Biodiversity Beyond 2020 – Scotland’s Contribution

So what’s next for Scotland’s biodiversity?  Our CEO, Francesca Osowska took centre-stage to discuss Scotland’s contributions to biodiversity beyond 2020.  Here is her speech, in full, from the Business Breakfast at Scotland House, Brussels, 6 Nov 2018 as part of Scotland Europa, Scottish Environmental Leaders series.

©Lorne Gill

The Vatersay machair. ©Lorne Gill

“Good morning and thank you very much for coming along today. Thank you also to Sarah for your warm welcome, and to you and your team here at Scotland Europa for hosting us and for the excellent breakfast!  I arrived yesterday and was able to attend part of the EEB Conference, which I found fascinating.  It is really heartening to see so much thought and energy going into safeguarding our environment for the future.

I thought I’d start by saying why I’m here.  I’m working on the assumption that the UK will leave the EU.  You’ll know that voters in Scotland did not vote for this and therefore it is inevitable that organisations such as mine are thinking about how they maintain their EU links post-exit.  Scottish Natural Heritage is the agency with statutory responsibility for caring for and promoting nature in Scotland, as well as a number of other responsibilities such as contributing to the delivery of the Scottish Government’s purpose.  SNH was established in 1992 and, in the same year, became a founding member of Scotland Europa, so you can see we have a long history of working with others in Europe.  We are active in several European biodiversity networks, namely ENCA – European Heads of Nature Conservation, Europarc and Eurosite.  We see our continued membership of Scotland Europa being even more important following EU Exit and therefore part of my reason for being here today is to ensure that we continue to contribute to and benefit from these important connections.

The second reason is specific to environmental policy and biodiversity in particular.  The session at the EEB conference yesterday on biodiversity had a brilliant title: “Protecting our life support system.”  It is as serious as that: if we don’t act to halt biodiversity decline then we imperil the very substance of life on earth.  My ambitions – SNH’s ambitions – for improved biodiversity in Scotland are intricately linked with EU policy.  The Scottish Government’s continuity bill embeds the four EU environmental principles.  In biodiversity policy, I want SNH to continue to be an active contributor and to continue to learn from our partners across the EU.

Scotland Europa - Scottish Environmental Leaders series. Francesca Osowska attending the Business Breakfast, Scotland House, 6 Nov 2018

Scotland Europa – Scottish Environmental Leaders series. Francesca Osowska addressing the Business Breakfast, Scotland House, 6 Nov 2018

SNH’s corporate plan, published earlier this year, is entitled Connecting People and Nature.  The title deliberately goes to the heart of the dilemma for nature conservation: nature is vital for people’s economic and social wellbeing, but people can also be a threat to nature. Rather than try to separate people from nature, I see SNH’s role as one of connecting.  The more we are able to demonstrate the ways that people benefit from nature, the more they are likely to call for investment in it across the public and private sectors; the more investment the healthier and more resilient nature will be, and healthier and more resilient nature provides more benefits for more people – and so on.

Improving biodiversity is a cornerstone of our corporate plan.  My vision is that SNH is recognised as a world leader in biodiversity.  Scotland’s land and seas will be clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse, and managed to meet the long terms needs of nature and people.  As a result, our nation will be enriched. We are already on this journey, but as the publication last week of the World Wildlife Fund ‘The Living Planet Report 2018’ demonstrated, there is much more to do to halt biodiversity loss across our planet.

If you haven’t been to Scotland please come.   The Lonely Planet keeps heaping accolades on Scotland previously describing it as one of the best places to visit in the world.

Scotland is diverse with many special places, species and habitats. Our mountains and moorlands cover about 60% of our land, forming Britain’s largest remaining area of largely undeveloped wildlife habitat.  Scotland is the European stronghold for heather moorland and blanket bog covering a fifth of our land area.  Some of these habitats are global outliers, yet others such as our deep peat blanket bogs are world exemplars.

Our land and soils; sea, coast and freshwaters; and wildlife in abundance, are a joy to behold.  But simply stating that does not safeguard these wonders for the future.  What I’d like to do now is set out SNH’s current approach to improving biodiversity, our thinking for the future and conclude with some challenges.  I hope that we will have plenty of time at the end for discussion, because learning from you is an important part of why I’m here.


Five years ago the Scottish Government published our 2020 Challenge for Biodiversity to set out a strategy and subsequent route map to achieve the Aichi targets.  The Challenge urged our nation to reap the benefits of nature that is healthy and resilient.  A number of elements of SNH’s work to support this are worth highlighting.

Habitat Map of Scotland

The Habitat Map of Scotland is a ‘living atlas’ of nature, a map of our land and freshwater habitats classified to European standards. This involved transforming best available existing data into the hierarchical European Nature Information System (EUNIS) classification, and using it for new surveys.

The spatial resolution of this generalised map is 10 metres square – the dimension of an individual pixel.  That’s tiny: twice the size of a football penalty box (I’m a keen Tottenham Hotspur supporter, so every metre matters for our faltering Champions League campaign!).  For each of these tiny units we can describe the habitat present.  A truly impressive development and made possible through cross European collaboration, including drawing on the work of experts in Sweden.


Green Infrastructure site at the disused golf course at Blairbeth in Glasgow. ©Lorne Gill/SNH.

Green infrastructure

Increasingly, SNH recognises the importance of working in our towns and cities.  Investing in making our urban environments more nature friendly, particularly within our more deprived communities, is vital.  There is ample evidence to show that quality green environments make people happier, healthier and better connected to their communities.  A win for nature, a win for people.

Our Green Infrastructure Fund, our largest ever investment in urban green infrastructure, covers a 45 million Euro programme of work, supported in part by a 20 million Euro contribution from the European Regional Development Fund.  Between now and 2023 we will be working in around 30 deprived areas to deliver projects which improve their greenspace and encourage all sectors of the community to make best use of it.  By delivering on this scale, we hope to be able to convince policy makers, developers, investors to invest more money in urban green space in the future.

Scotland showing leadership on biodiversity
I mentioned earlier my ambition for SNH to be seen as a world leader in biodiversity.  In 2018 the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity – the CBD – acknowledged Scotland as the first country to report on all twenty Aichi targets.   We are currently on track to meet seven of these. A further twelve are showing progress, but requiring additional action if we are to meet these targets by 2020. Only one of the twenty targets is moving away from target.

The Scottish Government’s Scotland’s Biodiversity – A Route Map to 2020 published three years ago set tough but attainable challenges.  Almost 80 specified actions have been set out in the Route Map with delivery a partnership between SNH, other agencies, businesses, land managers, local authorities, agricultural and fishing industries, environmental NGOs, community groups and schools.

European LIFE funding has been vital for key projects, and we are keen to ensure that such funds continue to benefit nature. For example, we have just secured a massive grant from EU LIFE and the Heritage Lottery Fund to remove predatory stoats from the Orkney isles in the north of Scotland.  This will protect the large bird populations there, not least the globally important hen harrier, wader and seabird concentrations.

The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative – SISI – is another fantastic project funded by Heritage Lottery, which is encouraging communities to tackle invasive non-native species such as Japanese knotweed, giant hogweed and American mink.

Our birds of prey are very important to us. Through international collaboration we have been able to reintroduce sea eagles and red kites, both formerly absent for centuries in Scotland.  Now we are helping donate birds to other countries to boost their populations.

Wildlife management – to sustain managed landscapes though controlling some species to benefit others – is one of our most difficult area of work.  Some of my toughest challenges as chief executive have involved trying to reconcile such dilemmas, whether it be wild deer, geese, mountain hare, or newly introduced beavers.  It has made me think hard about how we value nature, and the different habitats and species comprising it.

One of the Aichi targets, ensuring that genetic diversity is maintained, has proved challenging for many.  In Scotland we have formed a “think tank” drawing together geneticists from a wide range of bodies, including universities, research institutes and government agencies.  This approach has attracted the interest of IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group, and the Group of Earth Observations Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON) through its potential for wider use.

Biosphere Reserves

Biospheres: places with world-class environments designated to promote and demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature are also important in supporting enhanced biodiversity.  Scotland has two: the Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere; and the Wester Ross Biosphere.  In these areas, the support of local business and communities fosters sustainable growth through collaboration with public sector partners, such as SNH and local government.  Both Scotland’s biospheres have important European connections.  The Galloway and Southern Ayrshire Biosphere is building links with Vosges du Nord.  Wester Ross looks more to the Nordic countries and has attended NordMAB.

Turning to our seas, we have a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) comprising more than 180 designated areas, covering approximately 20% of our seas. These are vital for our efforts to combat climate change. A report published last year found that the amount of carbon stored within Scotland’s inshore MPA network is equivalent to four years of Scotland’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

So-called ‘blue’ carbon is captured and stored across a range of marine habitats and seabed types.  This stored carbon in our seabed sediment, accumulated over many years, delivers the same climate change benefits as our onshore peatlands in tackling climate change.

This gives you a flavour of some of the work that we are doing to promote biodiversity at the moment.  Now I’ll turn to the future.


Marram grass. ©Lorne Gill/SNH.


Natural Capital

Scotland is a world leader in developing the concept of natural capital. Scotland was the first country to devise a Natural Capital Asset Index (NCAI) – which assesses the quality and quantity of land-based habitats in Scotland and their contributions to human wellbeing.

Our natural capital values are integrated into Scotland’s mainstream planning, policy and reporting frameworks.   Now in its eighth year, reporting shows that after decades of decline, there has been steady improvement since 2012.   Important drivers of this rise include expansion in forest habitats, improvement of freshwaters, greenspace and recovery of heathlands and peatlands.  SNH will continue to play a strong role in advocating a natural capital approach.  Later this month I will host a seminar for public sector leaders, building on the work of the Scottish Forum on Natural Capital, to work through what additional steps need to be taken.

The Scottish Government’s world leading commitment to tackle Climate Change involves restoring 50,000 hectares of degraded peatlands by 2020, and vastly more by 2030. In 2012 the Peatland Action Fund was first launched.  Since then, almost 15,000 hectares of degraded peatlands have been set on their road to restoration.

Our Dynamic Coast

Between land and sea, Our Dynamic Coast research project is building on an earlier National Coastal Change Assessment.  Now, we are mapping and categorising the resilience of Scotland’s natural coastal defences and estimating how future climate change may exacerbate erosion on our soft erodible coast.  This work has revolutionised our understanding of the threats posed by coastal erosion. The anticipated changes, reports and videos are shown on a website which has received more than six thousand visits in its first year – from more than 80 countries. Again, international science and collaboration has been key to helping us pioneer new techniques.

A DNA Strategy

The costs of monitoring and reporting on biodiversity continue to increase in the face of pressure on public finances.  This means that we are always on the alert for newer and better value methodologies which will help us to maintain surveillance at lower cost, but with no reduction in accuracy. This has led to the development of a European network of eDNA-based research, and the development of a similar network at the UK-level.

In an era where technology is moving fast, we need to ensure that we make the best use of expertise in universities and research labs such as those at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.  The rapid increase in these technologies has opened up a whole range of opportunities for low cost surveillance and species management.

I mentioned some of the tough issues in wildlife management earlier. Two Ministerial Review Groups of deer and grouse moor management are underway.  SNH is supporting both of these reviews and their conclusions will help set the policy context for the future.  I look forward to the results of their deliberations.

The Scottish Government is developing Scotland’s first Scottish Environment strategy.  The strategy will be guided by the four European Environment principles: polluter pays; preventative action; tackling pollution at source; and the precautionary principle.  This future strategy will be a key determinant of SNH’s policy context and I’m delighted that we’re contributing to its development.

I mentioned the Aichi targets earlier.  With the commitment of additional action, I hope that by 2020 we will be close to meeting as many of the twenty targets as possible.  The most recent Scottish Programme for Government committed to a Biodiversity Challenge Fund, worth up to £2m over two years to support this additional action.

For example, we will continue to roll out the ten year Pollinator Strategy, to halt and reduce the decline in native pollinator species populations.

We will also continue to combat threats to our wildlife, from eradicating non-native invasive species through to ambitious species and habitat reintroduction and restoration programmes.

We will continue to work with the agricultural sector to share best practice on nature friendly farming.

Fundamentally, SNH has the ambition to work at the heart of education, health, food and business agendas, we have to place biodiversity at the centre so that it is the driver rather than it being driven.



There are, of course, significant challenges that need to be addressed through continuing cross-European collaboration. Let me finish by setting out a few of these.

  • First, we need to tackle climate change and nature together. This coupled system has co-evolved over the last 4 billion years, and will continue to do so, and much more rapidly as a result of our activities.  Climate is not an external factor acting on a preferred – or ‘right’ – state of nature. How we view nature shapes our choices about the use of the land and sea.  We need to work more closely with citizens on the nature they value and wish to protect as climate change increases.
  • Second, nature is at least as much a social and economic issue as it is a scientific one, but most of our policy and practice is dominated by the natural sciences.  This has to change to show how relevant nature is to people, because nature and especially natural capital underpin economic activity and social wellbeing.  This is well recognised in the Scottish Government’s Economic Strategy.
  • Third, we need to be better at sharing our knowledge.  The INSPIRE Directive is a fantastic step, but, increasingly we need to co-design and co-produce evidence.  And we need to provide data and information in ways that show how both the public and private sectors rely on natural assets, to demonstrate the benefits of investing in them, as well as the risks of not doing so.
  • Fourth, I suggest that context is everything for nature and for people and we need to get better at allowing for this in the way that we frame and design solutions to problems. Rates of change mean that, for all the great things we’ve achieved over recent decades, we need to try new approaches, far more swiftly, and at grander scale than historically.

I have shared with you some examples of work we are doing and will do to secure a healthier future for nature – to make it far more resilient, and at the heart of our daily lives in Scotland.  What do we need more of?  I suggest collaboration, innovative thinking and development of key scientific and technological applications, and getting biodiversity centre place in the business of our governments.  That is where we are heading in Scotland, and this is where we want to continue working with European partners.

So a final question from me – how can we work even more closely in the future on these challenges?”

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