Connecting the nature dots: the path to 2030

Christian Christodoulou-Davies, NatureScot’s Project Manager for 30×30 and Nature Networks explains why this year is an important marker for Scotland on the road towards its 2030 goal.

The year 2030 will arrive not so much unannounced but at an unnerving speed. In 2023, you might wonder why that matters, but work on two of NatureScot’s key projects – Nature Networks and 30×30 – is motivated on a daily basis by the ambition to reach the global target to effectively safeguard 30% of the planet’s land and water for nature by 2030.

Known as 30×30, nearly 200 countries have now signed up to contribute to this commitment through domestic action, increasing the coverage of their effectively managed protected and conserved areas. 

Conservation volunteers at a Bioblitz day at Wester Moss SSSI near Stirling. ©Lorne Gill/NatureScot

Scotland’s existing protected areas encompass some of our most important locations for biodiversity, including the rare and vulnerable. They also include diverse, and complex ecosystems which provide a range of services that benefit everyone, helping us mitigate and adapt to climate change. 30×30 looks to improve further on these sites, creating more of them and making sure they are better integrated into the wider landscape so that they can act as the beating, nature-rich heart of Scotland’s Nature Networks.

The vision is also for Scotland to have an evolving, flexible and resilient portfolio of these Nature Networks, connecting nature-rich areas, including all those in 30×30, allowing wildlife and natural processes to move and adapt to land use and climate change pressures. The networks will also help build people’s connection to nature, providing biodiversity-rich spaces that deliver local benefits, close to home.

This heatmap shows existing protected areas that will contribute towards
Scotland’s 30×30 target and where such designations overlap.

Background on these projects, and the story so far, can be found on our website and includes information from all previous NatureScot workshops on the subject, as well as recordings of some of our webinars.

Neither project is at a standing start. Already, 18% of Scotland is protected for nature and so the challenge ahead is both finding an additional 12% but also ensuring that the protected area types we already have are effective and delivering for biodiversity. Likewise ongoing projects under the Central Scotland Green Network as well as eNGO initiatives (see BugLife’s B-Lines) or National Park/Local Authority led work (see Cairngorms Connect or Scottish Wildlife Trust/City of Edinburgh Council’s Nature Network) as well as numerous landowner/manager and community led (see Yearn Stane project) projects are pushing forward with better connections in our landscapes for biodiversity and ecosystem service gain (such as cleaning our air or preventing flooding).

Finding an extra 12% – just shy of a million hectares – and making sure this is well connected across our landscapes is no small feat and can be tricky to wrap your head around. The figures below give a snapshot of how land is used in Scotland – if you’re after an even more visual breakdown of land use then you can check out this video from Friends of the Earth that takes you on a tour of land use in the UK in 100 seconds.

Modified from the Scottish Government’s Land Use and Rural Policy: Subject
Profile publication with greenhouse gas emissions data updated.

What’s clear from looking at the breakdowns is the number of different land use groups, stakeholders and communities who need to be involved  in order to ensure both projects deliver not just for biodiversity but also the people and businesses of Scotland. Again, it’s no small challenge but such a great opportunity to support others to be the champions of nature and biodiversity within their own areas.

The two frameworks for these projects, built from the co-design workshops in 2022, will be put out for consultation later this year alongside the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. While it’s possible there will be changes needed on the back of this consultation, it will be an opportunity to focus on some of the key aspects of implementation that will be required. For Nature Networks this will see NatureScot working much more closely with local authorities to understand the tools, support and resources they will need to bring projects to life on the ground.

Alongside the Scottish Wildlife Trust, we’re currently working on a CivTech challenge with AECOM to develop a tool that not only helps map opportunities for connectivity but also for investment in projects that will bring it about , as well as a platform for community engagement and development of such projects. A robust governance structure will also be developed.

For 30×30 we will be continuing to gather baseline information on habitats and species to help identify those areas in Scotland that are important for a broad diversity of nature yet currently outside the list of protected areas.

The typical component of a terrestrial ecological network. Source: Lawton et al., 2010.

Through participation with bodies such as the IUCN and various sectors within Scotland, such as public bodies, private landowners, organisations and environmental NGOs, we will be working to more clearly understand and demonstrate what form other effective area based conservation measures (OECMs) – a different way of safeguarding important areas for biodiversity that will complement our protected areas – will take in Scotland.

This year’s public consultation on the 30×30 and Nature Networks frameworks will provide more information and a formal means to provide comment on both of these areas of work. If, in the meantime, you have a query about either project, get in touch using the following email addresses: 30× /

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