‘Wildlife like lapwings need natural habitats created by grazing livestock to survive’
Grazing livestock benefit upland biodiversity by creating habitats for wild species such as lapwings. Fraser et al (2014) concluded that grazing systems that also included semi-natural rough grazing consistently supported more species of birds and butterflies, and it was possible to incorporate bouts of summer grazing of these pastures by cattle to meet habitat management prescriptions without compromising cattle performance overall. Furthermore, this study has demonstrated that mixed upland grazing systems not only improve livestock production, but also benefit biodiversity, suggesting a ‘win-win’ solution for farmers and conservationists (Fraser, Moorby, Vale, & Evans, 2014).
A summary of research outputs from the Scottish Government’s ‘Environment – Land Use and Rural Stewardship’ Research Programme found that marked falls in sheep numbers and grazing systems have led to fears that subsequent under-grazing might lead to changes in vegetation and the loss of particular habitats and thereby impact adversely on a large number of upland habitats and species of nature conservation concern (Pakeman, 2011). This further substantiates how grazing livestock increases the biodiversity of species by aiding in the creation of suitable habitats.
Grazing livestock can promote soil health to increase biodiversity by focusing more on how the food is produced. For example, the ruminants (e.g. sheep and cows) are 100% pasture-fed. In lowland situations they’re integrated with arable farming, in upland or highland situations they’re managed in a way to support biodiversity and wildlife, be that integration with trees, or conservation grazing. The grazing animals have access to a diverse pasture and are managed in a way that mimics their natural behaviour in the wild, such as mob grazing (Heffron, 2016).
Grazing and Iconic Countryside
‘Grass grazed by livestock captures carbon dioxide from the air and stores it in the soil.’
The lands ruminants (e.g. sheep and cows) graze on contain large stores of carbon, and crucially, that the animals’ grazing actions actually stimulate the sequestration of carbon in soils. What is more, the nitrogen in their manure can substitute for energy intensive synthetic fertiliser inputs, also leading to avoided emissions. As to the methane these animals emit, a distinction should be made between the climatic effects of this potent but short-lived gas and the permanent impacts of fossil fuel-generated carbon dioxide. In any case wild herbivores also produce methane; farmed ruminants simply substitute for the vast numbers that used to roam the planet and that we have hunted to extinction. In fact, a move away from grass-based ruminant production could – the argument continues – actually make climatic matters worse rather than better, since a global shift towards diets rich in commodity oils, grains, sugars and the pig and poultry products whose production depends on arable crops will cause pastures to be ploughed up, leading to soil carbon and biodiversity losses. In other words, grass-fed beef – the argument runs – is not just good, but essential to a low emitting sustainable food system. Grasslands have enormous potential for storing carbon (C) in the soil. Carbon sequestration improves soil health, makes soils more resilient to extreme weather events, contributes to climate change mitigation and can benefit pasture quality. In sustainable livestock grazing systems, the key challenge is to find the best type of management to combine animal production with soil ecosystem services such as carbon storage, nutrient cycling and biodiversity.
‘Scotland’s livestock farmers look after our iconic countryside for everyone to enjoy.’
Britain’s hills and upland areas are some of the most beautiful in the world, with elevated areas of dramatic features such as hills, moors, valleys and mountains. Not only do they provide us with iconic landscapes, they also play a crucial role in producing high quality, safe and sustainable food for the nation – through the grazing of cattle and sheep – on land that could otherwise not be used for other means of food production.
Moderate grazing by both sheep and cattle supports:
- diverse swards (areas of short grass) – which benefit many kinds of insects, plants and ground nesting birds
- patches of short vegetation – which form good breeding sites for waders like lapwing, redshank and golden plover
- areas of tall herbs – favoured by species like curlew
- abundant populations of insects – which feed on cattle dung
- scavenging birds – which feed on carrion
Manure as a Natural Fertiliser
‘Manure from livestock is a great natural fertiliser for growing cereals and vegetables’
Lack of soil organic matter (SOM) is one of the most common deficiencies in degraded soils, and SOM is the main indicator of soil quality and health (Lehman et al., 2015). The presence of sufficient SOM supports crop production and ecosystem stability by improving water and nutrient retention, nutrient cycling, carbon transformation, soil biodiversity, soil structure and soil aggregation (Wolf and Snyder, 2003). As also stated by the recent FAO Voluntary Guidelines on Sustainable Soil Management (VGSSM), the adoption of agricultural practices that build and retain SOM are therefore an important pillar of sustainable crop production (FAO, 2017a). The supply of manure to agricultural soils is an ancient practice and a well-tested strategy to increase SOM, replenish basic plant nutrients, improve yield response to fertilizers and to restore soil productivity in degraded areas (Rufino et al., 2007; Schröder, 2005; Bogaard et al., 2013; Nezomba et al., 2015).
Suitability of Land
‘80% of Scottish farmland is not suitable for growing cereals and vegetables but ideal for beef and lamb production.’
Source: Final Results of the June 2018 Agricultural Census
|+ Rough grazing||3,044,620|
|+ Common grazings||579,847|
|Total sole right agricultural area||5,603,862|
|+ Common grazings||579,847|
Scotland’s land is mostly used for agriculture. An estimated 80 per cent of Scotland’s land area is agricultural land, roughly 6.2 million hectares. Scotland’s land quality is generally quite poor. Over 5.73 million hectares of Scottish land is classified as “Less-Favoured Area” (LFA) land. LFA land has a natural disadvantage which makes agricultural production difficult. Due to the poor land quality most of Scotland’s agricultural land is used for livestock grazing. Over 3.6 million hectares of Scotland’s land is rough or common grazing; a further 1.3 million hectares is grass. Only 574,000 hectares of Scottish land is used for crops or fallow.
The Land Capability for Agriculture (LCA) classification is used to rank land on the basis of its potential productivity and cropping flexibility. This is determined by the extent to which the physical characteristics of the land (soil, climate and relief) impose long term restrictions on its use. The LCA is a seven-class system. Four of the classes are further subdivided into divisions. Class 1 represents land that has the highest potential flexibility of use whereas Class 7 land is of very limited agricultural value. The LCA classification is applied through a series of guidelines that allows a high degree of consistency of classification between users. The classification is based upon a number of assumptions. These specifically include the potential flexibility of cropping and agricultural options, assuming a high level of management. However, they exclude other factors, such as distance to market and individual landowner choices, all of which can influence actual land use decisions.
Livestock Farming & Greenhouse Emissions
‘Transport, industry and power account for approx. 68% of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock farming accounts for around 5%.’
Almost half of all agricultural emissions (47%) are due to enteric fermentation arising from the digestive process of cattle and sheep. Agricultural soils accounts for a further 24% of emissions, 16% from managing waste and manure, and a further 10% from the running of stationary and mobile machinery. These shares have been almost constant since 1990.
The Animal Welfare Charter
‘Achieving high animal welfare is the top priority in Scotland’s world-leading quality assurance standards.’
‘Scotland’s farmers care deeply about their animals and work closely with the Scottish SPCA’
The QMS Animal Welfare and Wellbeing Charter recognises the five freedoms of animal welfare and wellbeing and is a guiding principle for all QMS assurance schemes, which are supported and approved by the Scottish SPCA, Scotland’s independent animal welfare charity. The Charter also reflects the importance of animal welfare to the long-term growth of red meat production in Scotland and consumers’ growing expectation of high standards of animal welfare. It contains a number of key guiding principles including: the encouragement of good animal welfare practices; collaboration between QMS and statutory agencies responsible for animal welfare, avoiding any conflict of interest; and the adoption of a practical approach to animal welfare (focusing on management regimes, stock husbandry and animal behaviour). The guiding principles of the Charter are embedded in all QMS Quality Assurance Schemes and activities, ensuring existing high standards of welfare in the production of red meat industry in Scotland – from farm to processor.
The Scottish SPCA strives to educate consumers to make informed animal welfare decisions regarding the products they buy and encourages members of the public to be aware of the source of any animal product that they purchase. We recommend that members of the public purchase produce that is supplied through a recognised, independently monitored, quality assurance scheme. Produce should not be purchased from countries which do not have the equivalent UK welfare standards. The Scottish SPCA already works closely with QMS (Quality Meat Scotland) and Acoura by carrying out joint inspections with QMS approved livestock farms and supports their assurance schemes in particular with regards to the pig industry.
Red Meat and Human Health
‘Red meat is a natural source of essential nutrients enjoyed by 95% of the UK population’
Red meat has always been an important part of the human diet. When included as part of a healthy varied diet, red meat provides a rich source of high biological value protein and essential nutrients, some of which are more bioavailable than in alternative food sources. The iron found in beef for example is more easily absorbed than the iron found in plant based foods. Particular nutrients in red meat have been identified as being in short supply in the diets of some population groups. Red meat has been found to provide key nutrients for infants, adolescents, women of childbearing age and older adults. 1. Nutrients such as iron, zinc, Vitamin B12 and phosphorus are all found in lean red meat.2 Lean red meat has also been found to improve satiety1 – the sense of fullness and satisfaction, therefore having the potential to aid weight control. As part of the “Eatwell Guide” the UK Government recommends we consume a maximum of 70g cooked meat per person, per day, and if eating over 90g per day to consider reducing the amount.3 The key though is that red meat can be eaten as part of a healthy balanced diet.
‘Around 50,000 jobs are supported by the Scottish red meat industry – often in areas with fewer work opportunities’
Scottish Government input-output tables summarising output, income and employment multipliers (Type 1) show an employment multiplier for Agriculture of 1.3 in 2015 and for meat process an employment multiplier of 2.3. The same data source but showing type 2 multipliers show agriculture employment multiplier of 1.5 and meat processing of 2.7.
Personal communications with Scottish Government for deeper analysis of the number of people working on farms (collected from the annual June agricultural census) with cattle, sheep or pigs present showed a total employment of 43,230. Applying type one multipliers to this then suggest that the cattle, sheep and pig sector lifts employment to 56,200 and using the wider type 2 multiplier pushes this out to 64,845. Our annual survey of the primary meat processing sector shows employment of approx. 3,000 which when the multiplier is applied lifts to 6,900 under type 1 and 8,100 under type 2. This would support a statement that in excess of 50,000 people in the Scottish economy have some dependence on the cattle sheep and pig sector for their employment. Converting on farm employment to full time equivalent on the basis of standard labour requirements indicates that FTE of staff on farms involved in beef, sheep and pigs would be 26,180; applying the type one multiplier to this gives an employment of 34,300 (ref an assessment of the economic contribution of Scotland’s red meat supply chain – QMS 2016). While this is based on full time equivalents it must be recognised that most farms with cattle, sheep and pigs also have other agricultural enterprise and the people employed on farms work in other agricultural sectors like arable crop production. Combining these two assessments suggest that the red meat sector of the Scottish Economy generates a total employment of between 34,000 and 64,000. The lower estimate being Full time equivalents and the upper estimate total people with some work generated by cattle sheep and pig production and processing. In 2018 the output of the production of animals for meat production (i.e. excluding milk production) is £1.21bn (ref Red Meat Industry Profile 2019 Edition – QMS 2019) and applying an output multiplier (from Scottish government from 2015 see above) of 1.4 (type 1) and 1.6 (type) then puts the output of the red meat sector lies between £1.7bn and £1.93. Average agricultural output over the past three years has been £1.18 so broadly £1.2bn and using multipliers converts to £1.7 to £1.9bn for average over past three years.
Fraser, M. D., Moorby, J. M., Vale, J. E., & Evans, D. M. (2014). Mixed Grazing Systems Benefit both Upland Biodiversity and Livestock Production. Plos.
Pakeman, R. (2011). Biodiversity and Farming: A summary of research outputs from the Scottish Government’s ‘Environment – Land Use and Rural Stewardship’ Research Programme. Aberdeen: Macaulay Land Use Research Institute.