A group of 70 land use specialists will be called together by the Scottish government this autumn to kick-start a review of how land should be used to best advantage in Scotland.

Rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead is looking to the year-long review to point the way ahead for Scotland by demonstrating how to best use its rural land resource to produce food, create energy and support rural communities.

“Scotland’s rural land is one of our greatest assets,” said Mr Lochhead. “We depend on it for the food on our table and the energy we consume. It dictates where and how we live. It is home to our unique flora and fauna.”

But he added: “To date little has been done to examine how best these competing pressures can be managed as a whole. With new local and global pressures emerging, it is time to take a look at how we use our rural land to everyone’s benefit.”

Scottish lamb

The initial meeting of the 70 specialists in land use, academics and policy, will agree and progress a broad programme of research before a more widely attended land summit takes place in the latter half of 2009.

The research will assess the current and potential contribution of land to food production, energy provision, rural development, forestry expansion and biodiversity protection. It will also inform decisions on climate change mitigation and the government’s national food and drink policy.

“The study and summit will help us look at how to support our rural and urban communities, to reduce our local and global environmental impact and to create sustainable places for us all to live,” said Mr Lochhead.

NFU Scotland has welcomed the study but stressed the importance of food production remaining a priority. There were many competing messages about land use and land users needed clearer signals on what society wants from the land.

“This discussion is coming at a critical time,” said NFUS chief executive, James Withers. “Currently, 75% of the land in Scotland is farmed and in an age where food security has come back to prominence, food production must remain a core objective.”