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Between 1970 and 1999 about 25,000ha of agricultural land were converted to recreational use. This was equivalent to the area of land converted to roads, housing and industrial development during the same period (Birnie et al., 2002). However, these apparent changes are possibly less significant than indirect recreational effects. Principal amongst these is “horsiculture” (Quetier and Gordon 2003). Data from the SEERAD JAC indicate that between 1983 and 1999 there was a 145% increase in horse numbers in the former Grampian Region. Particularly high proportions of agricultural holdings within the Aberdeen travel to work area report keeping horses. However, this is likely to be significantly under-reported since the JAC does not collect information from non-agricultural rural households, other studies suggest that 80% of horses are kept where their owners live (Mellor et al., 2001) and it has been shown that for a given area of Scotland horse numbers were more than three times that recorded in the JAC.

By underestimating the increase in horse numbers particularly in the travel to work areas of the major urban centres we fail to capture a major contemporary land use change and particularly its economic and environmental impacts. No research has been carried out on these impacts.

Diversification of agricultural cropping

Scotland ’s cereal area fell to a 30-year low in 2005. The JAC shows that combinable crop area fell by 6% to around 457,000ha, the lowest since 1973. The greatest reduction was in winter barley (8%), followed by wheat (5.5%) and spring barley (5.4%). It is thought that the main driver of this change is CAP reform and further reductions are envisaged by the NFUS. The advent of the SFP also means that growers have more cropping choice particularly in the niche and non-food sector. The main candidate crops are thought to be:

  • Linseed : offers high contract prices; can be grown on set-aside land; added value markets in animal feed markets
  • Biodiesel : contracts available for spring or winter oilseed rape (double-low types only); can grow rape or cereal crops as fuel for home use.
  • Bioethanol : cereals and sugar beet are potential sources but no contracts or processing facilities; bioethanol plants are planned.
  • Fibre : contracts for 2006 for hemp not on set-aside are available.
  • HEAR : High Erucic Acid Rape is a long-standing industrial crop. HEAR varieties require isolation from conventional rape; contracts are available and HEAR can be grown on set-aside.
  • Niche Crops : There is a list of pharmaceutical contracts including borage, echium and camelina (not on set-aside), crambe and hemp seed and fibre (which can be grown on set aside).

It is likely that some of these cropping alternatives will become more important in the next decade but they will be highly dependent on market price and processing capacity. Grant incentives would also affect their adoption and potentially facilitate market developments.

Biomass fuels Related to forestry and agriculture >>