The report identifies several ways how this can be addressed in Scotland. 

As you read the report, I invite you to imagine not only the new policies we need, but the very specific corners and edges of Scotland that you know and love: what the next few decades, when we’ll see more of climate change unravelling, will look like for them, for us? The report offers no quick fix solutions, but for me these four stand out: knowledge, money, imagination and history. What we know about the land and how its affected by climate change matters. How and where the money is invested determines who becomes vulnerable or resilient. How we understand history and imagine what is to be done in the first place underpins the first two. There are plenty more things that matter for building resilient, flourishing futures and I invite you to delve into the report to explore them 


*Dùthchas is a concept of the connectedness and inter-relationships between land, people and culture. This Gaelic concept cannot be directly translated into English. At its heart is the idea of unity existing between land, people, all living creatures, nature and culture. The term summarises local conceptualisations and understanding of specific habitats, hyper-local knowledge, sustainable practices and agricultural history – essentially how to live well, but live lightly in a certain place.