Scotland’s biodiversity – six big steps for nature

Last month we had a strong focus on greenspaces. In August we’re looking at Biodiversity.

One of our main tasks here at SNH is to improve Scotland’s biodiversity. Biodiversity is a word that we often use – but what does it mean? At its simplest, it means the variety of plants and animals in any one particular place.

An orange-tip butterfly. ©Lorne Gill/SNH
An orange-tip butterfly. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

An unhealthy habitat, such as one dominated by a non-native plant that is crowding out most other plants, would have limited or poor biodiversity. Whereas a healthy habitat with a mix of plants and animals would be considered to have a rich biodiversity.

A healthy biodiversity is important for Scotland’s nature and wellbeing. That’s why one of our biggest projects is Scotland’s Biodiversity – a Route Map to 2020. Back in 2013, we published the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity, partly in response to 20 new international targets set at a Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Japan. That document laid out the major steps we need to take to improve the state of nature in Scotland to meet our new international targets, halt the loss of biodiversity and restore the essential services that a healthy environment provides.

Our awareness of the importance, value and fragility of nature is growing year on year. Through an impressive body of evidence, we’re building up a clearer picture of what we need to do to care for and restore biodiversity. This work is complex and challenging.

The route map is not a catalogue of every activity that is underway or planned. It’s more fundamental than that, as it sets out six ‘Big Steps for Nature’ and a number of priority projects. It focusses on collaborative work with the Scottish Government and a wide range of partners.

Six Big Steps for Nature

  1. Ecosystem restoration
  2. Investment in natural capital
  3. Quality greenspace for health and educational benefits
  4. Conserving wildlife in Scotland
  5. Sustainable management of land and freshwater
  6. Sustainable management of marine and coastal ecosystems.

Improving Scotland’s natural assets

Many of our habitats and wildlife are acknowledged as internationally important. Scotland’s peatlands, mountain landscapes, coastal cliffs and seas, machair and a diversity of woodland ecosystems are all exceptional, by European standards.

These areas support a fantastic range of species, as well as being important for public health and wellbeing. Forests, meadows, rivers, saltmarshes and bogs in healthy condition provide clean water, food, fuel, storm protection, minerals and flood control.

Getting out and about in nature is healthy for our minds and our bodies, gives our children a fun, healthy way to learn, and helps bring people together. We need to protect and enhance nature to secure these benefits now and into the future.

Lochgilphead High School pupils participating in the Snapberry Project at Taynish National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Lochgilphead High School pupils participating in the Snapberry Project at Taynish National Nature Reserve. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

So how are we doing in terms of protecting Scotland’s beautiful nature?

One way to measure how we’re faring is by measuring our natural capital. Natural capital is a way to value nature in monetary terms. This means defining the value of nature to our economy by estimating the costs of the natural services it provides, such as filtering water, pollinating crops, and preventing floods Between the 1950s and 1990s there was a decline in Scotland’s natural capital, with the greatest rate of decline in the 1960s and 1970s. Since 1990 there has been a slight recovery, with freshwater, woodland, coast and urban greenspace showing the greatest improvement. Moorland, grassland and cropland haven’t fared so well, mainly due to changes in forestry and farming practices.

Scots pine forest at Glen Tanar National Nature Reserve. Deeside. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Scots pine forest at Glen Tanar National Nature Reserve. Deeside. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The benefits we derive from nature are difficult to put an exact price on. What we do know is that without these benefits we would be facing significant problems.

We have analysed the reasons for the decline of natural capital in Scotland, and looked at the actions taken to improve biodiversity since 2010. With this information, we are now targeting the species in greatest need of conservation, helping farmers improve the environment and biodiversity, combating climate change, improving land use and soil biodiversity, and managing river basins.

Working in partnership

There’s so much wonderful work going on throughout Scotland, by so many people and organisations, to safeguard the future of our wildlife. This includes work by Scotland’s national parks, public agencies, local biodiversity action partnerships, local authorities, businesses, land managers, and many others.

This range of work would be virtually impossible without a partnership and collaborative approach and we aim to build on this cooperation as we develop the route map.

Many landscape-scale projects, which involve communities, land managers and other partners, are already working to improve biodiversity and to deliver socioeconomic benefits.

The Central Scotland Green Network is developing an ambitious vision in urban Scotland, aiming to change the face of Central Scotland by restoring and transforming the landscape from Ayrshire and Inverclyde through to Fife and the Lothians. Among the key ambitions for this project is to create a habitat and wildlife corridor across the area, while making sure that every settlement in Central Scotland has green space within easy reach.

Cyclists at Mugdock Country Park near Glasgow. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

Cyclists at Mugdock Country Park near Glasgow. ©Lorne Gill/SNH

The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere is a place where cooperation and collaboration are bringing huge ecosystem benefits. Home to 95,000 people, the Biosphere has three main goals:

– Conservation: promoting the preservation of wildlife, habitats and landscape

– Learning: supporting a better understanding of nature and global issues

– Development: fostering a sustainable economy and society

There are also plenty of research projects, many involving hundreds of volunteers. The 2020 project provides a wealth of data on almost every part of Scotland, with basking sharks, seabird colonies, birds of prey, amphibians and reptiles, rare plants and fungi; indeed hundreds of species all figuring prominently in reports. And, of course, all of this work provides places and opportunities for more people to experience, enjoy and learn about biodiversity.

Basking shark tagging project. ©Laurie Campbell/SNH

Basking shark tagging project. ©Laurie Campbell/SNH

In 2014, over 5 million people visited the two Scottish national parks, and more than 12,000 young people were involved in practical biodiversity conservation in Scotland through the John Muir Award. The RSPB has 1,700 active volunteers helping to look after nature on their reserves and it provides outdoor learning opportunities for 9,000 school children each year. These statistics reflect only a small part of the much wider effort by a range of organisations across Scotland.

The route map will maintain and build on the momentum of all this important work. If you want to help protect Scotland’s nature find out how at

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