SNH seabird scientist Homeward Bound to Antarctica

One of SNH’s ornithologists, Dr Helen Wade, writes about her upcoming epic trip to the Antarctica on our blog this week.

In less than 2 weeks, I will be boarding a ship to Antarctica. I’ll be with 79 women from all over the world, in one of the largest all-female expeditions to travel to our southernmost continent. The expedition to Antarctica is the culmination of a year-long women in science leadership development programme called Homeward Bound.

Second homeward bound group - credit Oli Sansom

The second Homeward Bound expedition to Antarctica in early 2018. Picture credit: Oli Sansom.

I’m a seabird scientist at SNH and have always been inspired by nature – by its beauty, its resilience, and by how interconnected and delicately in balance it is. But human-induced climate change and ever increasing human activities are disrupting this balance, which can prevent nature from being able to absorb and buffer against changes. That’s why I became a seabird scientist – to understand what impacts human activities are having on the thousands of seabirds that choose to breed along Scotland’s wild coastline every year. Having spent nine years working on seabirds, I feel a responsibility to ensure our bustling seabird colonies remain for future generations to enjoy.

Guillemots-D3718 - for SM

Guillemots and their young chicks on a seacliff at the Fowlsheugh RSPB reserve near Stonehaven. Grampian Area. Picture credit: SNH/Lorne Gill. 

To make sure I’m able to work most effectively on behalf of Scotland’s protected seabird populations, early this year I applied, and was selected from applications from all over the world, to be one of 80 women to take part in the third Homeward Bound women in science leadership development programme. Homeward Bound is a ten-year initiative aiming to equip 1000 women worldwide with the skills they need to be effective leaders and able to positively influence decisions made about our daily lives and the future of our world. Homeward Bound is motivated by the need to see urgent and ambitious progress on tackling climate change and creating a more sustainable future, whilst promoting the need for a greater representation of women in senior leadership and decision making roles – particularly in the traditionally male-dominated science sectors.

HWade - ship passing thru sea ice - credit Oli Sansom

The ship passing through sea ice. Picture credit: Oli Sansom.

As part of the year-long Homeward Bound programme we have frequent video conferences, working on the different components of the programme. Coordinating these calls across many time zones is always a challenge – with women calling in whilst having their breakfast, on their commute to work or before heading to bed. The programme develops our skills in leadership, scientific collaboration, strategic capability, visibility and communication. We also receive one-to-one coaching and undertake group research projects, which we present the results of on-board the ship in Antarctica.

HWade - Homeward Bound videoconference

One of our training video conferences with women calling in from the UK, Denmark, Ireland, Alaska, Iceland, Australia, US and Belgium. Photo credit: Helen Wade.

While in Antarctica we work daily on our leadership and personal development, deliver short presentations on our work to prompt collaboration and networking in the Symposium@Sea, and stop off along the Antarctic Peninsula to visit research stations and experience the amazing wildlife. I can’t wait to see my first Antarctic penguin and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a wandering albatross as we sail across the Drake Passage.

HWade - heading back to the ship - credit Oli Sansom

Heading back to the ship after visiting an Antarctic research station. Credit: Oli Sansom.

HWade - Gentoo penguins - credit Oli Sansom

Gentoo penguins in Antarctica. Photo credit: Oli Sansom.

HWade - Minke Whale visiting ship - Credit Oli Sansom

Minke whale visiting the ship. Photo credit: Oli Sansom

This third cohort of Homeward Bound women are a diverse bunch. We originate from countries all over the world, from a huge range of backgrounds – including engineers, policy makers, research scientists, doctors, government advisors and conservationists. This diverse mix means we will learn from each others diverse perspectives and expertise. This year we’re also extremely privileged to have Christiana Figueres accompanying us on our expedition to Antarctica. Christiana is the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). During her tenure she led a process that many thought was impossible: achieving global signup to the historic Paris Agreement on climate change, in which 195 governments unanimously agreed on a collaborative path to limit future global warming. Learning how she successfully led such a gargantuan task will be invaluable insight into pioneering female leadership.


HWade - group on ship - credit Oli Sansom

Group development task on the ship. Credit: Oli Sansom.

By going to Antarctica, Homeward Bound participants have an unrivaled opportunity to see first-hand the impacts of human activities in one of the last truly wild places on our planet. The Antarctic Peninsula is warming three times faster than anywhere else on earth and this is clearly seen in retreating glaciers and melting ice. The experience is powerful and perspective-shifting. It will instill in us an urgent need to work harder to preserve nature, act on climate change, and contribute to developing a more sustainable future. We will take this urgency and commitment back into our lives and work when we return home.

HWade - Fragile Antarctica - credit Homeward Bound

The awe-inspiring but fragile environment of Antarctica. Photo credit: Homeward Bound.

One of the many amazing things about Homeward Bound is that it was set up, and is run, primarily by volunteers who donate their time and expertise because they deeply believe in the value of female leadership in creating a more sustainable future for us all. Because of this, each participant contributes £12,000 towards administration costs and the logistics of the expedition to Antarctica. This contribution means Homeward Bound is self-sustaining over its ten year period. SNH are generously supporting my participation in Homeward Bound and I have had an overwhelming and truly humbling response to my fundraising campaign, with more than £11,000 raised towards my contribution. If you are able to support me in closing that final gap to my goal, or are interested in hearing more about my Homeward Bound journey, please take a look here.

To follow our expedition in Antarctica, you can subscribe to email updates on the Homeward Bound website or follow on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Please join us on our journey!



Posted in climate change, conservation, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH | Tagged

Cross-border partnership connects people and Marine Protected Areas

We’re really pleased to be part of a €6.4 million cross-border partnership project to improve the management and monitoring of several Marine Protected Areas between Northern Ireland, Ireland and the west coast of Scotland.

Over the next four years the Marine Protected Area Management and Monitoring (MarPAMM) project will develop scientific models and management plans for protected marine wildlife across the three nations’ seas.


Most Marine Protected Area (MPA) management plans are produced for individual MPAs but MarPAMM is taking a slightly different approach. People and communities will be at the heart of the project, which will work with a wide range of stakeholders, enabling anyone with an interest to get involved and have their say on how their local MPAs should be managed.

Scotland’s seas are divided up into 11 Marine Regions, and here we will be trialling the development of regional MPA management plans, including co-production of a management plan with local communities in the Outer Hebrides.

The project pulls together knowledge and expertise from eight key organisations, including SNH, Marine Scotland and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS). The partnership, which is led by Ireland’s Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute and supported by the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, will develop six novel MPA management plans.

The project was launched this week (13 December) at Carlingford Lough, a glacial fjord, or sea inlet, which forms part of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and is an MPA of international importance.  Celebrated documentary filmmaker Doug Allan helped to celebrate the beginning of this exciting partnership. Mr Allan, about whom David Attenborough said “wildlife cameramen don’t come much more special than Doug”, provided an illustrated talk highlighting the beauty and connectedness of the marine environment that the project aims to conserve. You can watch Doug’s presentation here.

Scotland’s Minister for the Natural Environment, Mairi Gougeon, said: “I am delighted that Marine Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage will be partners in the MarPAMM project, working with other organisations across Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland. This project will improve the marine evidence base particularly in relation to seabirds and provide the platform for stakeholder engagement in development of long-term regional MPA management plans.”

See our website for more information about Scotland’s MPA Network.

All photos copyright Scottish Natural Heritage.

Posted in biodiversity, coastal, Community engagement, conservation, Marine, Marine Protected Areas, MPA, MPAs, Priority Marine Features, Projects, Protected Areas, science, Scottish Natural Heritage, sea life, SNH, Uncategorized, wildlife management | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A bheil thu deiseil airson Maoin Dualchais Nàdarra is Chultarail? /Are you ready for the Natural Cultural Heritage Fund?

Tha maoin ùr luach £5 millean air fàire a chumas taic ri daoine is buidhnean is an cuid bheachdan airson seallaidhean, fiadh-bheatha is cultar na Gàidhealtachd is nan Eilean a bhrosnachadh. Bidh Maoin Dualchais Nàdarra is Chultarail fosgailte nas fhaide air adhart air a’ mhìos agus tha fiosrachadh ri lorg air an làraich-lìn againn a bheir taic do luchd-iarrtais.

Tha a’ mhaoin a’ sireadh thagraichean pròiseict a bhios in-ghabhalach agus a’ tairgsinn fàs seasmhach eaconamach, a’ cumail taic ri gleidheadh dhreuchdan agus a’ gleidheadh choimhearsnachdan is sheirbheisean ann an sgìrean dùthchail.

‘S ann againne a tha an taic a tha a dhìth ort, ma tha beachd freagarrach agad. Tha sinn toilichte a ràdh gu bheil sinn air 91 bhuidheann a ruigsinn eadar Sealtainn is Arainn agus tha sinn air bruidhinn mun mhaoin ann an còrr is 50 suidheachadh aghaidh-ri-aghaidh. Ach bu mhath leinn barrachd phròiseactan a ruigsinn agus beachdan-smuain eile a chluinntinn.

Tha an t-airgead seo bho Mhaoin Leasachadh Dùthchail na h-Eòrpa (ERDF) ri fhaotainn tro aon chuairt fharpaiseach mhaoineachaidh a dh’fhosglas air 14 Faoilleach 2019 agus a dhùineas sa Ghiblean 2019. Tha sinn airson an t-airgead a chleachdadh airson taic a chumail ri mu 10 pròiseactan mòra a thèid lìbhrigeadh ro 2022. Feumar £250,000 aig a’ char as lugha a shireadh tro thabhartas ERDF. ‘S e £360,000 an t-suim as lugha de chosgaisean roghnach a’ phròiseict ris an gabhar. Cha chumar taic ach ri pròiseactan a tha a’ taisbeanadh stiùireadh mothachail agus a’ dìon feartan dualchais do na ginealaichean ri teachd.

Tha tuilleadh fiosrachaidh, mapa de sgìre na maoine anns a’ Ghàidhealtachd is na h-Eileanan, liosta sheòlaidhean far am faighear taic agus a h-uile rud eile a bhios a dhìth airson am beachd-smuain agad a chur an sàs ri fhaighinn air an làraich-lìn againn


Are you ready for the Natural Cultural Heritage Fund?

A new £5 million fund to support people and organisations with their ideas to promote the outstanding scenery, wildlife and culture of the Highlands and Islands is coming soon. The Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund opens later this month and there is plenty of info to help applicants on our website.

The fund invites project bids which are inclusive and offer sustainable economic growth, helping to retain jobs and sustain populations and services in rural communities.

If you’ve got an idea that fits, then we’re here to help. We are delighted to have already reached 91 organisations stretching from Shetland to Arran, and we’ve discussed the fund in over 50 one-to-one settings.  But we would like to reach even more projects and hear more ideas.

This £5 million of European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) money is being made available through a single competitive funding round opening on 14 January 2019 and closing in April 2019. We’re looking to use the money to support around 10 major projects to be delivered by 2022. Projects must be seeking an ERDF grant of a minimum of £250k. The total eligible project costs must be a minimum of £360k.  Projects will only be supported if they demonstrate sensitive management and safeguarding of those heritage assets for future generations.

For further information, a map of the Highlands & Islands area covered by the fund, contacts for further support and everything else you need to apply for a chance to bring your idea to life, please visit our website


Posted in Access, Community engagement, History, National Walking and Cycling Network, Natural Capital, Natural Health Service, Nature and technology, Nature in art, Planning, Projects, Scottish Natural Heritage, sea life, SNH, Trail, Uncategorized, Visitor centre, Volunteering, website | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The connecting power of nature

Equality and Diversity Graduate, Courtney Riley, reflects on a recent visit to Loch Leven National Nature Reserve with a group of young Syrian refugees from Edinburgh who were brought by Backbone – a social enterprise.  Scottish Natural Heritage supports one of Backbone’s latest projects, Nature Exploration, that provides outdoor opportunities to marginalised groups.

Backbone 1

Right before I got out of my car to introduce myself to Backbone’s operations director, Pammy Johal, I became nervous. What if I said something wrong? I walked over to the minivans and Pammy welcomed me warmly. The young people had been split into two groups, girls and boys, so I chose to spend the day with the girls and entered the mini bus to the sound of loud Arabic pop music and a round of ‘hellos’. Twelve hands came rushing towards me offering me food and water and as the conversations carried on all the nerves disappeared.

We drove to Loch Leven National Nature Reserve where we each were given a set of binoculars. I played the part of the responsible adult by helping the girls focus the binoculars – but I admit I did join them in looking through them backwards a couple of times! We followed the SNH ranger, Neil Mitchell, and an RSPB representative along a trail to the beach where we tried spotting different types of birds on the loch.

There were many dogs running on the beach and it became apparent just how terrified the girls were of them as they screamed and ran away. I asked the group’s chaperone (a former Syrian TV presenter) why this was and she explained that in Syria dogs are not domesticated and children are taught to run from them. After the beach, we walked to the ponds where we dropped nets into the water and tipped out the contents into trays so that Neil could explain the types of fish and plants we found.

As we headed back to the minivan, the girls told me that they wanted to become lawyers, doctors, firefighters and Olympians. They told me of their experiences at school and how hard their parents work. It amazed me how aware they were of such ‘grown up’ topics – compared to my 10-year-old self playing Super Mario Bros on my Nintendo!

Backbone 4

At lunch, the RSPB representative brought her dog to meet the children as she had described him as calm and good-natured. When Thomas the Spaniel arrived, some of the children became curious enough to come near him. By the end of lunch, they were queuing to hold the dog’s lead and to take photos while hugging him.

After lunch, we went into the forest for a nature trail treasure hunt. We heard the rich history of Loch Leven castle on the island in the middle of the loch, and we found birds’ nests, animals and the house where Justin Bieber once stayed (not Loch Leven castle as some of the girls misheard!).

Backbone 7

I felt a mix of overwhelmingly happy and sad as the minivans were being packed up. We said goodbye and I wished every one of them all the luck and happiness in the world – hoping they would all become lawyers, doctors, firefighters and Olympians.

The visit allowed me to see the direct impact of the work SNH supports and experience how being in nature can completely change how people think and feel. It was an experience that will stay with me and I hope it has left an impact on the young people – even if it is as small as being more likely to cuddle a dog.

Click HERE if you would like to find out more about visiting Loch Leven National Nature Reserve and you can follow our reserve staff blog HERE.

All images © Courtney Riley/SNH


Posted in Diversity | Tagged , , , , , ,

Peursair na Feamainn / The Seaweed Watchman

Bidh stoirmean a’ gheamhraidh a’ cur brùchdan feamainn air tràighean gainmhich taobh an iar nan Eilean Siar, far am faodar a chruinneachadh agus a chleachdadh mar thodhar. Aig aon àm, bha fear aig gach coimhearsnachd a chumadh a shùil a-mach airson na leithid / The winter storms regularly drive seaweed onto the sandy shores of the Western Isles, where it can be collected and used as fertiliser. At one time, each community had a watchman who would keep his eyes open for such a bounty.

Peursair na Feamainn

Air cladach creagach taobh an ear nan Eilean A-muigh, tha e furasta gu leòr feamainn a chruinneachadh airson an talamh fheamnadh – chan eil agad ach feitheamh ri ìsle-mhara agus tha an t-uabhas ri fhaighinn. Ach chan ionann e air cladaichean machrach an taobh an iar far a bheil tràighean gainmhich ann. Cha bhi feamainn ach a’ tighinn gu tìr bho àm gu àm ann am brùchdan mòra agus, mura tèid a cruinneachadh gu sgiobalta, dh’fhaodadh i a bhith air a sguabadh air falbh a-rithist leis an ath làn.

©Lorne Gill/SNH

©Lorne Gill/SNH

Tha cunntas ann an Coimisean Napier air cor nan croitearan ’s nan coitearan air a’ Ghàidhealtachd (1883-4) ag innse mar a bha fear a’ fuireach faisg air a’ chladach aig gach baile, agus an dleastanas air a bhith a’ foillseachadh do mhuinntir an àite gun robh brùchd ann le bhith a’ cur meall feamainn ùr air mullach peursa. ’S e Am Peursair a chainte ris agus gheibheadh e duais ann an ‘feamainn is fearann’.

©Lorne Gill/SNH

©Lorne Gill/SNH

Bhiodh na daoine an uair sin a’ nochdadh ann an pailteas, le eich, cairtean is clèibh airson an fheamainn a chur os cionn an tiùrr. Sgrìobh ùghdar a’ chunntais, Alasdair MacIlleMhìcheil (fear Charmina Gadelica), nan nochdadh am brùchd aig àm nuair a bha an sluagh dripeil, gum biodh an fheamainn ann greis mhòr, a’ lobhadh agus a’ dèanamh samh grod. Ge-tà, tha e a’ cumail a-mach gun robh òson on Chuan Siar a’ clòthadh an fhàilidh agus nach robh dragh sam bith air na daoine!

The Seaweed Watchman

On the rocky eastern shores of the Western Isles, collecting seaweed to manure the land is an easy task – wait for a low tide and there is a virtually endless supply. But the sandy western shores, backed by machair, with little weed growing in the littoral zone, are a different proposition. Seaweed comes occasionally and in large amounts (called a brùchd in Gaelic), usually following a storm, but the visitation can be fleeting, for the next high tide can sweep the bounty away.

©Lorne Gill

©Lorne Gill

An account in the Napier Commission of Inquiry into the conditions of crofters and cottars in the Highlands and Islands (1883-4) tells of how the islanders would appoint a man to live near the shore, whose duty it was to alert the locals of the arrival of the seaweed by hoisting ‘a bundle of ragged seaweed on the top of a pole’. He was called Am Peursair ‘the perchman’ and his services were ‘paid in seaweed and land’.

©Lorne Gill/SNH

©Lorne Gill/SNH

The villagers would then arrive in numbers, with horses, carts and creels, to lift the seaweed above the reach of the tide. The author, Alexander Carmichael (of Carmina Gadelica fame), wrote that if the brùchd arrived at a time when other work took priority, the landed seaweed would be allowed to lie above the shore for a period, causing it to putrefy, and creating an offensive smell. However, Carmichael added, ‘the bountiful ozone from the Atlantic counteracts it all, and no harm arises’!

Posted in Gaelic, machair, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH

New leadership’s first annual report sees year of successes and looks to the future

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.

Bog Squad volunteers at Langlands Moss, © Sara Green/Butterfly Conservation

Bog Squad volunteers at Langlands Moss, © Sara Green/Butterfly Conservation



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.

Sustainable growth 2017

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 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.


Annual Report & Accounts 2017/18

Posted in 25 years of SNH, active travel, biodiversity, climate change, coastal, Community engagement, conservation, deer, Green infrastructure, Habitat Map of Scotland, Land management, long distance routes, Marine Protected Areas, MPA, MPAs, National Nature Reserves, National Walking and Cycling Network, Natural Capital, Outdoor learning, peatland restoration, Planning, Renewable Energy, Scottish Natural Heritage, SNH, survey, sustainable farming, sustainable travel, Uncategorized, Volunteering, website, wildlife management | Tagged , , , , ,

Freshspace – Helping #GirlsGetOot in Local Nature Spaces

Last month, Scottish Natural Heritage and Young Scot launched a new campaign inspiring young women to get outside. Freshspace, which was created in Scotland’s Year of Young People, has been co-designed by young women to highlight and address the issues that stop girls spending time outdoors. The project aims to promote the range of health and wellbeing benefits that our natural environment can provide for teenage girls aged 14-18 in Scotland, and includes a series of unique animations.

Freshspace Campaign #GirlsGetOut

The origins of the Freshspace project

Local greenspace and time outdoors can have benefits for everyone but sadly, teenage girls don’t always take advantage of their local nature spaces.  Studies have shown that girls aged 15-17 are significantly less likely to be active outside than their male counterparts with physical activity in females dropping much further than it does with males of the same age. Freshspace was created to identify key barriers that young girls face in getting active outdoors and to engage young women in the health and wellbeing benefits that come from time in nature.

Freshspace Campaign #GirlsGetOot ©Lorne Gill/SNH

©Lorne Gill/SNH

Working with young women to create the Freshspace animations

At the beginning of the project young women took part in a number of insight sessions to discuss the barriers to participation in nature-based activities and to learn more about how teenage girls connect health and wellbeing with time outdoors. Young Scot then collaborated with these individuals to design and developing short animations for young women aged 14-18.

As well as initial help with focus groups, each stage of Freshspace involved young women to ensure the format, look and language of the animations created matched the target audience and could relay the key messages in a relevant and engaging way.

“What I love most about being outdoors is its ability to boost your mood, the sense of adventure and of course the fresh relaxing air. It was an honour to contribute to help spread such an important and significant message – go outdoors!”

Alex O’Reilly, 15, Project Volunteer

Research with the young female volunteers found that issues such as gender expectations, social pressures or body image and perceived costs of getting outdoors all factored into whether girls would spend time in nature. Based on some of these key barriers, the youth panel helped choose what topics and themes the animations should be and worked alongside designers at the Stand Agency to achieve the final story board messages.

Freshspace AnimationFeedback was also key to the final outcome and participants provided valuable insight into the visual elements of the animations including how young women should be presented in the animations and the environments they were in.  Those involved were keen to avoid stereotypes by avoiding females wearing excessive pink clothing or giving characters a sporty disposition and to emphasis diversity in terms of ethnicity and body shapes to ensure all girls could relate the animations.

The project allowed girls to collaborate on all aspects of the development process from initial topics, animation style and the promotion of the campaign giving input into the campaign targeting and the hashtag.

Girls say on the grass in Glasgow ©Lorne Gill/SNH

©Lorne Gill/SNH

The full report on the development of the Freshspace project, including how young women have helped co-design the messages and final campaign look with the Stand Agency, can be found at

How you can get involved and help #GirlsGetOot

We want to promote the benefits that a little time outdoors can bring so we’d love everyone to get involved and show how even simple changes can make a difference. Share our messages on your social media and follow the hashtag #GirlsGetOot for ideas on how to engage.

We have also created a partner toolkit to highlight our key messages, provided image resources and give some suggestions on how you can share the message. You can find this here. 

If you’d like to share our animations, you can find all of these within our YouTube playlist entitled Freshspace – #GirlsGetOot. Our animations have also been created in Gaelic and will be accompanied by Gaelic language promotion on our twitter and other channels. The Gaelic version of these is also available to share or embed from our  ÀiteFallainn – #ClannNigheanAirChuairt  YouTube playlist.

You can also see the different ways in which Scottish Natural Heritage is promoting local nature, greenspaces and the outdoors to teenage girls by following the campaign hashtag, #GirlsGetOot across social media.

Posted in Natural Health Service, Young people | Tagged

Connecting people and plants

SNH’s Iain Macdonald was just one of around 175 people with a passion for wild plants at an unofficially record-breaking meeting in Edinburgh recently…

Not long ago I was sitting in a room surrounded by botanists, probably the single largest gathering of field botanists in Scotland – ever.  The ‘room’ was a lovely lecture theatre at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) and the cause of such an accumulation of plant enthusiasts was the annual Scottish Botanists’ Conference.


(C) @nature_recorder

Now, if a vision of stereotypical botanists just entered your head – were young and enthusiastic students part of that vision?  Let’s just say that I am starting to feel a little old all of a sudden and perhaps it’s time to ditch the sandals.

The brilliant display of wild plant related exhibits including a poster produced by SNH’s Jenny Park on how to avoid introducing invasive non-native species. Invasive non-native plants invade habitats, spread quickly and out-compete native species. Some can be destructive and others can be harmful to human and animal health.


The conference included workshops on some difficult to identify plants, such as conifers and a chance to see some of the three million herbarium specimens held at RBGE.  I can still recall being amazed on my first visit to RBGE as a student, holding a leaf which had been collected by Charles Darwin.  I wonder if that leaf is still there?

And of course there were excellent talks.  The keynote speaker was Professor Richard Ennos of Edinburgh University who provided an eye-opening account on how our species has moved tree species back and forth across the globe.  The trouble, Richard pointed out, is that in doing so we also moved the things that make plants sick across the globe, introducing diseases to woodland where there was no resistance.  You can guess the outcome.


Further information on the threats posed by tree pathogens can be found in a recent paper written by Prof. Ennos, Joan Cottrell and two of SNH’s staff Jeanette Hall and David O’Brien:  Is the introduction of novel exotic forest tree species a rational response to rapid environmental change?- a British perspective, available as a free download at until 30 November.

I’m already looking forward to the first Saturday in November next year and hopefully  an even bigger gathering of botanists! You can see abstracts for all of the presentations from these year’s conference on the Botanical Society For Britain & Ireland website.

Posted in biodiversity, conference, Flowers, plants, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, science, SNH, Uncategorized, wild flowers | Tagged , , , , , , ,

A’ cruinneachadh Ainmean-àite Èirisgeidh / Collecting the placenames of Eriskay

Tha Liam Crouse, Oifigear Mheadhanan is Conaltraidh Gàidhlig aig Ceòlas, air aoigheachd againn le bloga ùr. Tha sinn glè thoilichte a bhith ag obair còmhla ri Ceòlas agus Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba air an ath-leabhran san t-sreath Gàidhlig air Aghaidh na Tìre (ga fhoillseachadh 2019). Seo agaibh Liam a’ bruidhinn mun obair rannsachaidh aige. / Today’s blog is written by Liam Crouse, Gaelic Media and Communications Officer at Ceòlas. We’re pleased to be working with Ceòlas and Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba (Gaelic Place-names of Scotland) on our next Gaelic in the Landscape booklet (launching in 2019).  Here Liam discusses his fieldwork.

Eilean na Coilleig Port na Coilleig Sgeir na h-Àirigh Samhraidh An Tràigh Leis Bruthach Choinnich

Eilean na Coilleig, Port na Coilleig, Sgeir na h-Àirigh Samhraidh, An Tràigh Leis, Brutach Choinnich ©Liam Crouse

’S fhad’ o thugadh dhut-s’ an t-urram
Aig a’ Phrionnsa Teàrlach,
’S ann bha fuireach an sàr dhuine
Chuir gu’m fulang Leòdaich.
Is Iain Mùideartach an curaidh
Dh’iomair cluich air Lòchaidh –
Thug iad uile greiseag unnad
Fir an-diugh gad thòrachd.

   –  Rann à ‘Eilein na h-Òige’ le Mgr Ailein

Thar iomadh linn, b’ e rudan a’ tighinn a dh’Èirisgeidh a bheireadh aithne dha. Tha an t-eilean a’ nochdadh sna leabhraichean eachdraidh le tighinn an Oighre Òig air tìr aig Sgeir na h-Àirigh Samhraidh aig tòiseachd Bliadhna Theàrlaich, agus ’s aithnte leis a’ mhòr-shluagh an t-eilean air sgàth gun tàinig bàta air tìr san robh mìltean de bhotail uisge-beatha air Roc na Polly ann an 1941. Thàinig Mgr Ailein còir – sagart, bàrd agus cruinneachair na beul-aithrise – às a’ Ghearasdan Abrach. Agus thàinig mar an ceudna deagh chuid de na h-eileanaich iad fhèin, cuid à Barraigh agus cuid eile air am fuadach à Cùl na Beinne Mòire gu Hairteabhagh, far an robh aca ri còmhnaidh sna h-uamhan fad aon gheamhraidh mus deach am fuadach a-rithist a dh’Èirisgeidh san 19mh linn.

Sgala an Fhaing Rubha a' Ghoill sa chùl

Sgala an Fhaing, Rubha a’ Ghoill sa chùl. ©Liam Crouse

Tha suidheachadh, fonn agus aimsir Èirisgeidh air cruth a thoirt air beatha nan eileanach. Tha an t-eilean creagach lom agus chan eil de mhòine ann a chumadh na teintean a’ dol. Dh’fhalbhadh na daoine gu ceàrnaidhean eile ann an sgothan gus a bhuain, mar Na Sluic Mònadh, Rubha nam Bàsadairean no eadhon Bun Sruth ann an Uibhist a Deas. Tha ‘Ciste Mhuire’ ga chuairteachadh, agus tha oitirean agus an fhairge mhòr air ginealaichean de dh’Èirisgich a tharraing chun an iasgaich.

Buinidh a’ chuid as motha de na h-ainmean a fhuaireadh sa phròiseact seo ris a’ chòrsa agus na h-uisgeachan timcheall air an eilean. Saoilidh mi gu bheil na ceudan de phuirt is de chidheachan beaga ann, air an togail leis an làimh airson sgothan nan daoine. Tha ainm air gach roc is bogha is sgeir –  feadhainn dhiubh sin air sàillibh gun do bhuail Dòmhnall no Ruairidh no sagart annta latha mì-shealbhach air choireigin.

Dòmhnall Iain MacAoghnais

Dòmhnall Iain MacAoghnais. ©Liam Crouse

Tha e iongantach gun deach na h-uimhir – còrr is 300 ainm-àite (a’ chuid as motha nach eil a’ nochdadh air mapaichean) – a chruinneachadh ann an ùine cho goirid. Tha mi làn-chinnteach nach d’fhuair mi iad uile, ’s dòcha nach d’ fhuaireadh fiù ’s an leth-chuid. Agus tha mi cinnteach gun d’ rinn mi mearachd no dhà. Tha fhios gum faodainn-sa a bhith air bruidhinn ri barrachd dhaoine. Ach – tha mi cuideachd den bheachd gun seas an leabhar seo am measg nan leabhraichean prìseil eile le Ainmean-àite na h-Alba agus Dualchas Nàdair na h-Alba mar theisteanas air an eòlas dhualchasach a th’ aig muinntir Èirisgeidh air an àrainneachd aca.

’S e mo dhòchas gum piobraich am pròiseact seo daoine gu bhith cuimhneachadh air seann ainmean-àite, agus na sgeulachdan co-cheangailte riutha. Tha mi an dòchas gum bi daoine ag innse far an d’ fhuair mi rudan ceàrr agus dè tha ceart. Ach, as motha, ’s e mo dhòchas gum bi cuideigin ann nuair a thathar a’ cuimhneachadh – can mar an comann eachdraidh – a chlàras agus a ghlèidheas an t-eòlas sin.

Eilein na h-Òige (2)

Eilein na h-Òige. ©Liam Crouse

Bha cuimhne aig gach duine ris an do bhruidhinn mi air beatha an eilein mus do thogadh an cabhsair ann an 2001. Bha cuimhne aca air Sgoth a’ Bhaga (Sgoth Iain ’illeasbuig) agus Sgoth Nèill Mhòir a’ tighinn a-steach dha na Haunn. Bha aonan ag innse dhomh mun Pholly agus a bhith a’ falach sochair a’ bhronn ann an Sgor na Beiste.  Chaidh farsaingeachd na 20mh linn a thoirt dhomh ann an cuimhneachain muinntir Èirisgeidh agus tha mi a’ toirt mo thaing mhòir do gach duine a thug an ùine dhomh gu fialaidh, gu sònraichte muinntir a’ Chomainn Eachdraidh.

’S e eilean Gàidhealach a th’ ann an Èirisgeidh fhathast, agus tha seo air na h-ainmean-àite a ghleidheadh gu h-ìre. Mura h-eil feum air ainm, agus e gun a chleachdadh, thèid e anns an dìochuimhne. Chaidh a ràdh rium grunn thrioban, mar eisimpleir, nach biodh ainmean nan sgeirean agus nam boghannan ach aig na h-iasgairean, a fhuair anns an teaghlach no air an sgothaidh iad. Tha coimhearsnachdan dlùth nan Eilean Siar air cumail orra le cleachdadh nan ainmean-àite aca – rud nach eil fìor ann an àiteachan eile a dh’fhiosraich caochladh saoghail. Air sgàth seo, bha am pròiseact seo a’ faireachdainn dhomhsa mar gun robhar ag iasgach le lìn am measg sgaothan sgadain seach le aon dorgh air an robh bodach beag crìon. Mar a leanas am pròiseact seo air ann an àiteachan eile a thuilleadh air Èirisgeidh, ’s e mo dhùil ’s mo dhòchas gun tèid dùthchas nan àiteachan eile a tha fhathast làidir a chlàradh ’s a ghleidheadh cuideachd.

Tha sinn an comain Liam airson a chuid obrach cudromaich. Gheibhear tuilleadh dhealbhan ’s mìneachaidhean air Instragram.


Today’s blog is written by Liam Crouse, Gaelic Media and Communications Officer at Ceòlas. We’re pleased to be working with Ceòlas and Ainmean-Àite na h-Alba (Gaelic Place-names of Scotland) on our next Gaelic in the Landscape booklet (launching in 2019).  Here Liam discusses his fieldwork.

’S fhad’ o thugadh dhut-s’ an t-urram
Aig a’ Phrionnsa Teàrlach,
’S ann bha fuireach an sàr dhuine
Chuir gu’m fulang Leòdaich.
Is Iain Mùideartach an curaidh
Dh’iomair cluich air Lòchaidh –
Thug iad uile greiseag unnad
Fir an-diugh gad thòrachd.

It’s long since you were honoured
By Prince Charlie’s visit,
As well by that splendid man’s abode
Who sent MacLeods to suffer,
And the hero John of Moidart
Who drove the play on Lochy –
They all spent some time in you,
Men seek you out today.

– Excerpt from ‘Eilein na h-Òige’ by Fr Allan MacDonald of Eriskay

For centuries, it has been things of the outside world coming to Eriskay which has brought it wider recognition. The Young Pretender first made footfall here at the start of the ’45 at Sgeir na h-Àirigh Samhraidh (‘The Skerry of the Summer Shieling’); a storm-tossed ship filled with whisky ran aground on Roc na Polly (‘The Submerged Rock of the Politician’) in 1941. The beloved Mgr Ailein, a celebrity of his day who collected folklore and composed verse, was native to Lochaber. So too came many of the island people themselves, suffering a double clearance first from the townships air Cùl na Beinne Mòire (‘at the back of the Big Mountain’) to Hairteabhagh, where they were forced to live in caves during the first winter, and then to Eriskay.

Sgeir na h-Àirigh Samhraidh agus An Tràigh Leis

Sgeir na h-Àirigh Samhraidh agus An Tràigh Leis. ©Liam Crouse

The geography, geology and climate of Eriskay, craggy and bare (air a luimead gura lurach), surrounded by Ciste Mhuire – the rich waters of An Oitir (‘The Fishing-banks’), has moulded the islanders. The soil is poorer than neighbouring South Uist and most families have fishermen in them. There is less peat-bog for fuel, and it was harvested in remoter parts only reachable by boat, such as Na Sluic Mònadh (‘The Peat Hollows’), Rubha nam Bàsadairean (‘The Point of the Sinking Bogs’) or at Bun Sruth (‘The Foot of the Stream’) in South Uist. But islanders are well accustomed to boats.

Most of the placenames gathered pertain to the coast and surrounding waters. Most suitable inlets were used as ports, as is attested by the probable hundreds of small, hand-built quays. The ruic (‘submerged rocks’), boghannan (‘reefs’) and sgeirean (‘skerries’) all have names of reference – sometimes in a nod to those unfortunate enough to have foundered on them.

Bàrr an Rubha Bhàin

Bàrr an Rubha Bhàin. ©Liam Crouse

The sheer number of placenames recorded – over 300 – during the short space of time is impressive. I am positive I did not get them all, possibly not even most of them. I am also positive I’ve made a mistake or two. I’m sure I could have spoken to more people. However, I am sure that this edition of the brilliant placename series by Ainmean-àite na h-Alba and Scottish Natural Heritage will be a testament to the traditional ecological knowledge carried by the people of the island. And I am indebted to all those who gave their time and energy to this project.

It is my hope that once the booklet is published and disseminated it will encourage further reminisces and discussion about these places. I hope people highlight where things are not quite right or where there’s more to the story. And I hope that someone – such as the local comann eachdraidh – is there to record that additional knowledge for posterity.

Bàgh na h-Aibhne Duibhe Sgeir a' Bhanca Sgeir an Fhèidh

Bàgh na h-Aibhne Duibhe, Sgeir a’ Bhanca, Sgeir an Fhèidh. ©Liam Crouse

Each person I spoke to remembered island life before the causeway, built in 2001. They fondly remembered Sgoth a’ Bhaga (Sgoth Iain ’illeasbuig, ‘The Post Boat’) and Sgoth Nèill Mhòir sailing into Na Haunn. One told me of seeing the wrecked SS Politician and hiding the boat’s offerings at Sgor na Beiste (‘The Cleft of the Beast’). The whole of the last century was covered in the shared experience and memory of the islanders.

Eriskay is lucky enough to remain a Gaelic-speaking island, and this had led to a retention of these placenames. If placenames are not used, or have no use, they are forgotten. It was said more than once, for example, that fishermen were the only ones who would have the names of certain islets and skerries, passed down through families and on the boats. The close-knit communities of the Outer Hebrides have continued to use their placenames; this is not the case in other areas which have witnessed more drastic changes in lifestyle. These factors made this project feel more like holding a tin-can to Niagara Falls than to a withering stream. I hope that as this placename project continues to place beyond Eriskay, those other areas overflowing with indigenous knowledge are recorded too.

Our thanks to Liam for his invaluable work. Find more images and placename meanings on Ceòlas’ Instragram.






Posted in Gaelic, Uncategorized | Tagged , ,

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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