THERE are pigs sheltering in woodlands, cattle grazing rotationally to promote soil capture carbon, teams of slug-slaying chickens for pest control purposes, while native hedgerows provide natural supplements needed for animal health.

Welcome to Scottish farming of the future, which it is claimed must play a crucial role in helping Scotland meet its targets for net-zero carbon emissions by 2045.

Food producers and advocates insist we need to support farmers – rather than demonise them as emission producing “bad guys” – helping them take their place at the forefront of the fight against climate change.

Earlier this month an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommended people eat more plant-based foods, less meat and dairy, and opt for sustainably produced food in order to reach essential targets to cut emissions.

Some said the report did not go far enough in stressing the high carbon cost of meat, which is has been calculated by numerous reports to be tens of times higher than the production of plant-based crops. However, others insist that the IPPC claims that we must reduce meat and dairy rather than cut them entirely in order to create a carbon sustainable food system are realistic.

Scottish scientists and food producers told the Sunday National that many Scottish farmers are already adopting innovative climate-friendly practices that take into account the “physical realities” of our grass-covered landscape. It is argued that more support is needed to help others adapt.

Edinburgh University climate change and carbon scientist David Reay said: “In lots of parts of the world all you’ve got is grazers like sheep and goats converting what the grass they eat – which to us is really inedible – into milk and meat. A blanket “no meat” policy ignores the reality in terms of where we get our food from, and it’s not necessary for our climate future.”

Reay, who is the landowner of a 30-hectare farm where he is testing the effectiveness of agroforestry – planting trees on grazing or cropping land which both captures carbon and provides animals with shelter, added: “The farmers I know are feeling either angry or afraid and besieged and it’s wrong. It’s important that we value our farmers – these are the people on the frontline charged with helping us deliver net-zero while still getting food on the table.

“If we support them in the right way by changing the subsidy regime and try and help them reduce emission and make it possible for those who want to plant trees and sequester carbon [remove it from the atmosphere and store it in soil or plants].

“The farming community here – and around the world – can be champions in terms of addressing climate change in and food security.”

He believes that Brexit is “a huge risk” for Scotland. But he said “the one bright side” is an opportunity to replace “the blunt instrument” of the European wide Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies with a Scottish specific alternative system, taking into account the need to lower emissions as well as regional variations in farming methods.

Pete Ritchie, director of Nourish – which campaigns for a more sustainable Scottish food system – said: “New patterns of farming could be crucial, providing food for everyone while also addressing climate change. A lot of farmers in Scotland simply can’t produce quinoa or avocados no matter how much some might like that.

“But we can change production methods, manage soils better, put in trees and hedgerows, plant different sorts of grasses – there is a lot we can do to offset by capturing carbon in the soil. Converting to organic can be the right thing to do, or looking at agroforestry – it’s great for cattle because they can get shelter and shade, but it also captures more carbon, and a lot of Scotland’s land is suitable for it.

“From an ethical viewpoint, there is a perfectly good argument to be made for choosing to be vegan. But we don’t need everyone to be vegan to have a sustainable food system.”

While farmers were facing extreme challenges in the face of the uncertainty of Brexit, he insisted there could be “bright futures” for those adopting more carbon-friendly practices.

Amongst those driving innovative solutions forward are Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer, who keep hens, pigs and cattle on the multi-award-winning Lynbreck Croft in the Cairngorms. The young crofters were appointed as sustainable, low-carbon farming champions by the Scottish Government earlier this year. Cassells said some of the attacks on farming felt “personally and professionally really unfair”.

“Farmers can be a huge part of changes we need to make in terms of the amount of carbon in our soil and increasing biodiversity,” she added. In the last 3.5 years, the pair have been “farming with the environment” on the 150-acre site and claim that their methods have been borrowed from large scale operations that could be widely adopted across Scotland.

They have planted trees, including willow which can be used as feed, making the farm less dependant on the grass and rotational grazing. “We have a mobile hen house which we move every five-seven days, so they eat bugs, scratch out the moss and are an essential part of our grassland restoration team,” she added. The woods offer shelter for their native breed pigs in the winter.

Robert Fleming of Castle Sinniness Farm, in Galloway – another young farming champion – manages a herd of 220 Aberdeen-Angus are fed with grass and homegrown crops rather than imported cereals.

“It’s about going back to basics, taking care of our soils and justifying every input,” he said. “It’s about correcting the pH balance and using legumes and clovers to naturally fix nitrogen into the soil. The better it is for our grazers, the more carbon we sequester.”

Sam Parsons, estate manager at Balcaskie farm in Fife which is in the process of organic conversion, claims that rotational “mob grazing” techniques, where grazing animals are moved on rotation with long recovery periods for grasses in between have helped create more stable grasslands with better soil.

It means cows can be wintered in the fields for far longer – a reduction of 180 days to 60, which reduces costs, while deeper grassroots hold more carbon. “It means we are more resilient under pressure,” he added. “We’ve been planting trees and hedges to put in more shelter. We’ve previously put these animals into a monoculture [just grass] and wondered why they needed mineral supplements.”

David Michie, deputy director of the Soil Association Scotland, said they have been working with farmers to develop a wide range of climate-friendly solutions. It also runs a peer-to-peer “field lab”, testing low-carbon solutions such as mob grazing.

Michie added: “Farmers can be part of the climate change and biodiversity solution, but what we produce, and the way we produce it has to change. In a climate emergency business as usual just won’t cut it.

“This is a big ask for individual farmers, so at a political level there is a need for a strategic look at Scottish farming: what is grown where, and why, and how we can support our farmers to produce food in a way that will tackle the climate emergency, not contribute to it?”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said farmers and crofters were “hugely valued” as part of the solution to tackling climate change, “Scottish agriculture already has a positive story to tell. As we face a climate emergency, it is more vital than ever that farmers and crofters move towards a low-carbon, environmentally sustainable future. We need to develop policies that maintain our status as a high-quality producer as well as an integrated approach that will ensure that Scotland’s land assets play their part in responding to the global climate emergency.”