Nature Networks - FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions regarding Nature Networks

This page provides short answers to some of the most Frequently Asked Questions relating to Nature Networks. This page will be updated frequently, as information becomes available.  

More detailed information is available in the Nature Networks Framework and within the Nature Networks Toolbox.  

1. Creating a Nature Network

What is a Nature Network?

A Nature Network connects nature-rich sites, including restoration areas and other environmental projects, through a series of areas of suitable habitat, habitat corridors, and stepping-stones.  

The core areas in this network, the important areas for biodiversity being connected, should include all those sites contributing towards 30x30 (Protected Areas and Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures) as well as sites that are of local importance for biodiversity (e.g. Local Nature Reserves and Local Nature Conservation Sites). Areas being restored/strategically important for future nature restoration would also make sensible nodes to be connected.  

The connections between these core areas will be delivered primarily through ecological corridors, and where this is not possible, through ‘stepping stones’ of suitable habitat. An ecological corridor is a natural or semi-natural habitat or landscape element that facilitates the movement of individuals or propagules (e.g. seeds) across landscapes, especially between otherwise isolated habitats or populations. 

Why does the definition of a Nature Network differ between the Framework and National Planning Framework 4?

In practice the definitions in the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) and Nature Networks framework are broadly consistent, and there is no conflict between the two.  

Nature Networks are a new and developing policy within Scotland. NPF4 was written before the Scottish Government commissioned NatureScot to develop a co-designed Nature Network Framework including a more detailed definition of what a Nature Network for Scotland should mean.  

The Framework has now been consulted upon and a final version will be published shortly by Scottish Government. The information in the Framework will be the definition to which Scottish Government (and other agencies) are working to when considering Nature Networks.

Is there a statutory requirement to create a Nature Network?

Whilst there is no statutory requirement to create a Nature Network they are an important part of NPF4, and their creation will be key to Local Authorities being able deliver against multiple Policies. For example, Policy 3: Biodiversity, states that Local Development Plans should...promote nature recovery and nature restoration across the development plan area, including by: ‘facilitating the creation of nature networks…’. Policy 4: Natural places states that Local Development Plans ‘should...better connect nature rich areas by establishing and growing nature networks…’. 

There is also a Scottish Government commitment to Nature Networks in the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and its Delivery Plan.

How are Nature Networks to be created?

Local Authorities should spatially define a Nature Network for their area, using local knowledge and expertise to create a network that works at the local and regional level and for the nature and communities within it.  

There is an expectation that partners will come together at a regional level to ensure connectivity is maintained between Local Authority areas therefore allowing for the creation of a coherent national Nature Network.  

NatureScot and Scottish Wildlife Trust cosponsored a CivTech challenge to help facilitate this process.

What scale should Nature Networks work at?

Nature Networks will be delivered from the bottom up, addressing local needs and objectives in support of national outcomes for nature and people.

Locally: There may often be multiple options of how to best connect areas of importance for nature and local knowledge and ecological conditions are likely to dictate which the best options to pursue are.

Local Nature Networks will connect people and communities to nearby important areas for nature, deliver local priorities and work with other mechanisms of delivering connectivity at the local level e.g. enhancing active travel routes and existing initiatives such as Green Networks.

Regionally: Nature Networks will build on connections at the local level and look at opportunities to deliver strategic connectivity regionally and support national objectives and priorities. This will need to be facilitated across administrative boundaries to ensure strong connectivity between landscapes, larger-scale features and areas of importance, such as National Parks or river catchments.

Working regionally enables the connection of neighbouring networks, further increasing the ability for dispersal, strengthening populations and improving their resilience to pressures.

Nationally: Nature Networks should connect together across administrative boundaries and through strategic regional elements. They should be able to facilitate large-scale expansion and shifts in species ranges at a national level, particularly in response to climate change. They should identify strategic approaches to support delivering wider ecosystem resilience, diversity and ecosystem services.

What does a “good” Nature Network look like?

There is no simple answer to what a good Nature Network looks like. They will vary and be dependent on the local and regional landscape and and priorities.  

The primary purpose of a Nature Network is ecological connectivity. This connectivity is required for fully functioning and healthy ecosystems. It is key for healthy, robust populations of animal and plant species by allowing them to move across landscapes, maintain genetic diversity, and to adapt to pressures such as climate change. 

A Nature Network works at the national, regional and local scale to provide benefits to nature, and people through the ecosystem services it delivers, such as clean air and water, flood mitigation, health and wellbeing benefits. 

The Nature Networks Framework provides a good basis to kick of Nature Network identification and development, including principles of best working practices. The Nature Network Toolbox will be updated over time with guidance and resources to help delivery partners consider achieving ecological connectivity, habitat restoration and enhancement, engagement and co-design, and more.

Will Scottish Government map a National Nature Network to ensure everything joins up?

There are no current plans for the Scottish Government to spatially map a National Nature Network.

What will the Governance structure for Nature Networks be?

The governance principle within the framework states that ‘governance of Nature Networks will be transparent, democratic and accountable and with inclusive and diverse representation. There will be a focus on empowering and equipping delivery partners from across sectors.’

Recognising that many actions within the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Delivery Plan contribute to Nature Networks (and vice versa) shared governance structures are likely to be sensible in minimising resource required/maximising multiple gains.

Ultimately governance structures for Nature Networks at a local level are to be determined locally, however. It is likely that Local Authorities will lead this process and bring together key stakeholders, including landowners and local communities, allowing for collaboration, consensus and action. Existing groupings such as a Local Biodiversity Partnership or Community Planning Partnership, could be key means for helping facilitate the deliver of projects or, a bespoke Nature Network Partnership may be created.

Regional and National governance have yet to be confirmed. It is expected that, where they exist, Regional Land Use Partnerships (RLUPs) will have an important role in Nature Network delivery at the regional level.

I’m from a Local Authority and we don’t own or manage all of the land, can we still create Nature Networks?

The ask of Local Authorities is simply to have spatially defined Nature Networks. This is similar to other spatially mapped policies, for example green networks, Core Paths and Local Nature Conservation Sites. It is not necessary for the Authority to own the land in order to spatially define Nature Networks. It is good practice to consult upon indicative/ preliminary Nature Networks, and refine based upon local priorities and considerations.  

There is no expectation that Local Authorities will coordinate/ lead projects which practically deliver Nature Networks across its entirety, although land owning public bodies are well placed to lead by example and deliver practical projects which contribute to the maintenance and expansion of the Nature Network on their land. This will also help meet other objectives, for example Biodiversity Duty.

As work on ‘securing positive effects for biodiversity’ develops, Local Authorities may have a further role through the planning system in directing resources towards projects that contribute to Nature Networks.

What is the role of other organisations/agencies/groups/land managers?

A whole of society approach is essential to build Nature Networks with organisations and communities involvement varying through different stages of Nature Network development and implementation.  

Nature Networks will require a collaborative and bottom-up approach, within a culture of partnership and open working. Diversity and inclusion will be at the heart of decision-making and delivery, continuing co-design and co-production in planning, implementation, and management phases. Open working and active sharing will be encouraged, allowing Nature Networks to be adaptable and scalable to place-based demands, needs, and timescales. 

Early engagement and partnership working can take time and resources, and barriers to participation should be removed. Empowering trusted messengers to lead within their communities is an effective way of bringing in different groups. Whether this is a local community or a sector (e.g. farming or forestry), those open to, or already promoting, biodiversity friendly approaches that support Nature Networks can be worked with and promoted as drivers of change.  

The support required, and therefore who will be best placed to offer it (Local Authorities, NatureScot, Public Bodies or others) will vary, inclusive governance at all levels of Nature Networks will be key. 

Nature Network toolbox Sector Advice 

How will Nature Networks be consulted on and who will be involved?

As Local Authorities are leading on the spatially defining of Nature Networks, they will decide on the best means of engagement given their area and unique challenges. As part of new Local Development Plans (LDPs), any spatially defined Nature Networks would be subject to consultation through this package of work as a minimum.

Please contact your Local Authority planning or biodiversity department if you would like further information on the process for feeding in.

Are there examples of Nature Networks from other areas we can use?

Some case studies of projects that are delivering Nature Networks or contributing towards Nature Networks are presented on the Nature Network Toolbox Case Studies Page.

Currently these projects tend to have predated the publishing of the Framework but still all meet some of the principles within. We will look to continue to add case studies that showcase ways of working that contribute towards Nature Networks, if you would like to contribute a case study please see the contact us on the case study page.

Will a Nature Network change over time or is it fixed?

Scotland’s Nature Networks Vision for 2030 states ‘By 2030 Scotland will have evolving, flexible and resilient Nature Networks connecting nature-rich areas allowing wildlife and natural processes to move and adapt to land use and climate change pressures. ‘We expect that Nature Networks will grow and change over time and recognise that even with good planning/high levels of engagement those initially defined may not prove to be the most effective or sensible means of better connecting Scotland’s nature rich area.   

NPF4 does not preclude developments that impact on Nature Networks and so some connections may be lost due to development, land use change or other factors over time. The most important thing is that NPF4 promotes maintaining the coherence of such a network so negative impacts in one area should see improvements elsewhere.

Other areas of Nature Networks will likely be in place for the long-term/in perpetuity and likely to deliver significant advantages to biodiversity (i.e., including slow to form or irreplaceable habitats and ecosystems).

2. Policy, Plans and Strategies  

What Local Plans, Policies or Strategies will Nature Networks contribute to?

As stated in the Nature Networks Framework, Nature Networks will build on, benefit from, and have overlaps with existing partnerships, commitments, and work across Scotland, including initiatives such as;   

What National Plans, Policies and Strategies are driving Nature Networks?

Nature Networks are a Programme for Government commitment and key delivery mechanism of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy (SBS) which states that Nature Networks across our landscapes will underpin the resilience and health of species and habitats. They also contribute to Scotland’s Environmental Strategy and align with international targets, as expressed in the Global Biodiversity Framework, and efforts such as the EU Trans-European Nature Network

Nature Networks are embedded throughout the fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4) as a key means of ensuring positive effects for biodiversity from development.  Across multiple policies the leading role that Local Authorities will have in facilitating the design and implementation of Nature Networks, through Local Development Plans (LDPs) for example, is clear. 

What level of information is required for the Local Development Plan (LDP)?

A spatially defined (mapped) Nature Network will be included in the final LDP. This level of detail is not required at earlier stages, e.g. Evidence Reports where an outline of the approach to be taken/the evidence that will be used to inform them will suffice.

A policy commitment to Nature Networks within the LDP is encouraged, but not required, and NatureScot are keen to explore with Local Authorities uniform wording that would help clarify the ask.

Further guidance for Planning and Local Authorities can be found in the Sector Advice section of the Nature Networks Toolbox, particularly Planning Authorities and Nature Networks.

What policy/legislative protection will Nature Networks have? Will Nature Networks require “designation”? How do we “enforce” a Nature Network?

Nature Networks will not be subject to statutory designation in themselves.  

It is expected that Nature Networks will be protected primarily via the Planning System or through the commitments of individual landowners who wish to strategically use some of their land for their creation/maintenance (e.g. habitat banking associated with ‘securing positive effects for biodiversity’ or commitments via schemes such as Forest Grant Scheme, AECS or carbon/biodiversity credits. 

National Planning Framework 4 makes it clear that planning decisions should look to minimise negative impacts on Nature Networks whilst also looking to build on and enhance them.

How does securing positive effects for biodiversity fit with Nature Networks? Can we use this to maintain/ deliver connections?

National Planning Framework 4 makes multiple references to Nature Networks alongside securing positive effects for biodiversity.  

Developments are expected to build and strengthen Nature Networks where relevant. In the case of national or major developments, they will only be supported where it can be demonstrated that the proposal will conserve, restore and enhance biodiversity, including Nature Networks so they are in a demonstrably better state than without intervention. 

As more information on securing positive effects for biodiversity comes out the Nature Networks Toolbox will updated accordingly.

How do major developments (eg. onshore windfarms) and Nature Networks interact?

The Sector Advice section of the Toolbox will be updated with relevant guidance as it becomes available, including for developers.

Where does Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) fit?

Strategic Environmental Assessment affords the opportunity for the plan maker to assess the effects of their plan on the environment, including likely positive effects.  In establishing the environmental baseline, consideration should be given to identifying nature networks in the plan area.  The assessment can identify measures to safeguard existing nature networks and opportunities for positive cumulative benefits arising from linking sites and corridors of value to nature. 

Where do Local Nature Conservation Sites and other local non-statutory designations fit?

Whilst sites that contribute towards 30 by 30 are central to Nature Networks, they should not be seen as the only important areas. 

The Framework makes it clear that Nature Networks should also look to better connect locally important sites for biodiversity such as Local Nature Conservation Sites, Local Nature Reserves or other areas Local Authorities or communities identify. In more urban areas these sites are particularly important in providing both space for nature and allowing people to benefit from it.

How is this different from existing green, green-blue, habitat networks?

Nature Networks are distinct from previous approaches in that their primary purpose is to facilitate ecological connectivity and focus on biodiversity outcomes.

They are also novel in that they connect 30 by 30 sites with other benefits, such as connecting people to nature, being another significant outcome.

We will look to produce further guidance that better identifies the ways in which Nature Networks interact with, and benefit from, pre-existing policies.

How is this different from the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN)? 

The CSGN was launched in 2009 and is now a National Development in NPF3 and NPF4. It aims to;

  • deliver nature based solutions to climate change issues, through improved and new woodland, peatland restoration and wetland and coastal management,

  • join up fragmented habitats to allow species to move; this is particularly important as species adapt to climate change,

  • encourage high quality green infrastructure within urban design,

  • promote health and wellbeing through improved cycling and walking networks for active travel and increased availability and use of local quality greenspace, 

  • Restore vacant and derelict land. 

The  CSGN is not in itself a Nature Network, however there is significant overlap, and much of the CSGN may be included within Nature Networks.  

The CSGN has also developed tools which can be used in exploring and furthering the thinking and monitoring of Nature Networks, for example habitat opportunity mapping and a connectivity measure. Many CSGN delivery projects are also likely to contribute towards the development, enhancement or maintenance of Nature Networks.

What monitoring will be in place?

Monitoring or a monitoring framework across all levels has yet to be agreed and it will be important that it is set up in such a way that is proportionate, realistic and links in appropriately with other overlapping within the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Delivery Plan.

We will update with further developments in this area in due course.

How do I report on my contribution to the Nature Network?

At the current time, no formal reporting of Nature Network design and delivery is required. However, Local Authorities and other public bodies may wish to use their Biodiversity Duty reporting as an opportunity to note progress.

We will update with further developments in this area in due course.

How will success be measured?

National criteria for monitoring the success of Nature Networks have yet to be confirmed. However, as per the Nature Networks Framework, measurements of success should consider the following: 

  • The health of the important places for biodiversity that the networks connects together 

  • The progress of Local Authorities in mapping Nature Networks 

  • The progress in implementing Nature Networks 

  • The effectiveness of ecological corridors/connections 

  • The effectiveness of the approach at a National level. 

We will update with further developments in this area in due course. 

Scotland’s 30 by 30 target comes from the Global Biodiversity Framework that most countries around the world have committed to, including the rest of the UK.

The target is about more than just the total area percentage of a country that is protected or conserved. It also talks about the need for these areas to equitable and effectively managed. Critically it also states that these areas must be well connected. Nature Networks are not the only way by which connectivity between such sites will be improved but they represent one of the key means by which it will be achieved.

The sites that make up Scotland’s terrestrial 30 by 30 contribution are still under development but fall under two broad categories; Protected Areas and Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures and these form the core areas (“nodes”) of Nature Networks, guiding connection at regional and local levels. 

Further information on Scotland’s 30 by 30 ambitions see the 30 by 30 Framework

3. Resourcing Nature Networks

What staff resource is needed (Local Authority specific)?

There has been no specific ask/instruction from Scottish Government with regards to the need for dedicated staff.

As Nature Networks progress, identifying the roles different departments can play in establishing and enhancing or maintaining Nature Networks, and mainstreaming within existing processes, functions and partnerships will be key however. 

What tools and guidance are available?

The Nature Networks Framework outlines that NatureScot will develop a Nature Networks Toolbox to support delivery partners in designing, planning and delivering Nature Networks. The toolbox is a platform to bring together and share resources and learning from all involved in Nature Networks with NatureScot being just one of the contributors to it.  

It is a live resource for local authorities, partnerships, organisations, landowners/managers and groups, to facilitate the design and implementation of Nature Networks at the local and regional level.

Resources made available include guidance, interactive tools for mapping, links to funding information and examples of best practice. 

What resources/ tools are available to support mapping?

A variety of tools are available to help map the Nature Network, please see the Tools and Data Page on the Nature Network Toolbox.  

Nature Network mapping will also benefit from previous spatial work carried out by local authorities, e.g. Forestry and Woodland Strategies, being brought in.  

There is currently no public funding available specifically for mapping Nature Networks. See the Funding and Finance Page on the Nature Network Toolbox.

What is the AECOM tool for Nature Networks?

The co-design of the Nature Networks Framework highlighted a number of needs to ensure the success of Nature Networks on the ground. One of these was the need for an opportunity-mapping tool to support Nature Networks.

NatureScot and Scottish Wildlife Trust took the opportunity to co-sponsor a Scottish Government CivTech Challenge to look at developing one such tool where the successful company taken forward was AECOM.

Between Oct 23 and Oct 24 AECOM are developing a tool that helps with decision making on both potential routes for Nature Networks as well as for identifying opportunities for restoration along it, as well as in the broader landscape.

It is not mandatory to use this tool but we believe that it’s use will be of assistance to many who are looking to develop Nature Networks or individual projects that contribute towards them. Full information can be found on both the NatureScot and AECOM websites.

What data should we use, and is it good enough quality?

The Nature Networks Toolbox signposts data which can contribute to mapping Nature Networks.

All data comes with caveats regarding its coverage, resolution, age and quality and it is up to Local Authority discretion to determine which data is appropriate to use.

What criteria are in place for a project to secure funding e.g., Nature Restoration Fund? What financial resources are available to deliver projects?

The Nature Networks Toolbox Funding and Finance page highlights potential funds, including the Nature Restoration Fund, each with their own eligibility criteria that will need to be checked against. 

In previous years, funding has been made available to Local Authorities via the Scottish Government Nature Restoration Fund via the Edinburgh Declaration.  

For information on funding and finance, please see the Funding and Finance section on the Nature Networks Toolbox.

What types of projects will count towards the Nature Network?

In general, projects which restore or expand existing habitats to create new connections, or which reduce fragmentation, will be considered for Nature Networks funding. Projects must contribute towards the a network in some way. See Supporting information for ensuring projects contribute to Nature Networks for more information.

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