Changing role of hill farming in Scotland

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Hill farming systems in Scotland are the result of long evolution and adaptation to financial, social and political changes. Farming in the hills is a major contributor to rural industry and plays an important role in the economy, environment and social cohesion of these areas. However, it is fragile and has been dependent for many decades on high and continued levels of support payments. Agricultural land managers in these hill areas are also under increasing pressure from the other land use groups whose interests lie outside farming. With recent agricultural reforms, shifts in policy orientations regarding land use and changes in support, the future role of hill farming remains uncertain.

This thesis sets out to examine the role of hill farming in this context of change, by investigating how hill farmers respond to changing policy, by understanding what other interested stakeholders expect from the hills, and exploring how hill farmers may have to adapt their farming system in response to these changes and expectations.
Using an adaptive conjoint analysis method, stakeholders’ expectations have been assessed. Multivariate analysis and participative research with hill farmers have also been carried out, to typify their management responses to policy changes, using the 2003 CAP reform as an example. Stakeholders’ expectations and farmers’ types were then used in a linear programming optimisation model, to explore how hill farmers can maximise their financial margins under different policy and market change scenarios, and how their motivation is a drive towards adaptation.
The results suggest that whilst livestock production is identified by stakeholders as one of the most important features for the hill areas, the continuity of livestock farming in the hills is threatened, as hill farmers are strongly affected by policy and market changes. This research also shows that there is a strong diversity in hill farming systems and in hill farmers’ management styles and motivations. That, perhaps, is one of the most important factors to acknowledge when formulating policies. This research also highlights the vulnerability of hill farming businesses (especially hill cattle production) to market price volatility, policy, subsidies and support changes, making it difficult for any hill farmer to withstand these fluctuations. Although different land uses, such as planting forestry, potentially bring substantial economic benefits, they are dependent upon many other restricting factors, including government grants, and require long-term commitment before benefits are seen.
Integration of different land uses and productions could be one economic option for these areas, but a set of measures, perhaps including livestock-linked subsidies that recognise the diversity of hill farmers is needed, as well as options for hill farmers to be able to provide other public goods. Unless there is stability in market prices, a policy drive towards increasing efficiency, adequate subsidies and support and more readily attractive diversification options, including the provision of other ecosystem services linked to these grassland systems, this thesis suggests that there is a danger of hill land abandonment, a further decrease in hill farming activity, leading eventually to a decline in rural areas, not unlike many other marginal hill and mountain areas in the UK and Europe.

Date of Award30 Jun 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SupervisorTony Waterhouse (Supervisor) & Ron Wilson (Supervisor)


  • hill farming
  • Farmers' styles
  • Conflicts
  • Land use
  • Sheep

Cite this

Changing role of hill farming in Scotland
Morgan-Davies, C. (Author). 30 Jun 2014

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis