RURAL businesses must “embrace seismic change” to prosper in the next decade and beyond, the head of a landowners body has said.

David Johnstone, chair of Scottish Land & Estates, made the comments at the organisation’s annual conference yesterday.

With Brexit threatening future agricultural subsidy schemes, Johnstone said the countryside economy must adopt “out-of-the-box thinking” on land use to ensure farmers remain in business.

He told the Edinburgh audience: “We need to rise to challenges and embrace opportunities if we are going to create an even more prosperous and vibrant rural Scotland delivering an increasing range of benefits to wider society.

“I firmly believe that our core rural industries will continue to thrive, but innovative and out-of-the-box thinking is needed for many businesses to diversify and prosper. We must acknowledge that more than 90% of our land is marginal and if agriculture is to flourish, it needs to be part of a mix of land uses that support rather than compete with one another.

“Farming and moorland management is important but so are other land uses such as forestry and tourism. We also continue to see other burgeoning sectors, such as gin production, hospitality and energy.”

Duncan McConchie of Laggan Outdoors said his Dumfries and Galloway firm’s move into tourism and hospitality had complemented its farming enterprise. He said: “We had a farming business and a caravan business and I had to look at new ways to move forward.

“By using just five acres to create an activity centre, that same area of land is now employing 80 people in peak season and has an impact of £2 million into the local economy.

“Change isn’t easy, and it is scary at times, but when it works then the feeling is incredible.”