Landslips at Coire Fee National Nature Reserve, Glen Doll, Angus. August 2015 ©Lorne Gill/SNH. For information on reproduction rights contact the Scottish Natural Heritage Image Library on Tel. 01738 444177 or

Geodiversity and climate change

Climate affects the landform processes that shape Scotland’s mountains, rivers and coasts, and maintain our habitats, ecosystems and landscapes.

Climate change will affect the dynamics of the landform processes that shape Scotland’s mountains, rivers and coasts, and maintain our habitats, ecosystems and landscapes.

In turn it will affect the rocks, landforms and soils upon which plants, animals and humans live.

Climate change projections suggest a future:
• with more landslides, erosion and other slope failures – especially where slopes are prone to waterlogging
• with more and bigger floods
• where some of the more far-reaching effects of climate change occur at our coasts.


Climate change may have negative impacts on rock exposures and landforms, for example:
• rock and sediment exposures may be sealed behind coast defences and riverbank protection
• unique exposures may be lost through erosion
• access to exposures may be prevented by submergence or burial caused by changes in sedimentation or landslides
• changes in land use due to food and energy demand could also restrict access to rock exposures or obscure the visibility of landforms, but erosion may also reveal new exposures that replace existing sites, or reveal new interests

The geological record tells us about past environments and how they responded to broadly comparable climate change. This information can inform climate change impact scenarios for biodiversity and geodiversity.


Climate change will have impacts on the character of our landscapes as a result of changes in:

  • geomorphological processes
  • soil properties
  • land use practices

Geomorphological processes

Geomorphological processes include:

  • flooding
  • erosion
  • deposition

These processes both:

  • shape our mountains, rivers and coasts
  • maintain habitat quality, diversity and ecological functions

Changes in climate will have significant implications for the conservation management of dynamic environments.

The latest UK Climate Projections, UKCP09, show net regional sea-level rise of 7mm per year in Scotland in the next few decades. This exceeds rates seen in the last few thousand years. The effects are likely to be made worse by ongoing coastal sediment scarcity and possibly more stormy weather.

Other impacts may include:

• more varied geomorphological processes and changes in landscape character (e.g. more bare slopes due to erosion)
• changes in the water and sediment discharges in rivers, resulting in readjustments in channel positions
• changed distributions of coastal and river landforms in response to altered patterns of erosion and deposition
• increased demand for hazard mitigation such as flood protection and coast protection
• reduced periglacial activity on some mountains, but more frequent debris flows and landslips on hillsides.


Climate directly influences soil formation. You can find out how in The Soil Beneath Your Feet – Where does it come from? But climate change puts pressures on soils and their functions in the environment.

How we expect climate change to affect soils is based on the premise that a warming climate is likely to have an impact on soil organic carbon levels and thus on greenhouse gas emissions. Scotland’s soils are a rich repository of carbon – they hold more than 65 times the total amount of carbon held in all of Scotland’s vegetation (trees included).

Climate change is expected to affect soil biochemistry, as changes in rainfall patterns and air temperature are felt by soil micro-organisms.

Changing soil conditions are expected to alter the:

  • functions of soil
  • ability of plants to extract and use nutrients in soil
  • decomposition of soil organic matter
  • ability of soils to soak up pollutants and thus reduce pollution in watercourses

Climate change will also influence the way we manage our land and soils. For example, changes in the intensity and timing of rainfall events may create more waterlogged soils when cultivation and harvesting would usually occur.

Find out more

How will Scotland’s landscapes be affected by climate change?

Coasts and seas