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Scope and Purpose

Overview of the 1991 State of the Scottish Environment Report

KEY environmental impacts

The key environmental impacts of agriculture identified in the 1991 State of the Scottish Environment report (Dargie and Briggs, 1991) are summarised below in the order originally presented:




peat erosion; localised overgrazing effects due to expansion of the national sheep flock; wind and water erosion of arable land often associated with tillage for winter wheat; the effects of intense field drainage in the periods 1935-50 and 1970-85 especially in Caithness, Tayside, Lothian and Borders.

Need for more detailed information on extent of soil erosion in upland Scotland and on blanket peats. Research on erosional processes and controlling factors (especially anthropogenic components) and soil restoration.

Farmland wildlife

localised reductions in bird diversity and common bird numbers due to intensification of arable farming (noted that the major problem pesticides aldrin/dieldrin were withdrawn from use as seed treatments in the 1970s following high bird deaths); continued persecution of “perceived pest species”; loss of semi-natural grasslands through drainage and re-seeding; conversion of heather moorland to grassland by sheep grazing.

Fresh and marine waters

localised and temporary slurry and silage pollution events but new legislation introduced under The Control of Pollution Regulations; leaching of fertilizers especially N and P contributing to eutrophication of nutrient-poor waters including marine systems and general rises in nitrate in major rivers (e.g. Clyde and Tweed); serious but localised (e.g. small rivers in Forth and Tay catchments) problem of water abstraction for irrigation.

Information on the extent of eutrophication in smaller lowland lochs and ponds required to assess the possible impact of agricultural nutrients

use of heavy machinery for ground improvements and drainage has damaged and destroyed sites through removal of field boundaries, upstanding earthworks and stone monuments, especially in arable areas; soil erosion is an active problem; isolated upstanding sites in areas of intensive agriculture are often not managed resulting in damage from invasive plants and animals, stone and rubbish dumping; localised damage through trampling by domestic stock; statutory protection does not yet cover all sites of national importance (4,800 scheduled out of c.18,000) and although management agreements are available for protected sites, take up has been poor.

Information on the extent of damage to the cultural heritage in terrestrial and aquatic environment is limited and would benefit from more data to assess the problem.
LINKED ISSUES Acid deposition on sensitive soils; enhanced nitrogen deposition (primarily from intensive animal production) on sensitive upland and mire habitats

Dargie and Briggs (1991) concluded that there were signs “that a watershed has been reached in terms of the significance of environmental policy”, however restructuring of the NCC and Clause 12 of the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991, allowing retrospective challenges against SSSI designations, gave cause for concern. The indirect effects of non-environmental policy were also of concern, particularly reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. They observed that: “the potential impacts of policy change on the Scottish environment are far from clear, demonstrating the need to integrate environmental considerations into other policy areas” (p.73).

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