Biodiversity Audit Project Update – June 2023
Supporting sustainable food production, climate and biodiversity
NatureScot has been asked by the Scottish Government to develop a biodiversity audit for farmers and crofters. Maintaining and improving biodiversity on farmland is a key part of Scottish Government’s Agriculture Reform Programme to deliver their ‘Vision for Agriculture’. They announced on June 22 that farmers and crofters will be required to adopt a “whole farm plan” which will include soil testing, animal health and welfare declaration, carbon audits, biodiversity audits and supported business planning.
The new rural support framework will integrate enhanced conditionality of at least half of all funding for farming and crofting by 2025 and as part of this conditionality, farmers and crofters receiving support will be expected to deliver on targeted outcomes for biodiversity gain and low emissions production. It is important therefore for farmers to be able to have access to a tool which will help them to bring together a baseline of biodiversity on their farm, which in turn will help them to consider opportunities for improving biodiversity on their farm.
This baseline measurement of biodiversity on the land can be used to benchmark and track habitats, as well as identify options for management to increase the biodiversity value.
Ultimately this will contribute to delivering the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy aims to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and restore biodiversity by 2045.
We are taking a four-step approach to this, and currently are developing the first two steps:
Step 1 – map the existing habitats – ‘quantity’
Step 2 – measure the condition of these habitats – ‘quality’
In future, we will look at the next two steps:
Step 3 – manage to maintain or increase the condition of the habitats
Step 4 – monitoring the habitats.
Here is a little more detail about how we propose to take forward Steps 1 and 2 which will be tested on the farmers and crofters who have taken part in our POBAS pilot, we will also look to other stakeholder groups to support the project in the coming years.
Step 1 - Mapping
We have been working with our colleagues in the Land Mapping Team in the Scottish Government, to provide new habitat layers within LPIS (Land Parcel Information System), which aim to provide some existing habitat information so you can complete a baseline habitat map. New functionality has also been added to allow farmers to make changes to habitat categories and boundaries.We have created a list of 32 habitat and feature types, which is very similar to the Farm Environment Assessment approach in the current Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS).
We would like to test this new habitat mapping functionality with our pilot groups, using the LPIS habitat layers for your farms and crofts.
Step 2 - Measuring the condition
In the same way that we developed scorecards for POBAS, we have been creating some simple versions to see if these can give us a broad based condition assessment of key habitats and features on each farm. There will be around 10 scorecards. Not all habitats will have an assessment; some will be just a presence or not.
We would like to test these new simplified scorecards with participants to see how practical they are, and that the results we get are easily understood.
We will be developing an app and web platform to support the Biodiversity Audit, using lessons we have learnt from feedback from those that used the POBAS Sabbio app. In the meantime, we will continue to use the POBAS Sabbio app to test the new Biodiversity Audit scorecards.
For both these stages of the work, it is important that we gather feedback from farmers and crofters so we can build a Biodiversity Audit that can be rolled out for more testing in future.
Where does POBAS work to date fit in? All of the support and feedback we have gathered through the POBAS project has given us some very valuable lessons in outcomes based approaches, scorecard development and the use of an app. We have fed these into the policy development work around the future rural support framework.
What is happening to POBAS? Phase 3 of POBAS is drawing to a close. We are concluding testing the POBAS scorecards on the POBAS app, and have drafted reports from each cluster documenting the findings. We will share the findings with our pilot groups and other stakeholders, and report to the Scottish Government.
If you have any queries please do get in touch with your NatureScot contact or email [email protected].
Sue Agnew/Kay Prichard
Farming with Nature Project Manager