Penalties could be imposed on farmers in Scotland who allow top-soil to be blown off their fields by the wind, under proposals being considered by the Scottish Executive. This year’s dry spring has triggered soil storms in light soil areas, such as the Moray Firth in north-east Scotland.

Consultation on a Scottish Soil Strategy is due to be launched later this year after the publication of the EU Soil Thematic Strategy and Soil Framework Directive, which has set a common EU framework for action to preserve, protect and restore soils.

“The group of stakeholders advising on soil strategy will consider all relevant threats to soils in Scotland, including wind erosion,” said a Scottish Executive spokesman. “Wind erosion caused by prolonged dry weather during periods when soils are not covered by crops, like in spring, is a problem which could be exacerbated through climate change.”

Wind erosion is likely to come under the Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) rules of cross-compliance and could result in penalties for non-compliance.

A recent report from the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute warned that cultivation practices and exposure of bare soil during the winter can provide the conditions for severe erosion in sandy-textured soils.

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NFU Scotland deputy chief executive, James Withers, said the UK’s record in dealing with EU directives was enough to make farmers understandably nervous. “We need a common sense approach, as it is not a major problem,” said Mr Withers. “There are already many overlapping soil regulations, so we don’t want to add to that if it’s not necessary.”

Moray farmer Colin Manson, chairman of the union’s Highland Region, which includes the Moray Firth, admitted soil erosion was a long-standing problem in the area.

But he said many farmers had taken action to reduce wind-blow by planting hedgerows, spreading rotted dung on fields after rolling, leaving buffer strips and erecting fine-mesh fencing. More farms were also taking grass back into the rotation.

“If anything, the problem is reducing and certainly not getting worse,” said Mr Manson. “I see no reason for burdening farmers with additional rules.”