Much of the Scottish landscape is defined by farming. Most farmed area (85%) is given over to farmed animals.

In recent decades, farming has become more intensive. As a result, the environmental impacts have increased, including rising greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and soil degradation.

In parallel, in our lochs and offshore, salmon farms proliferate. From a couple of sites 50 years ago, there are now more than 200 fish farms in Scotland, which we believe are defined by diseases, toxic chemicals, contaminants, pollution, seal killings, and extreme mortality rates.

All of this has been a double blow for Scottish wildlife. There has been a steep decline in species numbers and biodiversity as a direct result of this intensification. On top of this, the climate crisis – with farming a major contributor – means increases in temperatures and more extreme weather are further hitting wildlife, with some species being pushed to the brink of extinction.

As if our nature is not already sufficiently under threat, we have had over the last year the awful impact of avian flu, derived from intensive poultry farming in south-east Asia. This has decimated wild bird populations, including some of the internationally important breeding sites for sea birds around our coast, with major concerns from organisations such as the RSPB for the coming year.

There are lots of powerful companies with vested interests battling to keep the status quo – lobbying and funding politicians. There are clear parallels with the fossil fuel companies. Farming in Scotland isn’t, on the whole, the domain of small independent farmers. The intensification has been driven by large industrial groups that have wrecked farming communities and eradicated traditional methods.

It is not even as if the system works. In a world with 56 billion farmed land animals who eat over a third of the entire global crop, not to mention the billions of farmed fish fed meal, it is obvious that the current animal-based food system cannot survive the climate crisis.

Unfortunately, the form of agriculture that uses the most land is free-range and organic. Despite the animal welfare improvements and some marginally better environmental outcomes, there is not enough of our planet for this to be an adequate transition.

And there is nothing “natural” about farming. Species have been bred to grow as fast as possible, enduring miserable, short lives of pain and imprisonment. Millions of male chicks are gassed within hours of birth. Calves are wrenched from their mothers after a week or two, with the cows then impregnated all over again, until their production of milk declines, at which point they are slaughtered.

In light of this, how is it in any way radical to call for urgent, system-wide change?

The failure of leaders to even recognise, let alone tackle, this crisis is why Animal Rebellion exists. We seek to raise awareness and, reflecting the crisis that we are in, we use non-violent direct action, as many other causes have done throughout history, calling for a rapid, fair transition to a plant-based system and the end of animal abuse.

The science is clear. In 2019, a report from the world’s top climate and biodiversity scientists from the IPCC and IPBES concluded the most important thing we can do is to implement “nature-based solutions”: that is, rewild land and ocean ecosystems. This means bringing back the forests, wetlands, peatlands, natural grasslands, rivers and oceans. Allowing for wildlife to return and flourish again.

Critically, by doing this we can draw down significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which is crucial to prevent climate-driven devastation.

This provides a vision for Scotland: where farmers are incentivised to rewild their land, and where big business retreats and farming communities return as stewards of the land. The bleak, lifeless industrial conifer plantations are replaced by mixed woodlands of native species; grasslands flourish; peatlands are preserved and nurtured; rivers run clean again; and our oceans team with life.

The tide is turning, with considerable hope of late in Scotland. Stirling University’s student union recently passed a motion to make all of its outlets 100% plant-based by 2025. And Edinburgh has just become the first city in the UK to follow 20+ others around the world in signing a plant-based treaty (derived from COP26 in Glasgow) calling for a transition to vegan diets to lower consumption-based emissions.

There were outcries from usual sources, including the Scottish Countryside Alliance, a pro-hunting lobby group. However, science, history and ever more people are lined up against these vested interests and the stakes are too high to give in. There is a clear path towards a much more sustainable Scotland in which everyone is treated fairly and we reconnect within our communities with the land and wildlife of our wonderful country.

Sarah McCaffrey is a member of Animal Rebellion Scotland