It is not only Dr Who that has a penchant for regeneration. After all, the Royal Highland Show regenerates itself annually.

What was once an event based on traditional livestock competitions and parades is now a fun day out for people of all ages; somewhere they can taste exceptional food and drink and experience rural living at its most vibrant.

And now agriculture is getting in on the regeneration act. Last year saw the Scottish Government’s Vision for Agriculture state an ambition to make Scotland a “global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture”.

The Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill, introduced last September and currently being considered in the Scottish Parliament, sets out that the “adoption and use of sustainable and regenerative agricultural practices” is one of four overarching objectives of agriculture policy.

But what is regenerative agriculture exactly?

Jonnie Hall, director of policy at the National Farmers Union of Scotland, notes that regenerative agriculture does not have one single definition, which means that perceptions of what regen- erative agriculture is often differ.

“Significantly, the explanatory notes accompanying the bill simply state that ‘regenerative farming is broadly any form of farming activity which both generates production and improves the environment’,” he says.

Hall says that, for some, regenerative agriculture is often associated with principles around soil health, such as maintaining soil cover and minimising soil disturbance, but that these principles are primarily relevant to arable enterprises.

“Grassland systems already have continual year-round cover and livestock are an integral part, while soils remain largely undisturbed – particularly in upland grazing systems,” he says.

“Consequently, taking a narrow view would reduce relevance to many of Scotland’s farming systems – 80 per cent of Scottish agricultural land is grassland and more than 85 per cent of the land used to claim the Basic Payment Scheme is either permanent grass or rough grazing.”

“Such an interpretation would be very divisive and counterproductive,” he warns.

“That justifies the need to avoid definitions that could become means of verification under future support mechanisms. Definitions in this context would be yet more hostages to fortune.”

Dr Lorna Cole, an agricultural ecologist at SAC Consulting, part of Scotland’s Rural College, agrees that regenerative agriculture does not have one single definition.

“For me, regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach to farm management that focuses on restoring and enhancing the natural ecosystem processes that underpin agricultural production – specifically, energy capture and transfer, nutrient and water cycles and species interactions (for example natural pest control, pollination),” she says.

“Regenerative agriculture should also transcend the farm gate to include wider aspects which are integral in building resilience into our rural economy food sovereignty, shorter food chains, fair pricing, and supporting and encouraging knowledge exchange and learning.

“Broadly speaking, regenera- tive agriculture can be viewed as a toolkit of management actions that work with nature to opti- mise these ecosystem processes and in doing so reduce reliance on synthetic inputs helping farms improve their carbon footprint.

“Ultimately, it should strongly draw on human and societal values such as fairness, tradition and equity that recognises the importance of food sovereignty and healthy diets.”

For Lyn Cassells, practising re- generative agriculture sits at the core of everything at Lynbreck Croft.

Viewers of BBC’s This Farming Life will be familiar with the activities of start-up farmers Cassells and Sandra Baer of Lynbreck Croft, 150 acres in the Cairngorms National Park producing rare breed pork, pastured eggs, 100 per cent pasture and tree leaf-fed Highland beef, honey and vegetables.

“It is not just a selection of methods and direct practices to be applied, such as going no till or reducing herbicides, pesti- cides and synthetic fertilisers,” says Cassells.

“It is much more holistic, where the basic principles of regenerative agriculture can be employed in any context and climate, anywhere in the world.

“At Lynbreck, our focus is on building healthy soil, producing as much nutrient-dense food as we can for our local community, increasing biodiversity, running a financially stable business, sharing our learning with others and living a purposeful and healthy life.”

Lynbreck’s regenerative agriculture philosophy and practice chimes well with the ‘Farming for Nature’ commitment made by Waitrose in May to source UK meat, milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables from farms that use regenerative practices by 2035.

The supermarket has committed to support more than 2,000 of its British farmers to move to nature-friendly farming practices, helping to boost the financial resilience of farms in the long-term and combat the effects of climate change.

James Bailey, Waitrose executive director, says: “We want Waitrose customers to know that when they shop with us, they are voting with their purses and wallets for a food system that restores and works in harmony with the natural world, and that supports a financially sustainable future for British farmers.

“We have a duty to help our farmers make the move towards more nature-friendly growing, and we’re committed to playing our part in the revolution that our country’s food system requires.”

Hall says that transitioning to sustainable and regenerative agriculture in Scotland will require significant investment and support.

“Hence the need for a future support package to enable active farmers and crofters to deliver the Scottish Government’s Vision for Agriculture – the justification for the future support framework,” he adds.

“Agricultural businesses, regardless of size, type or location, will need the financial capacity to buffer the economic costs of transitioning.

“The importance of direct, albeit conditional, support in both tiers one and two of the future support framework will become even more critical in that respect.

“Equally, a move to more regenerative practices will need farmers and crofters to develop their knowledge.

“The role of the new Whole Farm Plan as part of tier one and complementary support in tier four, such as peer-to-peer learning and demonstration farms, will be critical in baselining and informing management choices.”

With increasing uncertainty in weather patterns, input costs and markets, Hall says that building resilience into our food production systems through investment opportunities in
tier three will also be key to the future of Scottish agriculture.

“For all farmers and crofters to help reconcile food production, climate, and biodiversity goals, it will be vital that actions are guided and steered by a code of practice for sustainable and regenerative agriculture – rather than be driven by ideology that does not recognise Scotland’s agricultural profile and landscape,” he says.

“If Scottish agriculture is to deliver on food, climate and biodiversity, as well as underpinning rural communities, it must embrace innovation, science and technology rather than revert back to traditional practices.

“Nor must Scottish agricultural production be unduly compromised in the pursuit of regenerative aspirations, otherwise we run the risk of simply offshoring emissions and biodiversity loss to other countries. Regenerative agriculture in Scotland must be sustainable in Scotland.”


The Scottish Government’s Agricultural Reform Route Map adopts the following definition of regenerative agriculture:

Regenerative agriculture is a collection of farming practices with a focus on renewing and conserving soils, landscapes, and ecosystems. The method supports nature and social justice in rural communities alongside agricultural outputs.

It draws upon decades of scientific and applied research on agriculture and ecology. Key practices include minimising soil disturbance, and maximising crop diversity. Another approach is to integrate livestock and arable farming more closely.

The goals of regenerative agriculture include: improving animal welfare, increasing climate-resilience of production, capturing carbon in soils and vegetation, enhancing water quality and supply in the landscape as well as supporting thriving biodiversity and ecosystem health.

Regenerative agriculture recognises that each farm has differ- ent soils, climate, managers and history. For that reason, there is no definitive list of methods or actions.

With much to discuss, it’s likely that this year’s Royal Highland Show at Ingliston will be abuzz with visitors and exhibitors alike talking about regeneration.