How climate change affects the way we use our land

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Tea and Talk with the RSE
How climate change affects the way we use our land

In episode four of Tea & Talk with the RSE, RSE Fellows Professor Maggie Gill and Professor Colin Campbell consider land use and climate change.

Maggie is Emeritus Professor in the School of Biology at the University of Aberdeen. She is a former Chief Scientific Advisor, chairs the Scottish Science Advisory Council, which provides independent advice to the Scottish government and has a particular interest in the research/policy interface.

Colin is a guest Professor at the Swedish Agricultural Sciences University in Uppala, sits on the Scottish Government’s Forum for Natural Capital and has a long-standing interest in sustainable development.

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Episode transcript

Please note transcripts are automatically generated, so may feature errors.

[00:00:00] Rebekah Widdowfield: Hello, and welcome to the RSE Tea and Talk podcast series, a program inspired by the coffee houses of the 18th century, where great thinkers would come together to discuss ideas and matters of the day. I’m Rebekah Widdowfield and I’m chief executive of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which is Scotland’s national academy.

Our mission is to advance learning and make knowledge useful. And to do that we are holding conversations with some of our fellows and other leading experts in Scotland to talk about important issues and the challenges that we face as a society. You can find out more about our work on our website at

Today, I’m speaking with Professor Maggie Gill emeritus professor in the school of biology at the university of Aberdeen and Professor Colin Campbell, Chief Executive from the James Hutton Institute.

Maggie is a chief scientific advisor and chairs, the Scottish science advisory council, which provides independent advice to the Scottish government and has a particular interest in the research policy interface. Colin is a guest professor at the Swedish agricultural sciences university, and the …. sits on the Scottish government’s forum for natural capital and has a long standing interest in sustainable development with such a breadth of expertise and experience who better than Maggie and Colin to talk with us today about landuse and climate change.

 Maggie I wonder if I might come to you first, there is, I think now widespread recognition that the way in which we use land has a critical role to play both in mitigating and adapting to climate change. I appreciate it’s a very big topic, but in headline terms, can you tell us about why land and landuse is so important.

[00:01:45] Maggie Gill: Okay. Thanks Rebecca. Straight saying land is the basis of terrestrial ecosystems. So in other words, we have such a variety of species because the soil is so varied from place to place, country to country, but even within a few. And one of the consequences of that is what we can grow here where I am in the Cairngorms National Park is very different from what grows in East Lothian for example, and in Scotland, more than 80% of our land is less favorite areas.

In other words, we can’t provide arable crops and we also have very high carbon in our soils in Scotland, much more than in the more southerly parts of Europe. And so we need to keep that carbon in the soil. In other words, we need to work with the land and go with what it what it can help provide for us, rather than as humans, where we seem to want to produce things wherever we want to produce them so it’s very important that we learn from what the land can actually do. So that’s why land use needs to fit very much with the context. Thanks Maggie

[00:02:59] Rebekah Widdowfield: Thanks Maggie you talk about working with the land and obviously agriculture is one way that the land is worked if not worked with and its recent report on land use policies for a net zero UK, the committee on climate change was calling for a move to low carbon farming practices.

Colin, I wonder if you could give us a bit of an insight into what those sorts of practices involve and some of the work you’d be leading to create a net zero farm.

[00:03:25] Colin Campbell: Yeah, so the land and the is obviously responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s also our biggest port for sequestering more carbon, I think and the way in which we manage it is going to have a fundamental impact, not just on mitigating greenhouse gases, but also in how we actually adapt to the climate change that we will have and we will have a lots of climate breakdown. We’ve seen that in the last year. So it’s really important to get that right and Maggie has already alluded to the diversity of land that we have and the farm types that we have and the soil types we have, so there’s not a single solution for every unit of land that we have. We have to look at things in quite a lot of detail, but, reducing the reliance on fertilisers, reducing the energy inputs that we have when we manage to stop up till the ground, all these things need to be looked at in terms of reducing the greenhouse gas omissions, but all the incremental things that we can do on farms and that way are going to make a difference, whether they’re not going to make a big enough difference, and one of the things we need to start looking at as much more transformative approaches. So think about how do you change the whole system of land management, and that can be changing the cover of vegetation.

For example, having more trees on agricultural. Which is a very controversial subject, people see that as a dimunition of the amount of land we can use for growing food. But actually I think, we have to contemplate these things major changes in land use has to happen landuse hasn’t changed very much in Scotland.

Deforestation is the only kind of land use change we’ve seen. But it’s been predominant on non-agricultural land to actually go farther in terms of making a difference, we need to start thinking of how we get more trees on the land. So our are going, so climate positive farming initiative is about how do we change the whole system.

So extend the amount of trees that are on the farm, but also think about how do we integrate the trees into the farming operation. So it’s not just about shelter belts. It’s also about agro-forestry where you have trees and wide spacing. So you’re farming and growing trees on the same units of land and I think there is a lot of synergy in that there’s benefits for biodiversity and that as well, and there’s benefits for the livestock production, which means that you can, for example, a shelter and extend the time of which the animals are outside and benefit from more grass. So we have to change the overall system and we’re doing everything we possibly can to make it more climate positive.

[00:05:58] Rebekah Widdowfield: So you’ve talked now quite a number of times about sort of change and transformation and changing the whole system and about land management. And a lot of that obviously comes down at the end of the day to people for talking about management. So how do we support that change? How do we bring people with us, whether that’s farmers or other people working with the land.

[00:06:19] Colin Campbell: Farmers most often will identify as their purpose has to be growing food and that’s something they’ve held onto for a long time and it’s something we’ve relied on, particularly through the war years and with the growing population we’re still gonna rely on. But I think we need to recognise that they’ve got other purposes there in terms of helping to manage our environment, helping to manage our on nature and these have a fundamental impact on, on everybody, and so it’s about having a vision about what the purpose of farming is. So that it’s more multi objective. But it’s also about recognising and respecting that what farmers do. There’s a very strong cultural identity associated with farming. Particularly livestock farmers. I think we have to respect that and listen to what motivates them and they are very motivated by nurturing and nature and so one way I think to actually bring everybody together here is around using and having nature based farming. And I think this is something that is inspirational. I think the pandemic has shown that people can be hugely inspired by nature right across the spectrum of society and having high nature based farming is good for climate and good for climate change. So we need a vision about what kind of farming we actually want in Scotland.

[00:07:40] Maggie Gill: Can I just come in on that Colin and back you up in terms, that there are other options that we can use for some of our lands, I took the respect of farmers say want to produce food that’s why I went into agriculture because I wanted to produce more food, but one of the things perhaps we need to raise the profile of a bit more is what else are biomass in Scotland, we’re very good at producing biomass cause we got rain and we’ve got the land that we’ll grow things with carbon in them, and there are lots of options for doing that biomass, which are not just about food, a lot of exciting options there are young people going into farming and perhaps if we can show them what some of those options actually are. One of the things we looked at in the science, towards the options for sustainable chemicals that will be needed to replace chemicals that are currently biproducts.

So the fossil fuels industry. Some of those can come from biomass, maybe growing different types of crops. Should it be teased is one that has potential in terms of that. So I think there is, there is potential excitement for creating new types of farming. And that’s perhaps up to us as scientists to communicate more about that.

[00:09:06] Colin Campbell: I would totally agree with that Maggie. I think that there’s lots of opportunities there to diversify the types of crops that we grow. We have to always analyse the opportunities and risks associated with that. A recent study about this potential for sugar beet being a feedstock for our industrial processes and maybe replacing synthetic plastics with no bioplastics is a really motivating and exciting possibility but if we take up a lot of the current growing land and that would displace other crops. So we need to kinda think about the opportunities and rest of those, but totally agree we need to look at that I think industrial hemp is another potentially very valuable crop that we could go in for material so it could replace a lot of the plastics and the other building materials that we have and a much more sustainable.

[00:09:55] Rebekah Widdowfield: You talk about making, enabling individuals to see what the options are and communicating with them and giving them, giving them the information, showing what can be done, trying things out, but obviously individuals also work within a framework of regulation and policies are there other which either incentivize or disincentivize particular practices how does our agricultural policy need to change to support that understanding and engagement with different options? Do you think.

[00:10:28] Maggie Gill: I have start with that one and then let Colin come in. I think it’s about creating more flexibility without more bureaucracy. I’m very conscious that there was a lots of flexibility ritually built into the plans that came out of Europe. Then Scottish rural development plan about 10 years ago, and that caused problems because the bureaucracy around it made it very complicated, lots of forms to fill in and things like that. I think if we could somehow insurer perhaps with digital methods, that things could be tested out,but there was more opportunity for farmers to try things for themselves. But at the same time, having a lot of monitoring to using the advances in technology for. Artificial intelligence and machine learning to actually make some of the measurements so that farmers didn’t have to fill in so many forms, but that could be collected centurally. I think that could potentially allow for more flexibility testing things like in terms of use of land, because scientists may think we understand the world, but there’s so much, we still don’t understand. And we could also benefit by learning by analysing a lot of that data. To understand the interconnections.

[00:11:53] Rebekah Widdowfield: And I guess that’s some of what you’re doing Colin at the James Hudson Institute is trying things out on a smaller scale that might then be developed further, depending on what the evidence then suggests in terms of how effective or otherwise.

[00:12:05] Colin Campbell: We’ve protested a lot of the technological innovations that can make a difference. Whether it’s the remote sensing or artificial intelligence ways of doing things. Definitely, but also testing the kind of land systems and in terms of how do we have maybe a more ecological approach and design diversity back into systems going forward. And our job is to provide objective scientific evidence about how well these work and how far they go in terms of delivering what we want, and so, and the technological opportunities are massive at the moment. But that technology is also going to be socialised and people and where it’s about production of food. It’s also got to be democratised. If you take things like indoor vertical farming, this are really transformational technology they have for growing food and indoor vertical farms, which and independent of the weather and independent the climate, but it’s all owned by very large companies. It’s not, not democratised, but that we could take an approach where we have community vertical farms so that it is socialised and democratised. And that’s actually very liberating to communities which have problems around supply of food. So there’s lots of ways of doing that. And it’s the same with some of the other technologies. We could have lots of new observation systems. We’re involved installing tall towers for monitoring greenhouse gases and all sorts of other observation things that we have, but, does everybody want the countrysideto be totally abserved all the time? There’s ethical issues about all that. So we need to understand the role of people in here and what it is we’re actually trying to. So yeah, lots of opportunity to technology, but we have to be careful to consider that the human dimension of all.

[00:13:49] Maggie Gill: And I think if I can add in, on the human dimension, I think one of the things perhaps coming out of the lockdowns was more citizens out in the countryside and getting engaged in monitoring the number of bees or the number of various insects or whatever. So I think using citizen science. Well it’s to help in terms of data collection, but also to engage, for people to learn more about how nature works. I think we could perhaps capitalise on that. I hope before everyone goes back to visiting large cinemas and spending the time in urban settings.

[00:14:30] Rebekah Widdowfield:

Thanks Maggie and of course you sat on the data, evidence and science working group of the RSE’s post COVID futures commission, quite a lot in that, around how people engage with data, evidence and science. Looking at, just sticking with agriculture for now. This is and continues to be quite an ongoing and quite passionate debate about the role of livestock and emissions. The committee on climate change called for reduced consumption of beef, lamb, and dairy, and obviously some environmental groups have pressing to go much further than that and advocating for everyone, having a fully vegan diet. But I wonder if you could just tell us a little bit about why livestock gets such a bad press and is that fair.

[00:15:09] Maggie Gill: I’ve thought a lot about this because I was a livestock scientist initially, and indeed someone that looked at what happened within a rumen and that’s where the first stomach of sheep and cows and that’s where methane is produced and it’s very clear from the science that we need to cut methane and it’s great that at pop, there is, there are a number of countries that have signed up to actually reducing their methane. And that is not, I think that also highlights that the methane is not just produced by livestock, but it’s also coming from leakage from the pipes. And I think it’s really good that that gets highlighted as well as to why there is such an antilive stock lobby. I think because of the connection, it was always an amusing story wasn’t it? ….cows and thinking about the methane from that, and therefore it became an easy target to think about it well if we don’t have methane cows, then maybe we continue with other parts of our lifestyle. I think people are really thinking that it want to protect a lot of the things that they enjoy doing and they want to do into the future, which is all of us. We’re humans. That’s what we might want to do. But there is no silver bullet livestock is not silver bullet. And I actually. There is a lack of evidence at what would happen if you suddenly to lifestock out of ecosystem. They’re very much part of those systems that Colin was talking about before, but they’re also very much part of the economic system. So livestock, the livestock industry contributes 40% of global agricultural GDP and we’ve seen from COVID what shocks to the economy can actually do so. I don’t think the solution can be taking large stoke out part of the solution is reducing the amount of methane that they actually produced and that is happening. There have been advances in that. It is also, I think about eating less, but that’s not necessarily about eating no meat at all. Smaller portion sizes. When I think back to when I was growing up as a kid, the amount of meat I was offered, or my plate was a lot less. But nowadays, particularly if you go to restaurants where you get, I get the same amount of meat to put you in front of me as someone who is twice my weight, for example, and that doesn’t make any sense. So there should be more choice, I think, and just having the smaller portions of meat, she should be put forward as part of the solution in terms of that.

But they’re all of livestock. Colin talked earlier about sequestering, carbon and grass very much keeps that carbon in the soil. Whereas with arable crops, where all is big bits of machinery. If they are used on high carpet solos, then that can be a loss there. So we have to do everything. We have to be trying to have a mix of solutions in there. And frankly, I think we all have to change our lifestyles in one way or another, but what, what I’m happy to change is different from what you Rebecca, or you Colin would be happy to change. It’s up to each of us. And I think too much criticism of what other people do is not right. I think it’s a sort of defense mechanism that we are trying to assuage our own guilt of the things that we do.

And I put my hand up and say, I’m sure I do that as much as everyone else. I think we have to change how we live and actually how we interact with other people and be less critical. What each of us actually commit to cutting our own personal carbon footprint, the way that we want to do it.

[00:19:04] Rebekah Widdowfield: That’s reminding me of conversations in the past about carbon budgets and individual carbon budgets that maybe not on a formal level, but actually people individually looking at actually the carbon, they spend on different things and then making some choices about, if you’re wanting to contribute to tackling climate change, which the bits I’m prepared to give up on which of the bits I’m not, a lot of what you both seem to be talking about, and you’ve both used this word quite a few times is about a more systems based approach and looking at the interconnection Colin you’ve obviously been doing quite a lot of that in your work. Can you say a little bit more about actually, how do we have a systems based approach in practice? What are sort of some of the key features of that?

[00:19:42] Colin Campbell: Yeah, as a systems approach is really about understanding the complex interplay of things. And there’s, you’ve been able to use this word complex. Everybody thinks it’s very difficult. It’s not necessarily very difficult. It’s just about making sure you understand how things are connected and all things are connected. And you can make very simple changes and have a completely different outcome. I mean the, the crisis we’re facing with climate and nature is because everything’s connected. So everything we do is working out really badily in terms of climate and nature at the moment that tells you that we can actually change that around if we get the right type of systems analysis and we make the right changes. To just give you one example where we’ve worked with our very progressive farm, our …..becky farm, where they are producing farm-based gins and vodkas by just changing the crop from cereals to legumes, which fix that all nitrogen and therefore eliminating nitrogen of fertiliser, they’ve been able to produce the world’s first climate positive gin. So a changing the crop and the rotation. It’s pretty simple thing to do in the overall system, but it’s got a completely different outcome. And I think the changing systems is, is way forward, actually. And that’s the same for livestock and having agroforestry, which is, having livestock production and timber on the same unit of land is a very viable way of maybe going forward we need to test it make sure it works but we can change the system and get completely different outcomes. I think we haven’t even really started with that we have for a very long time, been focused on optimising things in terms of production of crops, which extract the most efficient amount sunlight out of the system that we possibly can. And we’ve therefore not shared that sunlight in terms of photosythesis with nature, but it’s made us very unresilient. So thinking about ways in which we share the sunlight and the post synthesis with nature is a different system and will make us much more resilient to the inevitable of climate change we’re having. So it’s about understanding how all our system works and we maybe don’t need to tweak it that much to make a difference in some areas, but another areas we aren’t going to have to have the fundamental land use change to make it work.

[00:21:57] Rebekah Widdowfield: And the systems obviously also global as well as what happens in an individual function. Maggie, you’ve done a lot of your work overseas and been involved in lots of international organisations looking at this are there any particular areas or initiatives that you think we can learn from, or that we should be taking more or paying more attention to?

[00:22:16] Maggie Gill: I think in developing countries, it’s still very, there’s a lot of mixed farming, which is what used to happen in the UK as well, where you’d have livestock and crops on the same on the farm and there were interactions between them, the livestock, we did the crop residues and the manure would be used as fertiliser. Now that no longer happens for economic reasons in terms of in the UK. There are far more bigger farms, more specialised farms. But I think what we can learn by thinking back to that is there are still interconnections at the sector level. So for example, even though you have arable farms that are producing grain, when that grain actually goes to the Millers, a lot of it is rejected and that rejected grain is rejected because it’s not suitable for processing. We have very I would want to say very specialised processing systems nowadays again, for economic reasons that they are far more efficient for the processing side, but that rejected grain does end up back in the livestock system. But unfortunately the data collection around that and the interaction and the awareness. Of everyone involved in the system as to how those interactions happen, at that national level is really not there. So I think as building on what Colin was saying about systems, it’s not just a farming system. It’s about thinking our overall sectoral systems. And how does the crop system interact with the livestock system? When we look at it, nationally that’s one thing, thinking it is looking at developing countries helps us to think more about those systems approaches. Another thing is that when I first moved into international development in the nineties, there was a lot more about talking to users. We had to go and talk to, we were expected to go and talk to farmers to see what technologies they actually wanted.

And I think that increased, talking to, not just farmers, but also talking to consumers, much more interaction between scientists and what we call stakeholders, which are basically the other people along the supply chain or the consumers or the industry. I think talking dialogue and now that we can do it by zoom. Although zoom still has a carbon footprint, but nothing like the trouble that we used to do I think bringing groups together, I worked on a European project and where they brought people together. For example, in museums,they brought people from the local neighbourhood brought consumers together with people who work in local government so that we all understand what the barriers and the opportunities at different within different parts of an overall food system. So I think those would be my main messages from developing I work in development.

[00:25:33] Rebekah Widdowfield: My guess are trade offs and different perspectives as well I mean it’s reminded me Maggie of the rural land use study that you led in sort of 2008, 2009, and I always remember, you bringing together different groups that include people from, for example, the farming community and people from some of the environmental groups to have a conversation about what some of the issues were and see those different perspectives and then think about, well, how do we collectively work together? Towards more of a solution, Colin is that something that’s happening a lot in, in your area of work?

[00:26:04] Colin Campbell: It’s fundamentally the way we do our sciences call it interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary, but that’s totally just fancy words for talking to everybody involved in trying to solve a problem and making sure you get those views. We’ve got an event actually next week, where a group of young farmers have been asked to come to our Glensalt farm and redesign the farm. And it’s done in a very interactive way where there’s a huge aerial map on the wall they all get white chalk pen, and lots of stickers, and they can redesign the farm if they want, but that process of talking that through brings out ideas. I’m like Maggie, if you get people talking, you can really solve this. And it’s in all of our interests. We’re all going to be affected by the climate crisis and why we do things which damage our land, why we do things which damage our food systems, so we need to get everybody talking together to actually solve this. And if we don’t, we’re going to see more and more polarisation, which is what we see at the moment, which isn’t helping us getting people in camped on opposite sides of the argument is not going to get us anywhere. So we need to overcome that and get people talking much more, and as everybody’s got a stake in it. So everybody does need to actually talk about it.

[00:27:14] Rebekah Widdowfield: There certainly was a lot of talking going on at COP26, which is underway as we’re recording this at the moment time. And we’ve already seen a number of commitments, including around reversing diverse station. and as Maggie mentioned earlier around methane emissions, and it’s great to see those commitments, but so often where things fall down is in the implementation and putting them into practice. Are there particular things you think that are needed in order to ensure that we do move from the commitments to delivery. If you’ve talked about the importance of getting people talking and bringing everyone together, are there other things you’d point to I’m thinking particularly of how we finance some of this stuff?

[00:27:52] Colin Campbell: Yeah. I think the, when the there’s some of the notes and it’s about the finance, that’s going to be available so fantastic as well, but I am slightly cynical about the implementation. I mean I remember Margaret Thatcher was one of the biggest proponents of the climate change was the biggest threat civilisation. How long ago was that and what we’d done about it? We were very, very slow to act . And I think civil society is often making the point that we need to act somehow in the system. Things don’t happen. So if you’ve got the prime minister of the country saying things are going to happen, you’ve got society saying things have got to happen, what’s going wrong in the middle there. Something’s not working. And I think it’s partly because people have always got things to lose. So we need new ways of doing that. I think things like citizens assemblies are really good ideas to get everybody up to the same level of awareness and to make recommendations. But it is about those responsible for implementation that have to do it in this sort of private sector. I think once people have got the policies to aim at they get on and do it, and the public sector, we need to have seen the right enabling policies that actually allow that to happen. So we need to really challenge ourselves about it. I honestly don’t think things would be happening if we didn’t have the civil protests that were seen I think that they have been very effective and yeah, as much as a very inconvenient, I think they are getting the point across. And I also don’t think if we hadn’t seen the mobilisation of the younger generations, we wouldn’t be doing anything to be really challenging ourselves about why we haven’t done enough in the past.

[00:29:31] Maggie Gill: I would totally agree with that. I think it boosts through what you’ve done, Rebecca at the RSE with having more young voices heard and the what the Hutton and Colin did earlier this week with the McCauley lecture, where there were three climate activists actually on the platform, people like Christiana Figueres and Nicola Sturgeon. I think it’s the voice of the young, I think increasingly is being listened to not enough by any means but Greta Thunberg has done had an impact on someone like Mark Carney who is in charge or was in charge of a financial areas as governor of the bank of England is now doing this and still having a voice at United Nations and i think if young people, young voices can actually have that sort of impact, we need more of that and it needs to be pressure from the public on holding politicians to account that’s democracy is supposed to be about that with probably voting for politicians and then holding them to account.. And I don’t think we’ve seen enough of that. I think we’ve been distracted by other things perhaps by our, in improving lifestyles all over the place, we’ve lost that pressure from the public, just at a time at which we have the tools to actually make it even more effectual through the internet and through emails and through the rapid ways of communication. So for me, pressure from the public is really what needs to step up. And I think we’ve seen some of that in this COP and in the last few years. And I would plead for more of that..

[00:31:24] Colin Campbell: The James Hutton Institute all about trying to provide hard facts and scientific evidence, but the thing that really gets through is emotions and we do need an emotional response to this. I was at an RSE event where young activists were represented as well, and we do need to change democracy we need to get the heard. And this is where a youth parliaments and youth academies, all these things really, really important to make a difference because that is their future. It sounds like a cliche, but it is absolutely their future. Why have they not got to say? And I think older generations get very locked in the way we did it. You can’t help yourself do things the way you learned how to do them when you were young. And so you need to be shaken up by getting into generation cooperation. As a way forward,

[00:32:11] Maggie Gill: But actually as you say that Colin, I remember my mother who saved for absolutely everything she was the recycler and that was how we always brought up and we kept things. We reused a lot of things and we made our food in ways, you had a roast dinner. If you were lucky on a Sunday, you had to then eat it for the rest of the weekend, all sorts of different formats. So I think are things that we can learn by looking backwards. There’s just a big gap in the middle where we were going down a different trajectory and somehow we’ve lost the plot interms of that so I would argue for going backwards as well as.

[00:32:57] Colin Campbell: Yeah, I think that’s where it intergenerational effort is what’s required. It’s not, but the younger generations are right and the older generations are wrong and the ones in the middle of to blame for everything they said, it’s about sharing that wisdom. But also sharing the wisdom of simplicity that younger generations sometimes look at this. And I’m, I think sometimes as people get older, they lose that simplicity of looking at it. It’s like the old parallel over the emperor’s clothes, we sometimes dilute ourselves by what we think is right. And so it’s a blend of all these intergenerational attributes that we need to help solve the problems.

[00:33:33] Rebekah Widdowfield: It’s quite interesting to see actually, how many of the protests? Well, there’s obviously been the school strikes and there is a lot of young people there is a lot of sort of intergenerational protests as well you’ve seen the people who’ve come up from elsewhere to Glasgow that, it’s a very mixed group. I think I’m quite interested in this whole nation of protest because it strikes me that protest has been a way of amplifying the science. Is that a fair assessment? Do you think? I think sometimes you think it’s either public opinion or science. I wonder if there’s a bit of a coming together with protest and science here.

[00:34:05] Colin Campbell: Yeah, I think it is. At the moment it’s very convenient because the young protesters in particular are saying listen to the science. That’s music to my ears I love to hear that. But at the same time in science needs to be challenging itself as well, but why has not been a more effective in the past without protest? And with the height of some of the extinction rebellion, protest marches, and some of the interactions we’ve had with the young activists and we actually wondered whether you had been doing things wrong. And we have spent a lot of time telling everybody that how the world was going wrong due to climate change. But we’ve done less interventions and actually done things to solve it. And so we’ve changed in our research to what we call action based research. Where we actually do the interventions that are required to tackle climate on nature crisis, but study them scientifically, but don’t hang back and do them and controlled ways and replication get on and do action based research so that we’re actually testing things that might make a difference. And so I think science needs to challenge itself about the way we do it and actually doing demonstration. And at a scale counts might get us at a bit quicker as well. I’m often very cautious and science because we know being truthful and being rigirous is such a strong value for us that we’re sometimes very risk adverse about where we do things. So I think science needs to challenge itself as well on how we do things.

[00:35:27] Maggie Gill: Yeah. I think the process of science also needs to be speeded up too often as Colin just said and we have to wait for things to be peer reviewed, but there are no innovations in how that can be done. More quickly. Things can be put online and then challenged online provided people are prepared to actually make those changes. And to some extent that gives us sort of liberating feeling. You’re not solely responsible. There is a lot of pressure on scientists to make absolutely sure before they put anything into print, but nobody is going to criticize that. I think we should be far more accepting of the fact that science is there to make progress there’s always been one of puttiing up hypothesis testing them, changing them and adapting. It’s been a much more adaptive process than I think we’ve actually said that it is and I think we also need to talk about that scientific process explain it more to people, people more involved in it. And absolutely we need the rigor, which should not compromise on the quality of the science. But a lot of that is about getting the design, getting the questions, right. That we ask at start, and that’s where they can be a lot of input from the people who are going to use the outputs in terms of helping to design the research.

[00:36:49] Rebekah Widdowfield: I think we’ve seen that haven’t we, in terms of some of the response to COVID where actually we’ve have to speed things up and we’ve had to progress when actually we haven’t known absolutely everything and the evidence has been evolving and I know certainly from the data, evidence and science working group of the RSE COVID commission is actually, how do we take some of that learning and retain some of that flexibility and speed while still as Maggie says, being absolutely clear on the, on the rigor and robustness of evidence turning back to Scotland and back to landuse specifically how do you think that landuse in Scotland needs to change over the coming years in order to address climate change? And why do you think we’re making good progress on where do we need to up our game?

[00:37:35] Maggie Gill: I think the peatland restoration is a good way to go provided that there is monitoring alongside it so to the government has put money into peatland restoration, but as we started off on this conversation, the whole diversity, so what you do in one peatland, it’s not exactly the same as what you would do to restore another peatland. I would advocate that we as Colin just mentioned, action-based research a long side that to make sure that what we’re doing with peatland restoration is having the desired output.

And it’s not doing something which we might regret, because I think that there’s a lot of talk about tree planting and tree planting is good . But it shouldn’t just be about numbers. It’s absolutely key that we’re planting the right species. It’s key that they’re planted in the right places. We should not be going and digging up peatland to put in a tree because that peatland should be kept covered over and not have the trees in it.

So,we need to have much closer as we talked earlier about that sort of dialogue we need to have. More conversations between the people that are actually implementing some of these things. And also the scientists who know what works, where to some extent and just have that dialogue. And nobody is sort of thinking they know what all the answers are. So again, back to learning by doing. It’s one of the current phrases in much of this.

[00:39:09] Rebekah Widdowfield: Colin, what about, for you? Where, do you think we’re making good progress and where do we need to change?

[00:39:13] Colin Campbell: Yeah Maggie is right it’s great progress in terms of the peatland action plans and the ambition there. We need to do it faster. We need to do more of it. Maggie is also right about some of the risks there our climate is changing. We need to be sure that what we do today is going to survive in the future. But we actually do have a richness of data and understanding around this to actually try and make the right decisions, make sure that we restore the right peatlands, put the right tree in the right place, but people need to understand that that data is there and is usable to help them make the right decisions.

So there’s lots of progress there. I think in agriculture, which is less clear what the direction of travel is we don’t see necessarily clear sight of where that needs to go. We need to have that kind of big conversation as politicians sometimes call about what kind of agriculture do we actually want.

And that can be informed by the external context. The world consumers want to know that the food they eat protects nature and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. Scotland’s in a fantastic place to take advantage of that. We’ve got livestock systems which do produce greenhouse gases, but compared to feedlots and the Americas the greenhouse gas footprint is much, much lower. So why don’t we make a merrative that and move towards much more nature-based farming where much more sustainable farming, because actually it’s going to be internationally competitive in the future. And that will then give a better livliehood to our farmers.

So we need to start talking that through what it would actually look like and what are the changes we need to make.. But as much as, as good things happen, none of us happening fast enough or to an extent, one of the hardest things I find getting across to people as each genuinely might only have 10 years, to get this right.

And then we’re going to have all sorts of climate breakdown and it doesn’t matter what you do. It’s not going work. So getting the urgency across to people is the hardest thing at the moment, we need even more money put into peatland restoration more trees have the right type in the right place and a common vision about what we’re trying to achieve with our land in Scotland.

[00:41:20] Rebekah Widdowfield: Then broading out from a Scotland perspective to a more global one as I mentioned earlier, where we’re recording this during cop, if you could make one wish each of you I’m being generous, you can each have a wish what outcome would you wish to see `from that meeting or indeed from what follows from Maggie what about for you?

[00:41:38] Maggie Gill: I think what I’d really like to see is a change of mindset and realisation amongst the sectors where the biggest footprints that actually it’s in their own interest to do something now. It’s only going to be bad if they keep trying to keep things as they are in short term. And the long-term negative consequences will be so much worse. And I think you could just get just get some of those really big sectors. And I think we do see movement in the oil and gas sector has shown the that it recognises it needs to change that it has made some of those contributions.

I just like that magnified. So everybody going home, not quite that they get the horse and cart and take that back to home. But people flying back from COP within the UK, that one does make me despair. That mindsets haven’t changed yet but they need to, and I hope a push in that direction. That’s what I’d like to see, but just amongst the politicians, everybody.

[00:42:43] Colin Campbell: I’m going to cheat because I like Maggie’s one. And I don’t, part of that is about when our problems are all about over consumption and people could realize that you should only eat and drink and use what you need rather than what you want we wouldn’t be where we are. But I think if there was one single thing that could come out for COP for me and I probably won’t get this it would be an agreement around the border carbon tax. So if goods coming across borders were imported and exported on a level playing field where you pay the carbon tax that would really drive everybody to lower green house, gas, emissions, taxes, or tariffs. never seem to be popular with some people and you have to be careful the fair across an international dimension as well.

But I think that could make a big difference I’d be very keen to see some sort of border on amendment tariff for carbon tax on goods to try and make people think twice about how much carbon they’re using when they’re producing things.

[00:43:42] Rebekah Widdowfield: Fingers crossed to see what comes out of Cop over the coming week. Maggie and Colin.. Thank you so much for giving us your time today and sharing your expertise on land use and climate change. Thank you.

[00:43:58] Maggie Gill: Thanks for listening.

[00:44:00] Rebekah Widdowfield: You can find previous Tea and Talk episodes on our website Or you can subscribe on Spotify, apple, and Google podcasts for our latest news details, events and activities. Search for the Royal Society of Edinburgh on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.