NatureScot Biodiversity Duty Report 2018-2020

This document comprises NatureScot’s (NatureScot) Biodiversity Duty report for the period 2018 to 2020 inclusive, as required under the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) 2011 Act.

The pdf version can be downloaded at the end of this document.

Contents

  1. NatureScot
  2. Actions to protect biodiversity and connect people with nature
  3. Mainstreaming biodiversity
  4. Nature-based solutions, climate change, and biodiversity
  5. Public Engagement and Workforce development
  6. Research and Monitoring
  7. Biodiversity highlights, opportunities and challenges

1. NatureScot

1.1 Our purpose and aims

Welcome to the NatureScot Biodiversity Duty report 2018-2020 as required under the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) 2011 Act.  It highlights our key contributions to biodiversity outcomes and priorities during this period.

NatureScot, formerly Scottish Natural Heritage, is Scotland’s nature agency.  Our role is to protect and promote Scotland’s natural heritage, which contributes so much to our nation’s prosperity and well-being.

Scotland’s nature and landscapes are among our greatest assets.  Nature gives us food and drinking water, energy and timber, it contributes to a clean and healthy environment and it improves our wellbeing and quality of life.

NatureScot is the lead public body responsible for advising Scottish Ministers on all matters relating to the natural heritage.

Our purpose is to:

  • Promote, care for and improve our natural heritage
  • Help people to enjoy nature responsibly
  • Enable greater understanding and awareness of nature
  • Promote the sustainable use of Scotland’s natural heritage

We also advise local authorities and work with the Scottish Parliament and public, private and voluntary organisations towards shared aims.  Working efficiently like this is part of our commitment to delivering a high-quality public service.We also advise local authorities and work with the Scottish Parliament and public, private and voluntary organisations towards shared aims.  Working efficiently like this is part of our commitment to delivering a high-quality public service.

1.2 Our corporate plan

Our Corporate Plan 2018 - 2022 - Connecting People and Nature sets out four outcomes:

  • More people across Scotland are enjoying and benefiting from nature
  • The health and resilience of Scotland’s nature is improved
  • There is more investment in Scotland’s natural capital and its management to improve prosperity and wellbeing
  • We have transformed how we work

Our Corporate Plan reinforces the vision of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy that “Scotland is recognised as a world leader in biodiversity conservation.  Everyone is involved; everyone benefits”. It explicitly highlights the challenge inherent in restoring degraded ecosystems and recognises the importance of working together with businesses, communities and government for a more prosperous country with a healthier and more resilient nature.  It sees a thriving nature as a vital part of the solution to many of the challenges we face and recognises the value of getting outdoors and having regular contact with nature, for example through recreation, environmental volunteering and citizen science.

The Corporate Plan states that Scotland will need to deliver large and sustained improvements to nature and wildlife to meet international obligations to restore degraded ecosystems (a global biodiversity target), and that improving the state of nature is essential.

1.3 Our organisational structure

The Board of NatureScot is appointed by Scottish Ministers, as the overseeing decision-making body that provides strategic direction to the organisation.  The Senior Leadership Team provides executive leadership, and strategic and operational management of NatureScot.  The Board is supported by a number of committees, including: the Scientific Advisory Committee and the Protected Areas Committee.

1.4 COVID-19

The pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the work of NatureScot, with wide implications for our surveillance and monitoring activities, and more widely on how we have all engaged with nature.  Staff have supported the Scottish Government in tackling this world-wide pandemic.  Our offices were closed and all staff began working from home when the ‘lockdown’ was announced in March 2020.  Adhering to Government guidance NatureScot staff worked from home and have adapted to this new way of working extremely well.  In October 2020 a small number of offices opened to a limited number of staff.  Although some habitat and species survey work has been undertaken it has been very limited.

NatureScot has been working with our many partners, especially the eNGO sector, to help support them through this very difficult period and into 2021.  There has been a much welcomed recognition of the importance of access to nature during the pandemic and while this has been positive there have been some challenges where visitor pressure has been higher than facilities and infrastructure can support.

Resilience through diversity is central to the NatureScot vision for the future.  This current pandemic originated from an unhealthy relationship between the human world and the natural world, which can lead to diseases jumping and mutating from species to species.  Ensuring that society is more resilient against future pandemics must involve tackling the climate and nature crises.

Restoring nature, enhancing biodiversity and making space for nature are key to reducing the risk of further pandemics and to tackling the climate emergency.  We need ecosystems that are more resilient, connected and diverse.  We need changes to land use to increase the space for nature, with more networks of nature-rich areas helping to support and re-build resilient natural systems.

1.5 The national and international context

The effective conservation and enhancement of biodiversity plays an essential role in meeting the Scottish Government’s vision of a smart, sustainable and successful Scotland.  It is an integral aspect of Scotland’s Economic StrategyScotland's Third Land Use Strategy 2016-2021 (Consultation and Draft Strategy), the National Planning Framework 3 and the forthcoming National Planning Framework 4 (discussed in section 4) and Scotland’s National Marine Plan

In May 2019, the Scottish Government declared a Climate Emergency, and days later the International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystems published its Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services, which identified and ranked the key direct drivers of biodiversity loss at a global level, whilst recognising the inter-relationships between the different drivers.

The NatureScot response focusses on connecting people and nature, and tackling biodiversity loss and the climate emergency through large and small scale nature-based solutions.

The programme for government

NatureScot is key to supporting and contributing to the current Programme for Government.  The Programme addresses the key challenges of the climate change emergency and biodiversity crisis, emphasising how the economic recovery from COVID19 must be a ‘green recovery’ and that Scotland’s rich natural resources and biodiversity are central to our economic, environmental, and social wellbeing.

The Programme commits to significantly increasing the rate of peatland restoration as one of the transformative changes needed to meet our emissions targets and commits to continued support for biodiversity, including through the Biodiversity Challenge Fund to augment a wide array of biodiversity delivery activity as we seek to improve the state of nature in Scotland.

It highlights the importance of healthy uplands and the importance of effective deer management and grouse moor management and support for new mechanisms of agricultural support to enable farmers and crofters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore biodiversity.

As part of promoting lifelong health and wellbeing it announces the intention to establish a short-life working group to examine social prescribing of physical activity.  In pursuit of promoting equality and helping our young people grasp their potential, it will take forward ambitions for ‘20 minute neighbourhoods’ with greenspace on your doorstep and a local environment that encourages active travel.  In addition, it announces the intention to provide guidance to ensure that all new social housing offers private or communal outdoor space.

The environment strategy for Scotland

NatureScot contributed to the development of The Environment Strategy for Scotland published by Scottish Government on 25 February 2020.  The Strategy provides the overarching policy framework for existing strategies for the Climate Change Plan and associated Energy Strategy; Government Economic Strategy and Circular Economy; Land Use Strategy; Scottish Biodiversity Strategy; Air Quality Strategy; River Basin Management Plans; Scotland Performs and the Natural Capital Asset Index; National Marine Plan; and the Scottish Forestry Strategy.

There is a close fit between the Environment Strategy for Scotland and the outcomes and priorities in NatureScot’s Corporate Plan.

Biodiversity statement of intent

NatureScot worked closely with Scottish Government to develop the Biodiversity Statement of Intent published by The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform on 14 December 2020.atureScot is now working to advise government on how Scotland could meet the 30% protected area designation target for land and freshwater.

1.6 The Scottish biodiversity programme

Scotland works alongside other countries to protect and enhance biodiversity through implementing and enforcing international conventions and agreements.  The Scottish Biodiversity Programme (SBP) is co-owned by the Scottish Government and NatureScot and oversees and coordinates current and planned activity on biodiversity by securing a common understanding of priorities and ways to deliver them.  The purpose of the SBP is to support completion of the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity and ‘Route Map to 2020’ and to prepare the way for successful delivery of a future strategic framework for biodiversity.  We have initiated work with the Scottish Government to develop the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy for 2020-2030.  This includes substantial input to the Statement of Intent published on 14th December 2020, setting out Scotland’s broad ambitions for the new strategy.

The 2020 challenge for Scotland’s biodiversity and route map to 2020

The 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity was published in 2013 to take into account the international Aichi Targets agreed by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010 and the requirements of the European Union Biodiversity Strategy published in 2011.  The 2020 Challenge refreshed the previous strategy - Scotland's biodiversity: it’s in your hands (2004) and both documents together constitute the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.

The 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity identifies seven outcomes, and Scotland's Biodiversity: a Route Map to 2020, which was published in 2015, provides greater focus to coordinate large-scale collaborative working.  These are discussed below in section 2.

The Edinburgh process and Edinburgh declaration

NatureScot is a partner in the ‘Edinburgh Process’, which devised ‘The Edinburgh Declaration’, led by the Scottish Government.  This was a global partner event contributing to the work of the Convention on Biological Diversity Open-ended Working Group for the development of the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

We have been working with regional, local and city governments and authorities from across the world to secure the Edinburgh Declaration.

1.7 Reporting on biodiversity

NatureScot is responsible for reporting on national and international biodiversity targets and priorities, and we play a key role in collating data on the state of biodiversity and setting new priorities at a national level.  Through developing strong collaborative approaches with a range of partners we have been able to influence the development of international reporting methods.

The Aichi biodiversity targets

The UK is a signatory of the CBD, and Scotland contributes to the UK report and also reports separately on the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – at Scottish Government’s request we report annually to the CBD on the 20 Aichi Targets.  We last reported in 2017, and the 2019 report is currently with Scottish Government awaiting sign off.

The Scottish biodiversity strategy

The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 requires a report on the implementation of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy to be laid in Parliament at the end of every three year period following its adoption.  The last report was produced by NatureScot and covers 2017 – 2019 and describes progress on our collective efforts.

Scotland’s biodiversity: a route map to 2020

We are responsible for reporting to Scottish Government annually on Scotland’s Biodiversity: A Route Map to 2020.  The Third Progress Report, 2017/19 is the most recent, with the Fourth Annual Report covering April 2019 – March 2021 currently in preparation.

The EC habitats directive

We co-ordinate Scotland’s reports on various biodiversity agreements, initiatives and conventions including every six years all EU Member States are required to report on the implementation of the EC Habitats Directive (under Article 17).  The fourth UK report was submitted to the EU in August 2019 and covers the implementation period 2013–2018.  It reports on the conservation status of all terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitats listed under Annex I of the Directive, and all terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species listed under Annexes II, IV and V of the Directive.  Results for Scotland are published along with the UK results by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).  Data for the UK are also published at a member state level by the European Environment Agency both as a report and as data dashboards.  Data are included on:

  • Number of habitats and species per Member State
  • Conservation status and trends of habitats and species (estimate and trends of population size, range size, and habitat)
  • Main pressures and threats
  • Natura 2000 coverage of species populations and habitat types
  • Conservation measures
  • Information on exploitation of Annex V species
  • Data completeness and quality

The EC birds directive

EU Member States are required to report on the implementation of the EC Birds Directive (under Article 12) every six years. The 11th UK report was submitted to the European Commission in October 2019.

As part of reporting on Article 12 we contribute to the EEA report tracking the 2020 target of improving the conservation status of European protected species and habitats. The latest report on long-term trends in bird populations shows that Europe has experienced a major decline in biodiversity.

1.8 The site condition monitoring programme

We conduct and oversee monitoring and surveillance of biodiversity, including delivering the Site Condition Monitoring (SCM) Programme of designated natural features on protected sites.

We co-ordinate the monitoring of notified features through our Site Condition Monitoring programme and oversee the delivery of remedial management where unfavourable condition is found.  Specifically, we report on the Official Statistic, ‘Condition of Protected Nature Sites’, which includes natural features assessed through SCM as being in favourable or unfavourable recovering condition.  In 2020 there were a total of 4,649 species and habitat notified features with assessment.

We are reviewing our SCM programme to look at moving from a “one size fits all” approach to notified features to a system in which ‘riskier’ features will be monitored more often/at greater intensity.  We are also exploring opportunities presented by new technologies to help us focus our on-site investigations and/or give us a better picture of biodiversity on a site.  Within our approach is an increased role for citizen science.  We publish full reports of our SCM programme on our website.

Land management agreements on designated sites

The Scottish Government’s Agri-Environment Climate Scheme provides support to land managers for positive management of protected areas.  Where such support is not possible NatureScot can enter into management agreements for priority management.  During 2018-20 there were just under 400 active agreements on protected areas covering some 91,000 hectares.  Total funding for this management amounted to £1.23m.

1.9 National trends, indicators and official statistics

We use a set of indicators to chart changes in Scotland’s biodiversity to see how well we are progressing against the aims of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy (SBS).  The original set of indicators was updated in 2013/14 to bring them into line with the SBS update, the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity.  We developed the indicators with Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), Marine Scotland, and Scottish Forestry (formerly Forestry Commission Scotland).

There are two groups of indicators:

  • State indicators measure changes in biodiversity, which may be at the level of species, habitats and ecosystems or genetic diversity.
  • Engagement indicators monitor how Scotland’s people interact with biodiversity through their awareness, engagement and activities

We publish various biodiversity statistics and indicators, including these recent updates:

All of these indicators and statistics are heavily dependent on data collected by volunteer citizen scientists.  We are currently working with Scottish Government and a consortium of NGOs and research bodies to produce a new Marine and Terrestrial Species Indicator, which will cover a wider variety of species than had previously been possible.  This new indicator will be designed to meet international best practice standards (GEO-BON) and is again based almost entirely on citizen scientists’ data.  We envisage that this new indicator will be adopted as an indicator within the National Performance Framework.

1.10 Land and estate management

National nature reserves

We manage or jointly manage 29 National Nature Reserves (NNRs).  Most land that we own or primarily manage is an NNR; this amounts to nearly 56,000 hectares or 0.7% of Scotland’s land surface.  Key partners that also own and manage NNRs include the RSPB (Abernethy) and NTS (Mar Lodge).  Very nearly all land in our NNRs is designated as a SSSI or Natura site, although there are some significant exceptions to this.

We use and promote our NNRs to provide opportunities for people from all backgrounds and with all abilities to experience nature through visiting the outdoors, learning, volunteering and quiet recreation.  The number of people visiting and connecting with nature on NatureScot NNRs has been increasing in recent years and may, for the first time, have exceeded 1 million in 2020.

The green infrastructure retrofit project for our offices

We own nine offices, lease 18 offices and also maintain 10 offices on NNRs, in some cases we are the single occupant and in others we co-locate with other bodies.  So there are various types of tenure on the surrounding estate.  Each office has a grounds management group, and ‘Green Infrastructure Consultancy’ (GIC) has now carried out audits at six of our offices and proposed green infrastructure interventions to deliver nature-based solutions around our buildings, which we hope will become demonstration sites for others.

1.11 Licensing

NatureScot is responsible for almost all species licensing in Scotland, except: seal licensing, some aspects of dolphin, whale and porpoise licensing, and fisheries licensing.  A species licensing A–Z guide is available on our website.

Our licensing work is hugely varied.  We issue licences to allow rescuers to move stranded whales into deeper waters, to move hedgehogs on the Uists to allow wading birds to breed successfully and to place electronic tags on raptors for monitoring purposes.  We always consider any welfare issues and will where necessary attach conditions.  Often we can achieve improvements for protected species through licencing, for example by improving habitats for bats and for water voles during development work.

We issue licences to prevent bird strikes at airports, and to prevent serious damage to farmers’ crops to protect their livelihoods, and for removing nests from boiler air ducts, and to remove birds trapped in supermarkets and places where food is prepared.

Lethal control is always a last resort and we only grant such licences if other methods have been considered, and only if the species conservation status shows that the licensed activity won’t threaten the population.

1.12 Providing public information and supporting community learning and education on nature and the environment

We have increased the range and reach of our communications, through a broad range of public information products aimed at increasing enjoyment and understanding of the natural heritage.  We maintain websites for a number of our National Nature Reserves and provide information on outdoor access.

Our key communications channels are:

Promoting national nature reserves

We encourage everyone to connect with nature through increased understanding and awareness.  We provide engaging and informative content for the public and for land managers through our social media accounts, on our website and on 3rd party platforms such as Google Maps and YouTube.  We also maintain Scotland’s NNR website and Facebook pages which provide information on all of Scotland’s 43 NNRs.  On our NNRs themselves we run seven visitor centres and shelters providing on-site information and interpretation including leaflets and events and education activities for schools and young people.

Supporting education and outdoor learning

Our work to support Education and Outdoor learning is summarised below in section 2, priority project 6 taking learning outdoors.

Increasing outdoor access and enjoyment

Our work to promote outdoor access and enjoyment is summarised below in section 2, priority project 5 more people experiencing and enjoying nature.

Supporting community nature conservation activities

We make a broad range of online resources available to support community involvement in biodiversity projects and citizen science, while much additional work is undertaken by our partners including various NGOs including the John Muir Trust and TCV Scotland and through the efforts of local partners including through Local Biodiversity Partnerships.

2. Actions to protect biodiversity and connect people with nature

Scotland’s biodiversity: a route map to 2020

Scotland’s Biodiversity: A Route Map to 2020 sets out large scale collaborative actions to address a range of targets drawn from the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.  Twelve ‘Priority Projects’ and ‘Supporting Work’ are associated with 14 targets underpinned by 79 actions.  NatureScot leads on co-ordinating and delivering the Route Map to 2020, chairs a co-ordination group and supports various working groups to assist in the task.

The sections below highlight many of the activities in the Route Map under the priority projects and provide some additional information on relevant NatureScot activities.  For a full and cumulative account of progress and an overview of all actions please refer to the Progress Report for 2017-19.  A progress report for the period up until the end of 2020 is currently in preparation.

2.1 Priority project 1: restoration of peatlands

The peatland action project

The Peatland Action Project is contributing to the European Union (EU) and Convention on Biological Diversity 15% degraded ecosystems restoration target and has exceeded the original target by almost threefold.  Funding from the Scottish Government through the Peatland Action Fund, managed by NatureScot, has ensured that over 19,000 ha of peatland is currently under restoration management.

The Peatland Action Fund of £14 million has focused on sites across Scotland in need of restoration management, peat carbon is secured and future carbon can be absorbed and stored.  This work is led by a dedicated team within NatureScot providing conservation advice, fund management, guidance and best practice advice, and demonstration events.  This provides a positive foundation for NatureScot to help deliver the ambitious Programme for Government 2020-2021 target of 250,000ha of degraded peatland under restoration management by 2030.

The RSPB flows to the future project

The RSPB Flows to the Future Project ran from 2014 to 2019.  The £11.3 million achieved a vast amount, including: 837ha of non-native tree removal from deep peat, 564 ha cleared of regenerating non-native conifers, forestry furrows and drains blocked over 1,747ha, 75,000ha advised on for management and funding applications, a new field centre for operations and researchers, new lookout tower and significant public engagement.

UNESCO world heritage site for the flow country of Caithness and Sutherland

UK Government has approved the submission of an application for UNESCO World Heritage Site status for the Flow Country of Caithness and Sutherland.  The Peatland Partnership has recruited a Project Officer to help develop this bid, likely for submission in spring 2023.  The Partnership is currently revising a Management Strategy for the peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland.

2.2 Priority project 2: restoration of native woodland

New native woodlands have been planted, mainly with support through the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) and meeting the Route Map to 2020 target of 3-5,000ha per year.

Herbivore impacts, particularly from deer, have been highlighted as a serious issue in relation to native woodland condition and 48 Upland Deer Management Plans are in place covering over 3,000,000ha to manage deer numbers to help retain existing native woodland cover and to improve woodland condition.  This incorporates work to bring designated native woodland into favourable condition.

Native Woodland Survey of Scotland data have provided the basis for the analysis in most of these plans, and the Forest Grant Scheme is the primary incentive-based mechanism for delivery of native woodland restoration; this requires Deer Management Plans to be produced as a condition of grant.  However, we have not quantified the restoration of native woodland achieved through these DMPs, and we do not have updated survey information on condition across the native woodland resource to provide an indication of where actions have moved beyond planning to implementation.

Alliance for Scotland’s rainforest

NatureScot is a member of the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest, a group of over twenty NGOs, statutory bodies and other organisations that are working together to help make Scotland’s rainforest thrive again.

The current areas of focus for the Alliance are:

  • Establish two landscape-scale projects to improve and expand rainforest sites
  • Influence the Scottish Government to give greater priority to restoring Scotland’s rainforest
  • Encourage and enable landowners and managers to restore and expand the rainforest in core areas
  • Make sure that Alliance organisations themselves are managing the rainforest as exemplars

In 2020 RSPB Scotland led submission of an EU LIFE concept application for a £3.8 million landscape-scale ‘Saving Morvern’s Rainforest’ project.  This initial but substantial application stage was successful and RSPB have now been invited to submit a full application.  However, whether a full application can be submitted depends on the urgent requirement for £600,000 of match funding.  If successful the project will create four employment opportunities and deliver multiple social and environmental benefits.

Saving Morvern’s Rainforest takes a landscape-scale approach to habitat enhancement and restoration.  Large-scale rhododendron eradication will focus on the Special Areas for Conservation woodlands and surrounding areas, alongside management of grazing in and around the woodlands.  By taking a habitat network approach the project will explore how the resilience of the woodlands could be enhanced through expansion, connections and stepping-stones.  RSPB Scotland sees the creation of local jobs and tourism benefits as a crucial part of the project and recognises that working closely with land managers and community partners will be key to making it a success and sustainable in the long-term.

Should this proposal succeed, and the work go ahead, it will become a rainforest restoration and biosecurity exemplar with lessons applied to rainforest habitat management across West Scotland via members of the Alliance plus two local Estates – Ardtornish and Laudale.

2.3 Priority project 3: restoration of freshwaters

The water framework directive

SEPA leads on implementing the Water Framework Directive with current work to improve freshwater quality detailed in the second river basin management plan (RBMP) for Scotland 2015-2021.

Pearls in peril project

NatureScot delivered the ‘Pearls in Peril’ LIFE+ Project to physically restore rivers in priority catchments and achieve substantial biodiversity benefits, and then continued to build on the project successes through a variety of initiatives and partnerships, particularly through the Biodiversity Challenge Fund and discussed below in para 2.9.

The Scottish invasive species initiative

Following Stage 2 funding approval from the National Lottery Heritage Fund of £1.59M the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) started in October 2017.  The ambitious four year project, led by NatureScot, tackles riverine, invasive non-native species on a landscape scale, covering a third of the Scottish mainland, through the efforts of ten local delivery partners (Fishery Trusts and Fishery Boards) and the University of Aberdeen.  The project is delivered by a small project staff and has established a huge network of volunteers and community groups.  To end 2019 more than 43,000 volunteer hours had been recorded, which is the equivalent of more than 30 full-time staff per year.

The IUCN river restoration and biodiversity project

This project is now in its third phase focusing on establishing a network of sites across UK and the Republic of Ireland where pre- and post- restoration monitoring can take place, showing the benefits of rivers restoration for biodiversity.

2.4 Priority project 4: securing economic and social benefits from, and investment in, natural capital

The natural capital asset index

The Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI) is a composite index that tracks changes in the potential of Scotland’s terrestrial ecosystems to contribute to people’s well-being and the economy, although it does not yet take account of marine habitats.

The Index is based on assessments of habitat quality and quantity.  Habitat quantity is tracked using data on land cover in Scotland.  Habitat quality is tracked using 38 separate indicators which rely on datasets gathered by a range of public organisations and citizen science schemes.

In April 2018 the data for the NCAI were updated and the Index is now one of the Economy Indicators for the National Performance Framework as the National Indicator of natural capital.  There is a four page summary and information note and a Story Map and Summary explaining the NCAI on the NatureScot website.

Key findings of the 2018 update to the NCAI (published in 2020) were:

  • Following decades of decline until the 1990s, Scotland’s stock of natural capital has stabilised and is now at its highest level since 2000
  • All habitats are increasing their contribution to human wellbeing
  • Heath and peatland habitats have continued to recover since lows in 2012.

A marine natural capital asset index

In 2019 NatureScot published a Feasibility study for a Marine Natural Capital Asset Index for Scotland.  This report shows that developing a marine natural capital asset index is possible.  Data and indicators are not sufficiently developed for it to be immediately feasible, but work could be done on creating one, with a coastal and intertidal index as an achievable intermediate goal.

Please note that section 3.4 discusses additional work to develop a natural capital approach.

2.5 Priority project 5: more people experiencing and enjoying nature

This aims to increase levels of regular participation in outdoor recreation, volunteering and citizen science by all of Scotland’s people through improved infrastructure, information, campaigns, activities and events.

Increasing participation in outdoor recreation

We have worked to foster responsible access rights and land management through promotion of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and through continued support for the National Access Forum.

Projects to facilitate and increase participation in outdoor recreation and to help people to pursue active lifestyles, particularly amongst young people, include expanding and promoting the National Walking and Cycling Network of paths, trails and canal towpaths, and providing online information on our finest long-distance trails - Scotland’s Great Trails.

We continued to lead on the National Walking and Cycling Network with our main partners Sustrans and Scottish Canals, bringing the total joint investment in strategic route development over the first five years of the project to £30 million.

We have worked with the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Division (RPID) to support land managers to create and improve paths as part of the ‘Improving Public Access’ element of the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme.  These new and improved paths – core paths, links to core paths, and paths connecting to wider local networks and longer paths – will encourage responsible public outdoor access for the full range of users, and help to integrate access and recreational use with good land management.

Volunteering and citizen science

Citizen science is a key source of data for monitoring biodiversity, including our suite of indicators and the National Performance Indicators for which we are responsible.  NatureScot and our partners are looking at ways to develop the capacity of volunteer recorders in order to continually strengthen the evidence base.  We support and promote volunteering and citizen science activities, including on our NNRs and through our website.  We support a number of eNGOs that engage with volunteers through a range of surveys and projects, in many cases managing to maintain contact and support for volunteers even during lockdown.

During 2020 we published webpages on Citizen Science activities to promote public participation in a wide range of surveys and related activities that can be done in and around our homes and gardens.

NatureScot has been a long-term supporter of the ‘Scotland Counts’ project run by TCV Scotland, which has worked with many communities to increase their direct contact with nature in local greenspaces through simple citizen science activities and surveys.  This project has provided many young people, people from disadvantaged areas, and members of BAME communities with an introduction to identifying and recording the biodiversity around where they live and increased understanding of the ecological principles that underpin a healthy living environment.

We provide regular volunteering opportunities on some of our NNRs for local communities and for longer-term residential volunteers.  Work undertaken includes conservation management and wildlife surveys.

Volunteering matters

We have continued to grant aid Volunteering Matters Action Earth, a small environmental community grant scheme that supports volunteers to get involved in improving local green spaces for people and nature through practical activities.  In 2019 over 7,000 volunteers were involved and nearly half of them were under the age of 25 and over 800 of them were aged over 65.  Half of the projects took place in the lowest SIMD areas of Scotland and nearly half of them involved someone with a disability.

The John Muir Trust

We have provided funding support to the John Muir Trust (JMT) to deliver the John Muir Award (JMA) scheme in Scotland.  This environmental award scheme encourages people of all backgrounds to connect with, and enjoy and care for, wild places.  The John Muir Award Conserve Audit Impact Report 2018 revealed that 29,848 days of ‘Conserve’ activity were carried out by 19,346 young people completing their John Muir Award.  Activities included planting trees, creating wildflower areas, creating or restoring ponds, clearing invasive species, collecting litter, madding bird feeders and improving paths.

Through the JMA over 5,000 young people engaged with 63 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) partnership organisations to collect data on species and other environmental parameters such as marine litter.  Young people have also invested their time and energy in environmental campaigns on issues such as single-use plastics, and JMT promote environmental youth social action initiatives such as #iwill4nature.

The Conservation Volunteers

We support The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) in providing a wide range of environmental volunteering opportunities and community activities that build skills, capacity and resilience through taking action to improve local environments and biodiversity.  TCV enable volunteers to create, protect and improve greenspaces for nature and people, focusing in particular on transforming places in disadvantaged areas and involving those with the least opportunity to benefit from being in greenspaces.  Many activities realise and demonstrate learning outcomes and the health and wellbeing benefits of being active in local greenspaces and engaging with nature.

The Conservation Volunteers help connect over 16,000 people to their local greenspace each year, delivering over 13,000 volunteer workdays to improve the quality and accessibility of Scotland’s greenspaces.  Actions include improving hundreds of sites by improving paths, removing Invasive Non-Native Species, building homes for nature, managing woodlands meadows, and planting trees.  Around three in ten of volunteers come from the most disadvantaged 20% SIMD areas.

Improving access to high quality greenspace

We are the lead partner for the Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention (GISI), part of the Scottish ERDF 2014-2020 programme (European Regional Development Funds).  The GISI supports projects to create and improve green infrastructure in deprived areas of urban Scotland.  The multifunctional sites funded through the GISI and delivered by public and third sector organisations improve habitats and biodiversity, transform derelict land, address flood risk and improve health and wellbeing through the creation of new community spaces.

A more detailed description of the Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention is presented below in section 4.3.

2.6 Priority project 6: taking learning outdoors

Learning for Sustainability (LfS) is a Scottish educational approach to learning which brings together Education for Sustainable Development, Global Citizenship and elements of Outdoor Learning with the intention of helping young people to understand, envision and act positively to secure a sustainable future.  NatureScot has taken a lead in helping schools to embed learning outdoors and to incorporate increased contact with nature into teaching practice.

We have led the Learning in Local Greenspace project to provide practical support to schools serving Scotland’s 20% most disadvantaged communities by helping them to access and use local greenspaces within walking distance, and to embed learning in greenspaces throughout the school and across the curriculum.  One hundred and fifteen schools in 12 local authority areas signed up to the project and worked with NatureScot and various partner organisations with support from the ‘Outdoor Learning in Nature Challenge Fund’ managed NatureScot, which has now closed.

We have made a number of resources available online to support learning in local greenspaces, including Beyond your boundary: easy steps to learning in local greenspace, and the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) accredited award-winning Teaching in Nature programme continues to provide a structured approach to professional development in Outdoor Learning for teachers and other educators.  This programme has been unconditionally reaccredited by the GTCS until 2024, and although we have not been able to run the programme in 2020 we have worked with Education Scotland and our Environment and Forestry Directorate (ENFOR) partners to deliver webinars to teachers, enabling 100s to access professional learning remotely during the pandemic.

Working in partnership we have developed the Outdoor Learning Directory to provide a shared partner web resource to signpost outdoor learning, including biodiversity resources for educators which is continuously updated with news, resources and events.

2.7 Priority project 7: developing Scotland’s natural health service

We have led on the development of the ambitious ‘Our Natural Health Service’ programme to work with national and local cross-sectoral partners to achieve a population-level change in the use of the outdoors to deliver health outcomes.  Four Green Health Partnerships have been established in North Ayrshire, Dundee, Highland and Lanarkshire to demonstrate and promote the physical, mental and social health benefits of outdoor activity and contact with nature, with the aim that green exercise is routinely prescribed by health professionals.

The NHS Greenspace Demonstration Project continues to work with Area Health Boards to develop the potential of the NHS outdoor estate to deliver better outcomes for health, nature and climate.  The project has resulted in greenspace improvements and increased use by staff, patients and local community across a range of new and existing hospital and health centre sites in mainland Scotland.  Overall, nearly 90 hectares of greenspace have been influenced in this first phase including 46 hectares of woodland brought back into sustainable management; 11,000 trees planted; 4 therapeutic gardens created; 1.4 hectares of wildflower meadow planted and 20km of new or upgraded paths and active travel routes created.  A Greenspace Health and wellbeing report on the project was published in 2020.

2.8 Priority project 8: protected areas in good condition

There are in excess of 1,800 protected areas in Scotland and surrounding seas which cover approximately 18% of land and freshwater, and 37% of the marine environment.

We oversee monitoring of features of special interest known as “natural features” and the delivery of remedial management where unfavourable condition is found.  Our aim is to identify the causes of unfavourable condition quickly and through partnership working ensure appropriate remedial management is put in place.

NatureScot monitors the status of features and produces the data to support a Scottish Government official statistic.  The proportion of natural features in favourable or recovering towards favourable condition, peaked at 80.4% at the end of March 2016 from a baseline of 76% in 2007.  In May 2019 this figure had dropped to 78.9%.

The SBS Progress Report to Parliament 2017 – 2019 provides more detail on the status of groups of notified species and habitats, and we publish the Official Statistic: The proportion of Scotland's protected sites in favourable condition 2020 on our website.

2.9 Priority project 9: conservation of priority species

The route map includes a suite of projects to deliver focussed actions for priority species.  This work involves a wide range of partners and a variety of funding mechanisms.  Full details on progress are provided in the route map reports.

The SBS Progress Report to Parliament 2017 – 2019 provides an overview of changes in species indicators, including the Abundance of terrestrial breeding birds,  Wintering waterbirdsBreeding seabirds, vascular plants through the National Plant Monitoring SchemeButterflies and trends in Moths.

Short descriptions of many of the key route map actions for NatureScot are provided below.

Freshwater pearl mussel conservation

Building on the success of the award winning Pearls in Peril project, NatureScot continues to lead priority work to address wildlife crimes affecting freshwater pearl mussels.  Working with Police Scotland, communities and partners, this has been targeted at conservation hotspots in northwest Scotland to raise awareness of, and deter, pearl fishing where many pearl mussel populations continue to be very vulnerable.

Rat removal from the Shiant Islands

Post-eradication ecological surveys were completed in 2018 in this project led by RSPB and funded by EU-LIFE, and the islands were declared rat-free on 2nd March 2018.  In July 2020 puffins were recorded nesting at several locations on the South face of Garbh Eilean where they have not previously nested regularly in any numbers.  Work on the ‘Biosecurity for LIFE After Plan’ has started to develop a seabird island biosecurity strategy. 

Publish and implement pollinator strategy for Scotland 2017 - 2027

The Pollinator Strategy for Scotland 2017 - 2027 was published in 2017, and we publish annual progress reports on that webpage illustrating how NatureScot and our partners are delivering the Strategy’s objectives, for example by establishing pollinator trails at some of our NNRs.  More generally we have developed guidance on Helping Scotland's Pollinators with links to resources and information for everyone, including the many local authorities that are now integrating pollinator-friendly practices into managing greenspaces and active travel networks.

Publish and implement a plant health strategy for Scotland

The Plant Health Strategy for Scotland was published in 2016 and a virtual Scottish Centre of Expertise on Plant Health was launched in 2018.  The Strategy continues to raise awareness of good practice with recent actions to commission a range of plant health research projects and to promote the International Year of Plant Health 2020 with virtual activities including the Scottish Plant Health Conference in March 2020 and the first UK National Plant Health Week 21-27 September 2020.

Langholm Moor demonstration project

The Project ran from 2008 to 2018.  It was a partnership between Buccleuch Estates, NatureScot, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, RSPB and Natural England.  The final report, ‘Managing Moorland for Birds of Prey and Red Grouse’ was published in 2019.  Full background information on the project is available on the project website.

In October 2020, The Langholm Initiative came to an agreement with Buccleuch Estates to buy 5,200 acres of the Langholm Moor and Tarras Valley as well as six residential properties for £3.8m.  Discussions regarding the remaining 5,300 acres are ongoing.

Support PAW Scotland and implement an action plan for hen harriers

Under PAW Scotland (a partnership for action against wildlife crime in Scotland) we are active in supporting a number of work areas to combat wildlife crime.  The five year Heads Up for Harriers project involving more than 25 estates has recently reported on key results derived from nest cameras.

NatureScot has welcomed Scottish Government’s response (November 2020) to the work of the independent Grouse Moor Management Group (the ‘Werritty Review’) and will continue to work with the Scottish Government and key stakeholders to develop proposals for introducing a licensing scheme for grouse shooting, and tighter regulation and oversight of muirburn with the explicit intention to ban muirburn on peatland.

Saving Scotland’s red squirrels project

Ongoing containment of grey squirrels for red squirrel protection involves volunteers and land managers in a co-ordinated network in NE Scotland, the central lowlands, along the Highland Line and in key populations in south Scotland.  The results of the 2019 annual survey, indicate that most of Scotland’s red squirrel populations have remained stable, and the decline in grey squirrel territory in the North East continues.  Surveys have been conducted reaching a large audience and have helped to connect people with nature.  The project won the 2019 Scottish Land & Estates ‘Helping It Happen’ Conservation Award.

South Scotland golden eagle reinforcement project

With funding from HLF and LEADER four golden eagles have been successfully released and are now well-established.  There is substantial public support for the project, which has garnered awards for its participants, and coverage on the BBC reached millions.  The Golden eagles south of Scotland website has an active blog presence with strong reach into the public and schools, and its wider outreach has been praised, with ‘Eagle Schools’ formed.

The project has benefited from excellent partnership-working across government agency/NGO/land management sectors.  The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that no golden eagles were released in 2020, but the release programme will continue in 2021 and 2022, with the target of releasing up to ten birds each year.

Restoration of water vole populations through landscape-scale mink control

Ongoing experimental reintroductions of water voles in Aberdeenshire are being undertaken in combination with the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) which is controlling mink at a landscape-scale over much of northern Scotland (see also section 2.3 above).

The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative is a community-based, riparian invasive non-native species (INNS) project over approximately 29,500 square km of Northern Scotland.  Development of catchment scale long-term mink control with a focus on freshwaters will reduce the economic, social and environmental impacts of INNS in the long term.  The experimental reintroduction of water voles in the Tarland area of Aberdeenshire has been successful and is now complete.  Water voles have subsequently moved into the nearby Mondavan burn and then to the Burn o’ Vat on the Muir of Dinnet NNR.  Further recovery of water vole populations is anticipated as a direct result of the actions of the SSSI project.

Restoration of butterfly populations

The scope of this action has been expanded with participation from NatureScot, Butterfly Conservation and Forest and Land Scotland to encompass a number of woodland butterflies and moths including pearl bordered fritillary, Kentish Glory and Dark Bordered Beauty moths to help ensure that woodland owners/agents are aware of the presence of priority species at an early stage in woodland creation proposals.  Practical actions have included several grazing enclosures and habitat improvements to enhance Dark Bordered Beauty habitat.  A Scottish Landfill Communities funded project to improve Kentish Glory habitat has progressed and is due to be completed in 2021.

Restoration of great yellow bumblebee populations

Important habitat for the great yellow bumblebee has been mapped to help with targeted transect searches, and we now have a better understanding of habitat requirements, location and status of this species.  Recent actions have included an extensive survey in Sutherland to record the species and to identify suitable and potential sites, ID training and BeeWalk training events and site visits to provide advice to farms/landholdings to support beneficial management for the great yellow bumblebee.

Restoration of rare lichens of the west coast temperate woodlands

Ongoing monitoring of two experimental lichen/bryophyte translocations to rhododendron-recovered sites in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

See also actions by the Atlantic Woodland Alliance (now the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest) discussed under priority project 2: restoration of native woodland.

Restoring native wildlife in the Outer Hebrides

This long term project is aimed at securing the future of native wildlife, particularly ground nesting birds, in the Outer Hebrides.  The introduction of North American mink has had a devastating impact on wildlife and a programme of eradication has been underway for a number of years.  Eradicating mink from the Western Isles has proved to be difficult due to re-colonisation of mink from an emerging population in the Uists.  In 2019, additional staffing resources were put in place to deal with this and currently the project is back in the position of pushing towards complete eradication of mink throughout the Outer Hebrides.  Currently only a few isolated individuals are being caught and the test will be to see if juveniles start to disperse in the late summer this year.

The Scottish Wildcat conservation action plan

Most of the project activity under the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan was completed by the end of March 2020.  During 2019/20 trapping of wildcats continued for genetic screening and GPS collaring and camera-trap monitoring continued at one of the priority areas.  Key messages have been promoted to the public and stakeholders on wildcat conservation, including on the findings of the independent review on the status of wildcats in Scotland led by members of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group.  Activity has begun to collate and report on the large volume of data collected during the project and work has started on the hand-over process to a successor project called “Saving Wildcats”.

Restoring curlew and other wader populations

Working for Waders is a major partnership initiative, significantly funded by NatureScot, to restore wader populations.  Scotland is now home to an estimated 15% of the world’s breeding population of curlews, which has been severely impacted by changes to farming practices and intensification.  The RSPB has run a five-year recovery programme, including a trial management project at two sites.  With support from the Biodiversity Challenge Fund the new ‘Curlews in Crisis Scotland’ project aims to increase suitable breeding areas and reduce predation for Europe’s largest wader and one of our most distinctive birds.  This project, which links to other work in Scotland aiming to halt the decline in curlew populations, focuses on sites in Caithness and near Muirkirk in Ayrshire.

Restoring corncrake populations

RSPB Scotland coordinates and undertakes an annual corncrake survey across the breeding range in Scotland.  During 2018, 2019 and 2020 numbers of calling males across most of the core areas have remained fairly stable at a little under 800 except on North Uist and Islay where there was a reduction of about 20% in the last year.  RSPB Scotland has received funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund for the four-year “Corncrake Calling Project” which started in August 2020 and will focus on three key issues:

  • Land Management – to help increase the area under positive management
  • Education – developing public activities to raise the profile of the species and the farming systems they depend on, both at a local and national level
  • Advocacy – to help develop a long-term plan for the species with the support of government and stakeholders.  Advocacy outputs will be developed through a series of workshops which will be run over the next year.  Advocacy will also feed into the future agri-environment scheme development post 2024.

Restoring corn bunting populations

RSPB Scotland’s corn bunting recovery work began almost two decades ago and is mainly focused on coastal Fife through Angus and into the agricultural plains of North East Scotland.  Ongoing habitat creation and management (c.70ha) has taken place in East Scotland through support from the Biodiversity Challenge Fund with a second tranche in place to provide another year of funding for corn buntings and pollinators alongside a successful application to the Rural Innovation Support Scheme in Fife to engage more farmers in conservation management for corn buntings and other wildlife.

Work has been undertaken on the Western Isles to provide winter food for corn buntings, however changing agricultural systems have now made this work unsustainable as population monitoring reveals numbers at an all-time low of 18 singing males and extinction in the next 5 years looking likely.

Conserving red-billed chough (this new initiative is not in the route map)

We recently reported on a conservation strategy for red-billed chough in Scotland, which has built on painstaking research and conservation management action by the Scottish Chough Forum and several universities.

Cairngorms capercaillie project (this new initiative is not in the route map)

Cairngorms National Park supports roughly 90% of the Scottish capercaillie population.  We have supported Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) as a funding partner and advisor in the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project which aims to reverse the decline in the capercaillie population by taking an innovative approach to working with local communities, building awareness, understanding, pride and support for the birds alongside further work to improve capercaillie habitat.  Funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund was confirmed in June 2020 and the project is now entering the delivery phase, with Carrbridge acting as a pilot community.  For more information see the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project website.

2.10 Priority project 10: improving ecological connection

This route map project aims to improve habitat and species resilience, contribute to wider ecosystem services (such as improved natural flood management and reduced diffuse pollution) and to improve the socio-economic condition of Central Scotland.

The EU Life funded EcoCo LIFE project was extended to 2019 to allow for additional on-site habitat interventions.  Ten landscape clusters of 40 sites covering 1,500ha across the Central Scotland Green Network area comprising peatland, wetland, open mosaic and freshwater habitats benefitted from improved habitat condition and increased connectivity.

Working with partners, NatureScot led the Habitat Network workstream of the Central Scotland Green Network Trust Delivery Plan (now Green Action) and produced an Opportunity Map to support targeting of actions to reconnect fragmented habitat networks.

Nature Scot published an indicator on ecological connectivity as part of the suite of Ecosystem Health Indicators to help guide priorities for spatial action, and in 2018 we published a Research Report on Developing a habitat connectivity indicator for Scotland to support integrating ecological connectivity into spatial planning.  This evaluates habitat connectivity at a regional and a Scotland-wide scale taking into account a habitat's size, shape, configuration, distance from other similar habitats, and the effects of different habitats in the surrounding landscape.

Landscape-scale projects

NatureScot is involved in many landscape-scale projects to restore ecosystems across Scotland.  Some projects have been completed and some are still underway.  Some projects are close to urban areas such as EcoCo Life+ mentioned above, and the suite of projects in the Inner Forth Landscape Initiative, Garnock Connections and East Ayrshire Coalfield Communities.

The Seven Lochs Wetland Park is a great example of collaboration leading to positive outcomes for people and nature.  The site is Scotland’s largest urban nature park and supports a wide variety of biodiversity, as well as providing healthy recreation opportunities for local people and visitors.

Landscape-scale projects in other areas of Scotland include the Coigach & Assynt Living Landscape and the Flows to the Future project in Sutherland (discussed above under priority project 1: restoration of peatlands), the Spey Catchment Initiative, Dee Catchment Management Partnership, Southern Uplands Partnership, the Tweed Forum, Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere, North Isles Landscape Partnership, and the Callander Landscape Partnership.  Three are highlighted below.

Cairngorms connect

Cairngorms Connect is a partnership of neighbouring land managers, committed to a bold and ambitious 200-year vision to enhance habitats, species and ecological processes across a vast area within Cairngorms National Park, with funding from the Endangered Landscapes Programme.  NatureScot is on the project board, delivers part of the land management plan and advises partnership staff.

Wester Ross biosphere

Wester Ross was recognised as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2016 due to its important landscapes, wildlife and cultural heritage.  NatureScot support the co-ordinator post and advises on activities.  The project has launched a ‘Destination Management Plan’ to help create a more sustainable tourism environment in Wester Ross and a ‘Supporter Charter’ aims to help local businesses harness the financial, social and environmental benefits associated with the UNESCO designation.  For more information see the Wester Ross Biosphere website.

Nevis landscape partnership

This partnership of local and national organisations aims to work together to protect and enhance the Glen Nevis and Ben Nevis area by delivering a variety of projects.  NatureScot is working with others to support the Partnership to deliver current projects, including dealing with increased visitor pressure, and to develop future revenue streams.

2.11 Priority project 11: sustainable land management

Between 2015 and 2020, £30-40 million annually was awarded to land managers under five-year contracts with the Agri-Environment and Climate Scheme (AECS) to deliver biodiversity and climate change benefits from the management of peatlands and carbon-rich soils, designated sites, pollinators, grasslands, wetlands and moorlands.

This investment contributes directly to National Performance indicators on the condition of protected areas, the abundance of terrestrial breeding birds and the Natural Capital Asset Index.  In total, around 3,000 land managers have had 5-year contracts under AECS, delivering sustained positive management on around 30% of Scotland’s agricultural land (1.6 million hectares).

A review of biodiversity outcomes delivered through agri-environment programmes is provided in the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy: report to Parliament 2017 to 2019 and section 3 below of this report highlights additional work to mainstream biodiversity into Agricultural land use.

2.12 Priority project 12: increase environmental status of our seas

The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy aims to establish a coherent network of marine protected areas, promoting sustainable use and conservation, with the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 providing the legislative framework for delivering the outcome.

Considerable progress has been made with consultation and designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).  Additional MPAs designated in 2020 mean that approximately 37% of Scotland’s marine area (including inshore & offshore waters) now have protective status for nature.  This includes SSSIs, Ramsar & Natura sites plus a suite of 35 Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas (NCMPAs).  These sites form a network of MPAs safeguarding much of Scotland’s marine biodiversity.  Work to improve protection of the most sensitive Priority Marine Features outside the MPA network is also underway.

Scotland’s breeding seabirds are of international importance.  They respond to a range of factors such as changes in food availability, weather, predation and pollution, and to changes in habitats outside Scotland.  The most recent update to the indicator on numbers and breeding success of seabirds in Scotland[109] is based on the UK Seabird Monitoring Programme and was published in 2017.  It shows a decrease in breeding seabird numbers by 32% from the 1986 level, noting that these declines partly reflect a mid-1980s peak in seabird abundance and productivity in Scotland, and that some species now appear to be stabilising.

2.13 Supporting work

The Route Map contains a number of activities as “supporting work” that help to underpin delivery actions.

The habitat map of Scotland

The Habitat Map of Scotland is maintained by NatureScot.  It holds data from national plant and habitat surveys reclassified to match the European Nature Information System (EUNIS).  The Habitat Map consists of around 800 National Vegetation Classification (NVC) site surveys along with national surveys at a detailed scale of saltmarsh, coastal shingle, sand dune and native woodlands.  An interactive map and all the datasets are freely available through Scotland’s Environment Web and from Natural Spaces on the NatureScot website.  Work is underway to improve the data resolution for the upland regions of Scotland using SCIR (Stereo Colour Infra-red) and new data will be added when they become available.

A soil map for Scotland

The carbon rich soil, deep peat and peatland habitats map was released in 2016 using phase 4 of the National Soil of Scotland (partial) map by the James Hutton Institute (JHI).  The map is available to view on Scotland’s soils website with guidance on how to use and interpret the map targeting to different user groups.  This online resource continues to be updated to provide responsive support and advice to partner projects.  Following the release of phase 7 of the map in July 2020 NatureScot is investigating updating to the map to include new digital soil information.

Develop citizen science capacity and data collection effort

NatureScot supports and works with JNCC to support the UK Biological Records Centre which in turn supports an extensive network of biological recording ‘National Schemes and Societies’, including the National Plant Monitoring Scheme, the National Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, the British Trust for Ornithology, the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, and the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland.

We have also supported the TCV ‘Scotland Counts’ project to employ citizen science activities when engaging with local communities, young people and BAME groups to increase their contact with, and understanding of, nature and the environment (this os further described above in section 2.5).

Working with Young Scot and engaging young people with nature through a young person’s advisory panel

NatureScot has worked with Young Scot to engage young people in delivering the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity by establishing ReRoute - Scotland’s Biodiversity Youth Panel in 2015.  The first phase of the Panel’s work concluded with a set of recommendations on how we could improve our engagement with young people, and a second phase helped us to take these forward in practice as set out in a report.  Outputs and activities have included a ‘Freshspace Campaign’ co-designed by and for teenage girls, and also running a Parliamentary event.  Phase 3 has focussed on a detailed exploration of SNH staff’s current views, understanding, and engagement with young people.  It concluded with a report on how to strengthen the voice of young people within NatureScot through organisational and strategic system change to mainstream co-design and embed young people across decision-making

3. Mainstreaming biodiversity

3.1 Achieving biodiversity outcomes through the planning system

NatureScot provides a planning service including advice, capacity-building and guidance to help deliver Scottish Government’s commitment to tackling the twin challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss and our own corporate priorities, including preparing for the challenges arising from new international targets for biodiversity in 2020, and ensuring that we are maintaining, protecting and enhancing Scotland’s nature.  We report on our performance within the Planning System in our Planning Performance Annual Reports.

We provide sector-specific guidance and convene events, for example on wind farms, hydroelectric schemes, aquaculture sites, upland track construction, floating roads on peat and car parks.  We provide planning-related standing advice and guidance on our website including much to help ensure how biodiversity is to be taken into account in and around developments of all types.

Some of our most important engagement is at the early pre-application stage to support a more efficient Planning System.  This allows issues to be identified early in the development and planning process and affords time to try and resolve issues ahead of applications being submitted.

The national planning framework

The third National Planning Framework was published in 2014 as the long-term spatial expression of the Government Economic Strategy.  It set out a vision of Scotland as a natural, resilient place with rich and varied biodiversity within protected sites and within the built environment where key infrastructure corridors and greenspaces provide important habitats, and which together could contribute to a wider national ecological network.

NatureScot has contributed to the Scottish Government Position Statement on Scotland’s Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4), published in December 2020, setting out key elements to be included in NPF4 and looking ahead to 2050.

Scotland’s Fourth National Planning Framework will focus on achieving four key outcomes: Net Zero Emissions; Resilient Communities; A Wellbeing Economy; and Better, Greener Places.  The Statement stresses the fundamental role that consideration of Scotland’s natural capital and protecting and investing in our natural assets will play in future policies on planning for business development to support our economy and achieve sustainable, inclusive growth and the health and wellbeing of our communities.

The Position Statement recognises that the climate and nature crises are intrinsically linked, and that ‘nature-based solutions’ to climate change, including woodland creation and peatland protection and restoration, will be essential to reducing emissions from our land and to increasing carbon sequestration.  The vision of a ‘nature-rich future’ will be strengthened through Scotland’s Fourth National Planning Framework.

The Position Statement sets out how the Place Principle will be a key driver for ensuring that planning focuses on our places, supported by a wide range of interests to ensure that proposals and policies are delivered on the ground.  Protecting, restoring and enhancing our natural and cultural heritage should form the foundations of a place-based approach to future development.  In addition the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 includes a statutory requirement for councils to produce Open Space Strategies.

The Position Statement recognises the role of nature-based solutions in addressing wider socio-economic outcomes, and how best spatial approaches can integrate development with natural infrastructure, such as blue-green networks, to deliver multiple benefits, including not only carbon sequestration but community resilience and health improvements.  As part of this, consideration will be given to integrating ecological networks to protect and restore biodiversity and ensure that habitats and species can adapt to a changing climate.  It highlights that the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 requires NPF4 to set out how development will contribute to securing ‘positive effects for biodiversity’ and explains that it is developing ambitious new proposals to deliver positive outcomes for biodiversity from development without the need for overly complex metrics, and is considering how they can support wider approaches to natural infrastructure.

In supporting resilient communities and Scotland’s public health priorities the Position Statement describes how it will apply concepts such as 20 minute neighbourhoods across our cities, towns, and rural areas so that the places where we live and work are more resilient and sustainable.  It describes how blue-green infrastructure should be an integral part of place-making, with good quality open spaces and green networks playing a crucial role in supporting our quality of life.  It states that natural flood risk management, flood prevention and green infrastructure are key opportunities to manage our environment whilst achieving wider benefits for people, place and environment.

Positive effects for biodiversity

NatureScot has prepared a report to Scottish Government that offers options that can secure positive effects for biodiversity achievable through adjustments within and alongside the planning system.  The report has been published and will be used to develop a consensual approach by which development itself can promote, incorporate and deliver enhancements to biodiversity consistent with local and regional biodiversity priorities.  It is intended that NPF4 might incorporate measures that are stimulated by this report.

Working with environmental clerks of works

NatureScot is supporting the Association of Environmental Clerks of Works with a new initiative to ‘develop and promote the role of Environmental Clerks of Works through establishing good practice and knowledge-sharing for the benefit of the environment’ with a focus on ‘the construction or operation phase of any given development where environmental compliance requires to be audited or monitored’.

3.2 New approaches to supporting agricultural land use

Scotland’s natural capital pilot programme

This programme set up by NatureScot in 2020 under an advisory group comprising Scottish Government, NGO and land management representatives is a suite of projects that aim to test natural capital and outcomes-based approaches to inform Scottish Government’s future rural policy.  It covers three key projects:

  1. Natural Capital Assessment Template
  2. Natural Capital Assessment at Landscape Scale
  3. POBAS – Piloting an Outcomes Based Approach

The natural capital assessment template

This project builds on existing testing of the Natural Capital Protocol (discussed below in section 3.4), the use of the Public Goods Tool, the review of on-farm metrics carried out by the Sustainable Food Trust, and possible future approaches to Integrated Land Management Plans.  It will further test, develop and simplify how the Natural Capital Protocol could be applied to land-based businesses, and its potential use as the basis for a whole farm plan approach to future funding.

The project aims to produce a draft natural capital assessment template to be trialled on a selection of mostly farmed units in 2021 with a view to it being incorporated into new schemes being piloted over the 2021 – 2024 period.

Natural capital assessment at landscape scale

This project aims to test how a natural capital approach across the whole Island of Islay and the Wester Ross Biosphere area might inform future policy.  In addition to working with land managers, it will include a community engagement component and seek to explore links between natural capital and the wider rural economy.  The draft scope for the project covers four possible elements - a) a desk-based assessment of natural capital across each region; b) community and land management engagement; c) testing how practical implementation of natural capital might be assessed at individual land holdings; d) establishing payment rates for paying for natural capital.

Piloting an outcomes based approach in Scotland (POBAS)

This 4-year project is working with more than 50 farmers and crofters in five areas to test a results-based approach to agricultural payments.

We are piloting alternative approaches to achieving a better-quality environment on agricultural land by introducing ‘payment by results’ to reward good management for nature.  The aim is to design a scheme that links payments to evidence of what has been achieved, rather than paying simply to complete specific actions, and to offer farmers the flexibility to decide how to achieve positive environmental results on their land.

This approach will not be suitable in all circumstances, but it is exciting to develop an approach that could provide more flexibility for farmers, improve our understanding of how to manage the land to achieve a better-quality environment, and provide better value for money, while keeping the approach simple enough to be a realistic and practical way forward.

Phase 1 (2019/20) has included discussions and workshops, and trialling of draft scorecards.  A report is on the NatureScot website.  Phase 2 (2020/21) will conduct further preparatory work to plan for a pilot scheme starting in 2021/22 to run for 2 years with the aim of providing evidence to inform post 2024 agri-environment funding.

As part of this phase we are sponsoring a Scottish Government CivTech Challenge to develop new technologies that can be used in the field in remote locations to gather evidence to monitor habitat improvements while helping users to understand habitat quality.  Ultimately we need to collect and analyse data on climate change mitigation, carbon storage and improved biodiversity outcomes.

Preparing the evidence base for post-EU exit agriculture in Scotland – case studies on alternative payments

Using case studies, this additional study makes a comparison of current agricultural support with alternative proposals for rewarding farmers for the delivery of environmental public goods.  Options for the delivery of these public goods range from environmental maintenance to agroecological systems and nature restoration.  The financial assessment shows both positive and negative financial outcomes for different options, with results varying sometimes substantially by farm type.  Depending on the options selected and the allocation formula used for the options on different farm types, individual farms may be able to retain all or a significant proportion of their current CAP support income.  There is a contrast in the optimal solutions for each farm type to maintain farm income.  NatureScot will be publishing a report and a series of summaries of key farm and croft types by January 2021.

3.3 New approaches to investing in biodiversity / increasing investment in nature

NatureScot recognises that traditional public and philanthropic sources of funding for nature-based solutions and net-zero natural resource management will be insufficient to address the key challenges of the climate and nature emergencies.  Diversifying the financing of investment in nature, in particular increasing the flow of private finance, is an essential requirement to deliver nature-based solutions and net-zero natural resource management.

We have established an Environmental Green Finance Programme (EGF), the vision of which is to secure ‘a step change in investment, in particular from the private sector, to fund a nature-rich future and unleash nature’s ability to mitigate climate change and enable society to adapt to it’.

NatureScot is contributing to developing the £1 Billion Challenge launched by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Wildlife Trust.  We support the co-ordination of activities and are involved in several of the 9 pillars.  For example, we have contributed to a Landscape Enterprise Network (LEN) project based in Ayrshire; part of a UK-wide suite of LENs that aim to take a business-led approach to investing in nature within landscapes and provide platforms for aggregating ‘payments for ecosystem services’.  These business investments can be blended with public funding to deliver further ‘public goods’, with biodiversity benefitting directly through increased investment in natural habitats.

Facilitating local natural capital investment

The Facilitating Local Natural Capital Investment initiative aims to develop and test an approach that could be used by regional partnerships to facilitate investment in natural capital at the local level, especially from the private sector.  This pilot project is led by NatureScot with support from Scottish Government, Scottish Forestry and Scottish Land Commission and is overseen by the Environment and Economy Leaders’ Group (EELG) Green Finance Sub-group.  Tweed Forum has been appointed as the local partner and a contract with consultants and RSPB Scotland will deliver the project on behalf of NatureScot and the funding partners.  The project seeks to produce:

  • A package of evidence, tools and financial mechanisms and structures, suitable for Scottish contexts, to facilitate financing of nature-based solutions,
  • A demonstration of practical delivery of this approach that delivers significant investments in nature in a joined-up way, reflecting the needs of local communities and businesses.

3.4 Developing a natural capital approach

We provided evidence on natural capital and the green recovery to the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery report on a Green Recovery (the “Higgins” report).  We are working with Scottish Government and others who are taking forward recommendations that were supported by Scottish Government in its response to this report, including applying a four capitals approach and carrying out a natural capital census.

In November, NatureScot Chief Executive Francesca Osowska chaired the Public sector leaders’ natural capital roundtable, attended by over 30 people from 24 organisations, which was organised jointly with the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital.  We provide funding to support the secretariat of the Forum which is managed by Scottish Wildlife Trust, and promotes a natural capital approach across all sectors.  We also chair the Sustainable Land Management Working Group of the Forum which shares ideas and projects on natural capital approaches to land management.

Natural capital accounting and assessment

NatureScot was the first public body in Scotland to prepare experimental natural capital accounts.  We tested this Natural Capital Accounting approach on land we own or substantially manage, mainly as National Nature Reserves.  The report showed that this land generates over £28m worth of benefits each year.  The most valuable benefits were found to be tourism, recreation and climate regulation.  Biodiversity was not quantified in monetary terms but it was measured through a series of ecological indices for the seven key habitat types.  Our Research Report Testing a natural capital approach provides full details.

The natural capital protocol

NatureScot worked with The Crown Estate and other organisations to Trial the use of the Natural Capital Protocol for land-based businesses.  The Natural Capital Protocol (NCP) was trialled on two tenant farms and an estate belonging to Crown Estates Scotland.  This is the first of its kind, not only in Scotland but globally, yielding a wealth of information that will be used to encourage more land managers to adopt a natural capital approach to land management.  The trial identified reliance, impacts, risks and opportunities of these businesses on natural capital.

We hope to consider in future how we might use the new NCP Biodiversity Guidance to help anchor biodiversity within natural capital assessments.

3.5 Delivering biodiversity outcomes through challenge funds

NatureScot manages a number of challenge funds that can deliver benefits for biodiversity.  These include the Peatland Action Fund discussed above in section 2.1 on priority project 1: restoration of peatlands.

The biodiversity challenge fund

We established the Biodiversity Challenge Fund (BCF) in 2019 to support targeted action to help deliver against international biodiversity targets and address the impact of climate change.  Through supporting action on priority habitats and species and accelerating efforts to preserve and enhance biodiversity, work across Scotland has resulted in greater focused effort for those species in need of action.  The total project fund was £4.4m of which £2.64m was allocated to 21 projects during 2019/20.  The Third phase of the BCF was launched in late 2020 with priorities based on the IPBES direct drivers of biodiversity loss, specifically: land and sea-use change; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change and its impacts; pollution, and invasive non-native species (INNS).

Plunge In! Coasts and waters community fund

The Plunge In! Fund supports 25 new community projects to engage and connect more people with our seas, coasts, lochs, rivers, streams and wetlands, and their unique wildlife.  The fund aims to leave a legacy from the Year of Coasts and Waters, for example through improved skills and knowledge or the creation of community resources.

Outdoor learning in nature fund

The Outdoor learning in nature fund, managed by NatureScot, has recently awarded seven projects a total of £140,000 to encourage more children in Scotland to enjoy and learn about the outdoors in their local area. The grants have been given in the second and final round of the two-year Outdoor Learning in Nature (OLIN) fund, which has now awarded over half a million pounds to 23 projects.

The projects will work with around 40 schools to deliver regular outdoor learning activities to around 1600 pupils in their local greenspaces, as well as providing professional learning to approximately 400 teachers.

The natural and cultural heritage fund

The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, administered by NatureScot, supports new opportunities to promote the outstanding scenery, wildlife and culture of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in ways which support inclusive and sustainable economic growth.  It will help to retain jobs and sustain populations and services in rural communities.

This Challenge Fund of £5million of ERDF money was available through a single competitive funding round which opened on 14 January 2019 and closed on 22 April 2019.  This money supports 14 major projects to be delivered by 2022. Projects sought an ERDF grant of a minimum of £250k.  Projects that demonstrated sensitive management and safeguarding heritage assets for future generations included Skye Iconic Sites Project, Dundreggan Rewilding Centre and Hermaness Hill Path & welcome area.

Better places green recovery fund

This fund will help communities and destinations develop plans for pro-active visitor management in 'hot spot' locations to enjoy nature. The fund offers financial support to undertake the preliminary stages of visitor management planning, including scoping of the issues and interests. The fund will also support the further development or review of any existing plans, and design work for infrastructure solutions and measures.

The Better Places for Green recovery Fund will prioritise areas in Scotland which suffer from excessive visitor management pressures, including capacity issues, inadequate or no infrastructure and services, remote locations, erosion and land-based impacts, and anti-social behaviour.  The fund will support NGO or community-led activity costing between £5,000 and £20,000. This is a challenge fund with a rolling assessment and approval process.  Applications can be submitted at any time up to midnight Friday 29 January 202, with all work to be completed by 31 March 2021.

The future routes fund

The Future Routes Fund is for young people, to support them to connect with nature and to make a positive impact on the environment in Scotland.  It was created by Scotland's youth biodiversity panel, ReRoute in collaboration with NatureScot and Young Scot.  It was launched in 2018 as part of Scotland’s Year of Young People, with £100,000 available over five years for young people to deliver activities, projects and ideas which engage people with nature.

Green infrastructure strategic intervention fund

NatureScot is the Lead Partner of the GISI, showing that we can deliver a funding programme of this scale successfully.  We have allocated over £15m from the European Regional Development Fund, to projects which with match funding means an overall programme of projects of £40m.  More detailed information on GISI can be found below in section 4.3.

4. Nature-based solutions, climate change, and biodiversity

 

4.1 Climate change and biodiversity

 

Climate change presents the single greatest threat to Scotland’s nature.  Our Climate Change Commitments - towards a nature-rich future present our response to the climate emergency declared by Scottish Government.

4.2 Nature-based solutions

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature defines nature-based solutions as ‘actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits’.

Nature-based solutions are a key part of the Government’s strategy to tackle the challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss and are integral to NatureScot’s ambition for a nature-rich Scotland.

We can use nature-based solutions to help realise three interlocking benefits:

  • Reduce net emissions and thereby contribute to global efforts to moderate future climate change
  • Help our society and economy adapt to climate change that is inevitable
  • Support action to tackle the global biodiversity crisis, with habitats and species threatened not only by climate change but also by changing use of land and sea, direct exploitation, pollution, and invasive non-native species.

Our Peatland ACTION is a globally recognised programme of peatland restoration. Since 2012, over 25,000 hectares have been put on the road to recovery with funding provided by the Scottish Government.  Peatlands in good health are valuable and have many benefits to us all.

In February 2020, the Scottish Government announced a substantial, multi-annual investment in peatland restoration of more than £250 million over the next 10 years. Recognising that restoring peatlands is one of the most effective ways of locking in carbon; offering a clear nature-based solution to the climate crisis.

Peatland restoration can also play a key role in Scotland’s green recovery, by supporting the rural economy through the creation and development of land-based jobs and skills across Scotland.

4.3 Urban nature-based solutions

Nature-based solutions within settlements use nature for tackling many of society’s challenges such as climate change, water security, food security, human health, and disaster risk management.  Over 80% of the population live in urban areas and NatureScot has recently set out its ambition for nature-rich towns and cities and is involved in a range of work to support this ambition, some of which is outlined below.

In urban areas nature-based solutions include green roofs and walls, parks, active travel routes, natural wastewater treatments, community growing, renewable energy production and sustainable urban drainage.  These nature-based solutions make our towns and cities more attractive for people to live and work in, improve habitat for wildlife and can improve our physical and mental health, and attract jobs, businesses and investment.  Our publication People, Place and the Climate Emergency: The contribution of Nature to Community Planning Partnership Priorities illustrates many of the ways in which nature can help to address local outcomes.

The Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention

The Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention (GISI) is part of the 2014-2020 Scottish ERDF programme and is led by NatureScot.

Funding of £15m from ERDF has been allocated in two Phases to 15 capital projects and 11 community engagement projects, through two Challenge Funds – the Green Infrastructure Fund (GIF) and the Green Infrastructure Community Engagement Fund.  The most recent round of the GIF was oversubscribed, indicating further demand and potential to deliver green infrastructure projects of this scale and ambition.

Capital projects include the Greater Easterhouse Green Infrastructure project, led by Glasgow City Council which has created new and improved open space through an integrated green and blue network in two focus areas – Cranhill / Ruchazie and Blairtumnock and includes green finger connections to the 7 Lochs Wetland Area.  The project has transformed over 29ha of land within an area identified as one of Scotland’s most socially and economically deprived.  As well as managing flood risk and providing accessible green space for local people, the project has provided habitat for Easterhouse’s population of fossorial water voles.

The total investment through the GISI, with match funding, through the fund amounts to almost £40m.  Their impact will be demonstrated through case studies showing the multiple benefits they bring to local communities.

Delivery of the Phase 1 projects and commencement of the Phase 2 projects has been delayed by COVID-19, but work is now underway once more and we expect to be able to deliver the whole GISI programme by 2023.

Research by NatureScot staff and partners has shown that Green Infrastructure can provide high quality habitat for a number of species, including amphibians and invertebrates and that citizen science tools can allow local residents to study, understand and enjoy biodiversity .  However, access is currently not equitably distributed and the GISI aims to address this important issue.  As part of the Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention a number of projects have installed nature-rich SuDS, including at Fernbrae Meadows, Greater Easterhouse and Middlefield.

More information about the GISI, its projects and outcomes can be found.

Embedding urban nature-based solutions

We have engaged with the development sector to explore how we can embed better practice.  In addition to research Maximising the benefits of green infrastructure in social housing, we continue to work with social housing providers and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations to raise awareness of blue/green infrastructure explore barriers to better practice.  We recently (September 2020) chaired an SFHA Development Conference that focussed on green/blue infrastructure.  This shared good practice from projects funded by NatureScot, including Meadowbank Development Green Roof Options Appraisal and Masterplanning Green-blue Infrastructure in Partnership with North Maryhill Housing Association.  We have worked with Building with Nature to raise awareness of good design for blue-green infrastructure amongst the housing sector and provided funding to enable some local authority planners to become Building with Nature Assessors.  This year NatureScot sponsored the first “Green Infrastructure Development of the Year” award, part of the annual Scottish Homes Awards.  In 2019 we co-hosted the Future Planning Conference alongside EKN (Ecosystems Knowledge Network).

Planning for urban nature based solutions (uNBS)

We work with developers and partners to plan for and deliver uNBS at a range of spatial scales to help create nature-rich, climate resilient places where people live.

In East Lothian we are working at a strategic scale with a multi-agency steering group led by East Lothian Council to produce a strategy and action for a ‘Climate Resilience Zone’ within the western part of East Lothian.  This sets out an overall vision for the future development and use of land as a place based response to the Council's Climate Change Strategy.  It explores ways to enable a transition to carbon neutral and enable major community benefits such as healthy walking and cycling links, an attractive natural environment, employment opportunities, innovative energy generation and leisure facilities.  It incorporates a theme on Greenspace and Biodiversity that includes integrated habitat network plans, greenspace and biodiversity within urban areas, a climate resilient habitat creation policy, a low carbon food strategy, a transport corridor planting programme, and a plan for Greater Blindwells for high density, mixed use development with opportunities to create a setting and identity around high quality well maintained green and blue infrastructure that delivers high biodiversity value.

At a large masterplan scale we are working with City of Edinburgh Council on the Development Framework for Granton Waterfront.  We have helped to design a “Green Space Analysis” aimed at understanding how best to reorganise space within this new suburb on an area of brownfield that aims to showcase low carbon living in an environment that is climate resilient, inclusive and beautiful.  The analysis will show how multiple additional and new benefits will be generated by providing easily accessible space, creatively managing water, improving quality through nature based solutions, increasing biodiversity, using greenspace for power, and by offering community benefits that will enhance health and wellbeing.

At project level we are working with the Glasgow Science Centre on their Wetlands Interpretation project to help transform an area around Pacific Quay by creating a new shallow water wetlands area of natural green space with interpretation explaining the connections between native vegetation, water management and climate change adaptation.

Nature based solutions to improving health

Four pilot Green Health Partnerships (GHPs) have been established to demonstrate how better cross-sectoral co-ordination can mainstream approaches to increasing physical activity and improving mental health through engaging with the natural environment.  Led by local health boards and local authorities, these partnerships bring together the health, social care, environment, leisure, sport and active travel sectors in order to make more use of local green space as a health-promoting resource.

Action plans are being implemented that are shaped around local health priorities including tackling health inequalities, and connect with current initiatives such as Realistic Medicine, social prescribing and public health reform.  Each partnership draws on its sound knowledge of community needs, existing outdoor assets and green health activity, and adds value by identifying co-benefits.

Funding support for each of the GHPs is provided by NatureScot and Transport Scotland with additional support from national partners including Scottish Forestry, Public Health Scotland, Sport Scotland, Paths for All and The Conservation Volunteers (TCV).  This key element of the Our Natural Health Service programme is being piloted in four areas - North & South Lanarkshire, Dundee, North Ayrshire, and Highland.

Following the establishment of the four GHPs during 2018/19, a series of research interviews were undertaken with some of the individuals involved at an operational and strategic level to explore their experience of the first year of delivery and their thoughts on longer-term mainstreaming of the GHP approach.  These research findings will be used to help guide and plan future GHP activities, add to the evidence around what works and inform the evaluation of the Our Natural Health Service programme.

4.4 Local biodiversity action plan partnerships

Local Biodiversity Action Plan (LBAP) Partnerships were established across Scotland in response to the first UK Biodiversity Action Plan in 1994 and they continue to play a critical role in bringing together local stakeholders including local authorities, environmental NGOs, communities and volunteers.  These partnerships operate at a local level to raise awareness, and to organise projects and actions to conserve and enhance biodiversity around national and local priorities.  The breadth of their work across Scotland is illustrated in a publication that accompanied a Scottish Parliament event celebrating 20 years of LBAP activity in 2016.  NatureScot has continued to provide support to coordinate the national LBAP network to share knowledge and experience and to support implementation at the local authority level of local partnership actions during a period of decreasing available resources for this work.

Public Engagement and Workforce development

5.1 Public engagement

NatureScot has increased the level of public engagement with nature in Scotland over the last three years, particularly through work we undertake to connect people and nature.  We have focused much of our work through the ‘Make Space for Nature’ campaign encouraging people to involve nature in their everyday lives, providing ideas and information throughout the seasons.  We have worked closely with communications staff from many other organisations including government and NGOs to better coordinate our messages about nature and the opportunities we can all provide for people to enjoy and re-connect with nature.

We have utilised all our media platforms to good effect and have consistently increased numbers of people accessing our information.

Nature reserves

We also provide many opportunities for the public to enjoy nature first hand on our national nature reserves. We have invested in improvements to visitor facilities and information as well as providing opportunities to meet with our reserve staff. Schools and young people are encouraged to visit our reserves as they are great places to learn about nature, though our education resources and informative staff.

Events

NatureScot attends national and local events to promote and engage the public about nature from the Highland Show to local events on our own reserves. These provide a great opportunity for the public to engage with our staff and learn more about nature and the role it has to play in our lives.

Staff volunteering

All staff at NatureScot are able to undertake a day of volunteering each year and many chose to undertake work to help nature. With over 600 staff this accounts for a lot of action that helps nature and provides better facilities and experiences for the public to access and experience it too.

Nature of Scotland awards

NatureScot is one of the leading sponsors of the RSPB ‘Nature of Scotland Awards’, which recognise the achievements and endeavours of many people across Scotland who are working hard for nature. We have been the recipient and runners up of many of these awards over the years; including in 2020 when our Peatland ACTION project was highly commended for nature and climate action award.

5.2 Workforce skills and training

We have established a new Innovative Technologies programme to coordinate, direct and oversee the implementation of a suite of innovative technologies that can improve environmental surveillance and monitoring and make our internal processes more efficient.  This builds on the excellent work by one of our graduate placements during the year, to identify opportunities for the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

We have also invested considerable effort in enhancing the quality and accessibility of our environmental data holdings, particularly rich data such as high-resolution images and audio-visual material. This uses a cloud-based web application with powerful search and data management tools. This will be made directly available to external partners to help inform decision making about nature. 

We have also made great strides in connecting many more people with nature through our increased use of social media, reflected in our highest ever levels of reach and engagement through these channels.

We continue to seek out new sources of investment for both our own work and for nature in Scotland more widely. Our work on green finance with the newly formed Scottish National Investment Bank is critical to this purpose. We have also been successful in attracting funding through the CivTech and GovTech programmes. Through the latter, we have secured £1.25m to develop a new online service for protected areas, the aim of which is to provide targeted information to land managers and developers to inform decision making.

We have invested in renewable technologies across our property portfolio for many years but have commissioned further work to ensure that these technologies are as effective as they need to be.  We have also continued the roll-out of electric vehicles to replace our existing fleet of pool cars and invested in charging points across our estate. 

6. Research and Monitoring

6.1 The NatureScot research programme

Our research reports are widely used and available, which includes details on our strategic evidence needs.

Some of our recent key recent Commissioned research reports include:

6.2 Monitoring public attitudes and behaviour

We monitor public attitudes and behaviour through a number of different surveys, including the Scottish Government’s Scottish Household Survey and Nature Scot’s Scotland's People and Nature Survey (SPANS) and Scottish Nature Omnibus Survey (SNO).  These population-level quantitative surveys help us understand how people living in Scotland use, value and enjoy the natural environment and inform the development of policy and practice to encourage people to make more use of the outdoors for recreation, volunteering and learning.

The proportion of people visiting the outdoors on a regular weekly basis has increased significantly over the last ten years or so, up from 44% of adults in 2006 to 56% in 2019.  More recently, research undertaken during the Coronavirus pandemic suggests that regular contact with nature has been particularly important during this period with many people visiting the outdoors more frequently than usual and reporting positive impacts on their mental and physical health and well-being.  However, while good progress has been made in terms of increasing weekly participation across most population groups, some groups remain under-represented, e.g. older people, less affluent individuals, those in poor health or with an illness/disability, and members of the BAME community.

These shifts have been accompanied by an increase in the proportion of adults in Scotland anticipating biodiversity loss and a growing awareness of climate change as an immediate and urgent problem, providing us with an opportunity to harness this empathy and convert it into positive action for nature.

Read more about our research findings.

6.3 Species research projects

NatureScot has supported a number of species research projects, some involving the use of new and developing technologies.  Innovative approaches to monitoring are discussed further below.

We have continued to support research into the movement of basking sharks in Scottish waters.  Towed camera tags were deployed in 2018 and 2019.  In 2019 we supported a collaborative project, the results of which were published in 2020 and which document the first successful autonomous tracking of basking sharks.  We worked with partners including Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) to rear and release a rare flapper skate from an egg.

NatureScot has worked with RBGE to investigate the genetics of alpine blue-sowthistle and marsh saxifrage, two of our rarest plant species.

Genetic information on alpine blue-sowthistle has supported a collaborative translocation project led by RBGE to introduce this species to new sites in the eastern Cairngorms.  One of the translocation sites is a gorge in the centre of the village of Braemar, where, if successful, the blue flowers will be visible from a public viewing point.  Interpretation about translocations has been installed at Braemar and at three botanical gardens managed by RBGE. 

Genetic information on marsh saxifrage has helped to inform the creation and subsequent monitoring of grazing enclosures in the Pentland Hills in a collaborative approach involving the landowner, RBGE, and BSBI.  Monitoring by BSBI during 2020 has found increased flowering, probably as a result of the reduced grazing pressure.

In 2018 we published a report on the use of genetic sampling to estimate populations of capercaillie.  Although the results show that this methodology, if applied at a national level, would require considerable resources, it does demonstrate the potential value of new techniques to nature conservation.

6.4 Graduate placements

NatureScot actively promotes productive career development pathways through the Graduate Placement Programme.  2019-20 included the placement of 16 recent graduates during a year of very challenging conditions for securing early career opportunities.  Over the last three years, these graduates have contributed significantly to our understanding covering a range of species and issues including; dark bordered Beauty moth, Freshwater pearl mussel and potential impacts of droughts due to climate change and the opportunities for connecting areas of Atlantic woodland within Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

6.5 The state of nature report for Scotland

In October 2019 the State of Nature Report for Scotland was published by a partnership including many NGOs and NatureScot.  We prepared two chapters for the report, one on terrestrial climate change effects and the other on marine.  We were the main contributor to many of the chapters and had sizeable input to the others. This work has led to the State of Nature Report being recognised as an agree evidence base across government and NGOs and we are working with partners to produce a sequel in the coming years.

We benefit from and support the activities of many voluntary biological recording National Schemes and Societies who collect much of the data that are invaluable in our reporting, and more widely across our work.  These include several long-term monitoring schemes such as the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, the Wetland Bird Survey, the Seabird Monitoring Programme, the Breeding Bird Survey, and the Environmental Change Network.

6.6 Measuring and understanding the impacts of climate change on biodiversity

NatureScot is responsible for updating two sets of indicators, developed with ClimateXChange, which provide an overall indication of the impact of actions to improve the resilience of Scotland’s nature and its capacity to support Scotland’s communities and economy:

A suite of Ecosystem Health Indicators (EHIs) has been published which identifies the attributes to measure the health of ecosystems, and going forward will allow identification of areas requiring restoration.  The Ecosystem Health Indicators include spatial measures of condition, resilience and sustainability.  13 Ecosystem Health Indicators were published in October 2017.  The two most recently developed indicators use Scotland’s diversity of mosses and liverworts to create the world’s first bryophyte indicator and show how climate change is affecting these sensitive indicator species in Scotland.

The interpretational material which accompanies our biodiversity indicators explain likely impacts of climate change where there is sufficiently rigorous evidence.

NatureScot continues to support various large-scale monitoring activities involving volunteers to help us understand the impacts of climate change on nature over time.  These include surveys managed by the British Trust for Ornithology, the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland, Butterfly Conservation, the Woodland Trust and RSPB (and many others).

6.7 Monitoring on our national nature reserves

Monitoring on our National Nature Reserves includes studies of seabirds, butterflies and mammals.  Results from these studies have been used to increase our understanding of the implications of climate change.  For example, the increase in the butterfly indicator has been largely ascribed to increases in thermophilic species, which have benefitted from climate change, while data show that species which require cold dry winters have shown a decline.

6.8 Improving our biodiversity monitoring and surveillance

NatureScot seeks to further our general understanding of the effectiveness of different conservation interventions, land use changes, and land management practices.  We work in partnership with others, including the Conservation Evidence Project hosted by Cambridge University to increase the visibility of this work so that others may learn from our experience, both successes and failures.  We are working with the project and other partners on improving conservation effectiveness through routine testing of management interventions and how best to make evidence available.

Working with Scottish Government and scientists from NGOs and research institutes, we have developed a new Marine and Terrestrial Species Indicator, which will become one of Scottish Government’s National Performance Indicators.  The first will be published in early 2021 and we believe it will be an ‘easy to use’ snapshot of the state of Scotland’s species.

6.9 Data standards and data sharing

As a public body, NatureScot is committed to high standards of openness and transparency.  Part of this is about making the information and data that we gather and use readily available to all.  We have a comprehensive programme of work to ensure that all the data we collect, collate, analyse along with data collected with support from our grants are uploaded to the NBN Atlas Scotland, and we continue to be a partner and support the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) and we have supported the NBN Atlas Scotland throughout its development.

6.10 Local records centres

NatureScot currently supports four Local Records Centres: The Wildlife Information Centre, the South West Scotland Environmental Resources Centre, North East Scotland Biological Records Centre, and Outer Hebrides Biological Recording.  These provide an invaluable service in support of local citizen science activities and in managing and supplying information on biodiversity to planners and other decisions-makers.

6.11 The Scottish biodiversity information forum

Records from citizen scientists across the country are a mainstay of biodiversity data; without them we would have far poorer understanding of the pressures facing nature or the impacts from various changes.  A long-term approach to biodiversity information is therefore essential.  We have supported the Scottish Biodiversity Information Forum (SBIF), which submitted an investment case to Scottish Government in 2019.  We expect to be a key partner taking forward its recommendations as part of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.

6.12 Improving the marine biological recording infrastructure in Scotland

We are conducting an initial scoping exercise on Scottish marine survey data comparable to the SBIF Review, which will engage with key players in the marine sector to document marine data priorities and explore aspirations and requirements for an improved marine biological recording infrastructure in Scotland.

More widely, sources of evidence on the marine environment include:  Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy Indicators; Scotland’s Marine Assessment 2020 which will be published shortly (a statutory assessment which underpins marine planning under the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, and builds on Scotland’s Marine Atlas published in 2011); the six-yearly assessment of progress towards Good Environmental Status under the UK Marine Strategy (which was last updated in 2019);  and periodic assessments undertaken by The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (the ‘OSPAR Convention'). 

6.13 Innovative approaches to biodiversity monitoring

Earth observation

NatureScot is operationalising the use of data from Earth Observation programmes to map habitats and land cover over greater spatial extent and temporal frequency.  Working with Space Intelligence an Edinburgh-based EO company and harnessing innovation funding from Scottish Enterprise we are developing a map of habitats in Scotland that can be repeated so that we can see and measure change.  We can use EO data to target field-based surveys to verify the data and provide training data for the Artificial Intelligence systems that help to classify the satellite data allowing us to scale up our mapping of habitats from small sites to the whole of Scotland.

Mobile apps and field survey

We are improving data pathways so that the data we collect are easier to use and are available more quickly.  We are developing new methods to collect habitat data that provide surveyors with automatically generated polygons that they can classify in the field using an app that saves data to the cloud.  We are also developing apps to collect data on the condition of protected areas.  Developments like this make fieldwork more accurate and efficient and reduce the time it takes for data to become available.  The aim is to provide a link between Earth Observation data and ground data so that we can target ground surveys and use survey data to verify and train AI classification systems.  There is also an opportunity to use mobile apps to harness citizen science, for example to verify habitat classifications.

eDNA

NatureScot is at the forefront of the development of a DNA monitoring strategy.  This requires that the methodology can be operationalised and used in a variety of habitats.  DNA barcodes can describe biodiversity and in recent years improved analytical techniques have allowed us to progress from identifying individual organisms from their specific DNA sequences to being able to rapidly process and identify whole communities using high throughput approaches known as DNA metabarcoding.  As well as describing biodiversity, “environmental DNA” offers an alternative tool for species detection which uses DNA present in aquatic or terrestrial environments.  The challenge now is to operationalise this methodology and to use it to monitor high conservation value species in designated sites.

New types of data

Innovative technologies present opportunities to use new types of data to describe and monitor environmental condition new ways.  An example of this is the use of LiDAR to detect and monitor changes caused by beavers to water-courses and the surrounding land.  We are using inSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar) to measure changes in the surface of peatland and hence changes in its condition.  Satellite data is also generating new indices showing changes in vegetation productivity, and new radar images are being used to monitor surface roughness.  Other technologies such as sensors enabled by the Internet of Things (IOT) are able to provide us with high volumes of data on environmental conditions in remote or inaccessible locations.

Monitoring and conserving genetic diversity

Scotland has pioneered the monitoring of genetic diversity.  Working with partners from SEFARI[61], we have developed a world-first genetic diversity indicator for wild species to support long-term conservation of genetic diversity[62] and to address Aichi Biodiversity Target 13. The work recently won the Innovation category at the Nature of Scotland awards.  Scotland is the first UK nation to designate a Gene Conservation Unit to protect genetic diversity, in this case for the Scots pine of Beinn Eighe in 20919 and this work has been taken up by the Woodland Trust who have nominated a suite of sites for other tree species in 2020. NatureScot also work with international partners to improve the monitoring of genetic diversity.

7. Biodiversity highlights, opportunities and challenges

7.1 Highlights

NatureScot has achieved a huge amount of work to help manage, restore and better understand biodiversity in Scotland over the last three years of this reporting period.  The whole focus of our remit is to deliver for biodiversity and enable people to connect with nature. We have identified a few highlights below which aim to capture the scale, breadth and variety of our actions for biodiversity.

  • Peatland restoration to restore biodiversity, increase carbon sequestration, improve water quality and flood alleviation.
  • Pollinator Strategy delivery through working across many partners including communities, NGOs, local authorities and businesses to deliver pollinator networks.
  • Species projects focusing on those species in most need to action, notably the Species on the Edge project.
  • Delivering Challenge Funds to support many others to help in protecting and enhancing biodiversity for the future.
  • Running the ReRoute project to involve young people in biodiversity and to capture their ideas and ambitions for Scotland’s future biodiversity.
  • Creating a genetic diversity indicator for wild species that can be used by any country in the world to help ensure we maintain genetic diversity for the future.
  • Natural Capital and Ecosystem services approaches by working closely with land managers and farmers to develop methods to help plan investment in their natural assets.
  • Highlighting the role of Nature based Solutions in delivering a wide range of benefits to society
  • Working with coastal communities to develop guidance on community marine monitoring
  • Protecting the marine environment through new Marine Protected Areas and Priority Marine Features
  • Supporting the process of designating the Flow Country as a World Heritage Site
  • Restoring habitats and increasing connectivity through projects such as EcoCo Life+
  • Paths and cycleway improvements of 140km across many areas in Scotland to help people connect with nature.
  • Green Infrastructure investment bringing nature close to where people work and live, and providing nature-based solutions to climate change, flood alleviation, water quality and equitable access to good quality green pace
  • National Nature Reserve management and visitor experience investment to ensure these jewels in the crown are open to all.

7.2 Opportunities and challenges

The Scottish Government’s post-2020 Statement of Intent for biodiversity sets out the high-level opportunities and challenges in devising the strategy and actions needed until 2030, and beyond. It sets out the Scottish Government’s proposals for biodiversity as we move to the Convention on Biological Diversity CoP15, and the ensuing drafting of a new Biodiversity Strategy covering the decade until 2030.

NatureScot played a key part in drafting this Statement and will work with the Scottish Government in: 

  • Endorsing the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, which was launched at the United Nations General Assembly in September
  • Publishing a new, high-level, policy-focused strategy within a year of CoP15 which will take account of the new global biodiversity framework, goals and targets and also the emerging EU biodiversity strategy
  • The principles and associated projects in the 2020 Challenge and its route map continuing and being enhanced where appropriate, until they are replaced by a new Strategy and Delivery Plan
  • Working closely with stakeholders, and devising innovative solutions and partnerships which bring new voices to the debate, in developing our new biodiversity strategy
  • Ensuring the new biodiversity strategy will highlight the need to facilitate the creation of new, locally driven projects – such as Cairngorms Connect – which aim to improve ecological connectivity across Scotland
  • Supporting extension of the area protected for nature in Scotland to at least 30% of our land area by 2030, with NatureScot specifically commissioned to advise on whether we could go even further than this given that we have already achieved 37% protection of Scotland’s marine environment
  • Developing ambitious new proposals to secure positive effects for biodiversity through development, through our work on National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4).

This high level Statement of Intent:

  • signals the ambitions for Scotland, in tackling the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss;
  • signals our action in the international arena and our desire to continue working with friends across Europe and the world; 
  • sets out how we will translate those ambitions into Scotland’s post-2020 biodiversity strategy and delivery plan;
  • confirms continuity, and enhancement where possible, of delivery under our existing biodiversity strategy until it is replaced; and
  • Signals some of our priorities, including announcing that:

In NatureScot we are now working closely with the Scottish Government in preparing further work to be taken forward under the auspices of the Biodiversity Programme Board (chaired jointly by Francesca Osowska and Bridget Campbell).

We are well placed as the nature agency in Scotland to play a leading role in delivering this exciting agenda for nature and for people in the coming years.

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