Huge potential for nature-based jobs boost

02 December 2020

A new report has revealed the huge opportunity for nature-based jobs to help Scotland secure a green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and support the transition towards a net-zero economy.

NatureScot’s analysis of nature-based jobs across Scotland identifies for the first time the opportunities and barriers facing the sector, looking at the historic picture as well as forecasting future trends.

The report shows that nature-based jobs already make a significant contribution to the Scottish economy, amounting to at least 195,000 jobs or 7.5% of Scotland’s workforce in 2019.

The sector grew at more than five times the rate of all jobs in Scotland in the period 2015-19, accounting for one third of all job growth in Scotland over the period.

Significant further growth in nature-based jobs is anticipated, as efforts to meet Scotland’s net zero targets increase. 

A five-fold increase in peatland restoration, near doubling of tree planting and additional investment in the Woodland and Peatland Carbon Codes, along with other mechanisms for carbon off-setting, all point to an expansion of employment.

Nature-based roles are also expected to develop quickly in emerging areas such as urban green infrastructure and green finance.

The report reveals the great potential for rural and island economies, where most nature-based jobs are located. Almost a third (30.2%) of new nature-based jobs could arise in island and remote areas, and 62.2% in mainly rural areas – offering potential solutions to the challenges of depopulation and out-migration of working age people. 

A number of barriers to the expansion of nature-based jobs are identified, including skill shortages, access to training opportunities and a need for more stability in the sector.

Diversity in the workforce is another challenge – with low female employment in many fields, an ageing workforce in some sectors and a lack of data on ethnic minority employment.

The report calls for strategic action by a broad alliance of partners to support the growth of a diverse, gender-balanced and highly skilled workforce.

Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “In these challenging times, it is more important than ever that we focus on designing a better future for ourselves and for future generations.

“That is why we are committed to delivering a just, fair and green recovery from this pandemic, where we work towards Scotland’s world leading net zero targets in a way that leaves no one behind. Understanding the enormous contribution that nature-based jobs can make to our economy is an important step in achieving this.

“In our Programme for Government we committed to producing an assessment of the nature based jobs needed to inform the transition to a net zero economy in Scotland, precisely because this is a fast-growing sector with significant potential.

“Green skills are wide ranging and will be vital to delivering our ambitions across a variety of sectors - from nature based tourism to land and environmental management, forestry, green finance, peatland restoration and low carbon farming. Supporting and encouraging these new jobs will provide Scotland with the skills and expertise to be at the forefront of tackling the twin crises of climate change and ecological decline and I strongly welcome this report.”

Francesca Osowska, NatureScot Chief Executive, said: “Covid-19 has had a monumental impact on Scotland’s economy, giving rise to an immediate need to protect and create jobs, and reduce inequalities.

“This report is a vital step in demonstrating the potential for nature-based jobs to help us build back better as we emerge from this pandemic - ensuring a green recovery and securing a longer-term transition towards a net-zero economy.

“To be blunt. Scotland will not achieve its climate goals without major investment in nature-based solutions, and many of those investments will not happen unless we have a big enough and skilled nature-based workforce in place. This report sets out the potential green jobs powerhouse in the nature-based sector driving growth in the Scottish economy, and what an alliance of organisations need to do to deliver that potential.”

John Dougan, Head of Operational Development in Scottish Forestry said: “The forestry sector is a major provider of nature-based employment in a wide range of interesting and sustainable jobs.  

“The sector is already expanding, and in the coming years we will continue to see a significant increase in tree planting to tackle the current climate emergency. This in itself will create many economic, environmental and social benefits.

“This report usefully helps identify the opportunities and challenges going forward to ensuring we have a skilled workforce to meet this demand and maximise the opportunities for a green recovery in Scotland.”

Rob Orr, Strategic Relations Manager for Energy at Skills Development Scotland (SDS) said: “If Scotland is to reach its net zero targets, the changes in our economy must be mirrored by changes to our skills.

“This means that our skills system has a key role to play in helping Scotland grasp the opportunities presented by a net zero economy whilst also overcoming the challenges, which is why SDS is working with partners on the development of a Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan.

“Nature-based jobs offer clear growth potential, and the NatureScot report is a welcome contribution in improving our understanding of the nature and scale of those opportunities.”