2017/18 was a year of change for SNH. We welcomed a new Chair and a new CEO; and we refreshed our Corporate Plan, with an eye to the future and a stronger focus on the benefits that connecting people and nature can provide.
It was also another successful year for SNH. We achieved 10 out of our 13 key priority targets. And where we didn’t achieve our targets we made good progress, despite challenges such as the severe winter that affected delivery of our Peatland Action work.
The wide range of work we delivered in 2017/18 reflects the diversity of Scotland’s nature and the challenges of balancing this fantastic natural heritage with the demands of a growing economy and population. Much of our work is delivered in collaboration with partner organisations, local working groups, communities, and of course Scotland’s amazing army of passionate nature volunteers who have our thanks and admiration.
The driver for our work is our Corporate Plan, which sets out our vision for Scotland’s nature and landscapes, with five strategic aims to be delivered through 13 key priorities. Our Annual Report and Accounts 2017/18, which we’ve published today, looks in detail at our progress towards achieving these aims and priorities.
We’ve pulled out a few key facts and figures for you below.
Of the 79 actions in the Scottish Biodiversity Route Map to 2020, 76 are expected to be achieved on time (more than 96%). Thirteen have already been delivered including restored peatlands in almost twice the area set for the 2020 target; the Scottish Marine Protected Areas (MPA) network now covers 22% of Scotland’s seas; and 80% of our important nature sites on land, and in rivers and lochs are in good condition.
An important part of our biodiversity leadership role is managing the impacts of deer on the natural environment. During the year we established an advisory panel on lowland deer issues, and helped two-thirds of Deer Management Groups (DMGs) to prepare Habitat Impact Assessments. We also worked with eight DMGs and five estates to complete an expanded deer census programme across 700,000ha (20%) of the open deer range.
We also play a major role in ensuring that our seas are clean, healthy, productive and biologically diverse. Following damage to a rare flame shell bed in Loch Carron by a scallop dredger, our marine team led urgent survey work to support the designation of an emergency MPA. These surveys identified the world’s largest flame shell bed, home to an estimated 250 million of the brightly coloured molluscs. A consultation to make the designation permanent was launched in March 2018.
Everything we do contributes in some way to promoting sustainable economic growth, especially in helping others to generate economic benefits from the sustainable use and management of our natural assets.
We provided advice on more than 1800 developments, planning and marine licence applications and we were only unable to resolve objections in less than 1% of cases. By ensuring good sustainable development in the right places we are helping Scotland to become a world leader in sourcing electricity from renewable sources.
As a partner for the SRDP’s Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, the main mechanism we use to offer incentives that deliver positive land management for biodiversity, we helped over 800 applicants to deliver £47m of benefits.
The annual update to the Natural Capital Asset Index showed that Scotland’s nature is showing signs of recovery. We now want to see this recovery continue to give us confidence that our work is delivering and contributing to sustainable economic growth.
Our ‘Climate Change and Nature’ Action Plan sets out how working with nature can help mitigate climate change, for example through carbon storage.
The year saw the building and improvement of another 120km of paths on Scotland’s National Cycling and Walking Network. Development of this network is an ambitious investment in active travel infrastructure, which can help people to leave the car at home and enjoy the health benefits of walking and cycling.
One of the few priorities we fell short of was our ambitious target of adding a further 8,000ha to the 10,000ha of peatland already restored through the Peatland Action programme. Prolonged winter conditions affected many of the approved large-scale schemes and we only achieved half of this. However, many schemes are now well on the way to restoration, and we have viable proposals for restoration of a further 25,000ha.
Access to nature makes a huge difference to the quality of people’s lives, enhancing mental wellbeing, encouraging physical activity, improving health outcomes, attracting economic investment, and more.
Over the year we welcomed more than 600,000 visitors to our National Nature Reserves (NNRs). One of the highlights of the year for us was hosting a series of visits to our NNRs by families escaping the horrors of the Syrian conflict.
Our Green Infrastructure Project, funded by the European Regional Development Fund, is creating places for nature in some of Scotland’s most deprived areas. The seven projects funded so far total nearly £15m of investment, which will allow around 120 ha of urban greenspace to be created or enhanced.
We fell short of our target to support 80 schools in deprived areas to get their pupils learning outdoors in quality greenspace, but we succeeded in getting 63 schools to allow teachers to take the classroom out into nature.
We made almost £1.7m of efficiency savings during the year through initiatives such as sharing offices and services. We also began work to improve the accessibility of our information and data, including launching the Habitat Map of Scotland.
Finally, we celebrated 25 years of protecting and promoting Scotland’s nature in 2017/18 with a domain name change to www.nature.scot and a new website, which received around half a million visitors in the year.
Our full Annual Report and Accounts 2017/18 is published on our website in both English and Gaelic.