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Choosing our future: Scotland's sustainable development strategy

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9 PROTECTING SCOTLAND'S NATURAL HERITAGE AND RESOURCES

The Cuillins of Skye photo
The Cuillins of Skye

UNDERSTANDING AND RESPECTING THE LIMITS OF THE PLANET'S ENVIRONMENT IS A KEY PRINCIPLE UNDERPINNING SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT IN SCOTLAND. WE MUST ENSURE THAT THE NATURAL RESOURCES NEEDED FOR LIFE ARE MANAGED RESPONSIBLY FOR OUR OWN AND FUTURE GENERATIONS

INTRODUCTION

9.1 Scotland is blessed with some of the world's most precious and special natural environments. Our countryside and natural heritage help shape our national cultural identity, and are something of which we are rightly proud. One of our key priorities must be to protect those natural resources for the long term and to strengthen their role as part of our lives and culture.

9.2 Understanding and respecting the limits of the planet's environment is a key principle underpinning sustainable development in Scotland. We must ensure that the natural resources needed for life are managed responsibly for our own and future generations.

9.3 Safeguarding the quality of Scotland's natural heritage also makes good economic sense. Major sectors such as tourism and the food and drink industry depend on the image and reputation of Scotland's natural environment. Our natural heritage supports key industries such as farming and fishing and the communities on which they depend. Wildlife and eco-tourism is a growing market. The natural assets that support these industries need to be managed well so they continue to sustain us.

KEY OUTCOMES

9.4 We want to see a Scotland where:

  • Biodiversity loss has been halted.
  • Natural resources are managed sustainably.
  • The environment is protected effectively, on the basis of evidence and using the best available science.

Image: Lauren Gill/Scottish Natural Heritage
Image: Lauren Gill/Scottish Natural Heritage

BIODIVERSITY LOSS HALTED

9.5 Scotland's biodiversity includes over 90,000 species including some of our most iconic: the golden eagle, red deer, salmon, grouse, grey seal, Scots pine, red squirrel and capercaillie. Our country has a rich mosaic of habitats and scenery including some of the most important conservation areas in Europe. Much of Scotland's biodiversity has already been lost as a result of unsustainable management of our natural resources in the past: from the felling of ancient forests to the intensification of agriculture and over-fishing. Further change is inevitable, from the way we use the land to the impact of climate change, and this is expected to alter the habitats and mix of species in Scotland. The challenge will be ensure that our ecosystems are in good health and have the resilience to adapt.

9.6 A comprehensive biodiversity strategy for Scotland 14 was put in place in 2004. The Executive and its partners in the Scottish Biodiversity Forum will deliver the priority actions identified in the strategy as a first step towards making Scotland a world leader in biodiversity conservation by 2030.

WE WANT TO SEE A SCOTLAND WHERE:

  • BIODIVERSITY LOSS HAS BEEN HALTED
  • NATURAL RESOURCES ARE MANAGED SUSTAINABLY
  • THE ENVIRONMENT IS PROTECTED EFFECTIVELY, ON THE BASIS OF EVIDENCE AND USING THE BEST AVAILABLE SCIENCE

NATURAL RESOURCES ARE MANAGED SUSTAINABLY

Landscapes

9.7 In Scotland's landscapes and scenery we have a natural advantage which is an important resource for tourism and for the economy more generally. But landscapes are dynamic. Human activities have shaped the landscape we see today over thousands of years. They continue to do so and we need to ensure their impacts are managed. Some of our mountain, loch, peatland and coastal landscapes are nationally and internationally renowned, and these we need to cherish and safeguard so that they can be widely enjoyed both now and in the future. For the 36 National Scenic Areas protection has been achieved through the planning system, while Historic Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage work together to ensure the protection of our gardens and designed and historic landscapes.

9.8 The Executive has recently designated two National Parks in Scotland - at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and in the Cairngorms - in recognition of the outstanding natural and cultural heritage of these areas and the need to safeguard that heritage and promote its enjoyment and sustainable use while providing for local social and economic development. The Executive is also taking steps to identify the options for establishing Scotland's first Coastal and Marine National Park, recognising the richness of the marine environment and the potential benefits of a co-ordinated management approach.

Coasts, seas and the water environment

9.9 Scotland's seas and inland waters cover a greater surface area than our landmass. Our seas and coasts provide food, energy and mineral resources, routes and harbours for shipping and tourism, and recreational opportunities and sites of cultural and historic value, which meet many of our economic and social needs, supporting jobs and communities. At the same time they contain distinctive and important habitats and support a diverse range of species, which we need to protect, conserve and enhance.

9.10 Our marine and coastal environments are at potential risk from water-borne pollution and there is evidence of excess pressure on stocks of some fish species, particularly cod, habitat loss and disturbance to the sea-bed and sea life in the seas around Scotland. Action is in hand to address these risks but more work is needed to identify and tackle the cumulative and cross-sectoral impacts of the range of marine-based activity in and around our coasts and seas.

9.11 The Scottish Executive's new marine and coastal strategy, Seas The Opportunity15, provides a clear vision for the sustainable management of Scotland's coasts and seas. Based on the five principles of sustainable development, it aims to secure clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse marine and coastal environments, managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people. It provides the framework for a range of policies and strategies that relate to particular sectors, including the strategic frameworks for aquaculture and sea fisheries strategies, which are already putting the sustainable management of marine resources into practice.

CASE STUDY

The Tourism and Environment Forum

Tourism injects £4.5 billion annually into the Scottish economy and is one of Scotland's largest employers, employing 197,000 or 9% of the workforce (13% in the Highlands & Islands). It pays the wages of more people than the oil, gas and whisky industries combined. If we are serious about tackling sustainability in Scotland we must make sure that Scottish tourism is sustainable.

The Tourism and Environment Forum ( TEF) leads and supports efforts to make Scotland the most sustainable tourism destination in Europe. With initiatives ranging from green schemes for hotels and B and Bs to accreditation projects for whale and dolphin watching operators, Scotland can claim to be at the forefront of sustainable tourism development. And TEF has been

working hard to help Scotland become the number one wildlife tourism destination in Europe - generating significant socio-economic benefits, especially in rural areas.

Everyone working in Scottish tourism has a part to play in making sure that the industry develops sustainably. And we can all do something that helps to reduce the impact that tourism has on our environment.

To find out more about the Tourism and Environment Forum see the website www.greentourism.org.uk

9.12 New river basin management plans are another prime example of sustainable resource management in action. They will take a 'source to sea' approach to enhancing water quality, allowing us to identify where problems exist and what actions will be needed to tackle them.

Sectoral approaches

9.13 Scotland's agriculture, forestry, sea fishing and aquaculture depend directly on the sustainable management of our natural resources. These industries have made huge strides in Scotland in adopting more sustainable practices but more can be done to help restore richness and natural productivity.

9.14 This challenge is being addressed in strategies and frameworks for agriculture, forestry, aquaculture and sea fisheries aimed at the sustainable development of each sector. For example, the Executive's frameworks for aquaculture and sea fisheries are founded in the notion that sustainability and profitability go hand in hand, that these industries (and the marine environment) provide the basis for strong communities, and that the environmental resources on which they depend must be kept healthy to provide a resource for future generations.

9.15 The new sea fisheries framework 16 explicitly uses the new sustainable development principles to identify the actions required to manage the marine resource for the long term. The Executive's strategic frameworks for agriculture, forestry and aquaculture are currently being reviewed. All these new or revised frameworks will explicitly identify how they will respect the five sustainable development principles.

9.16 Recognised as world leaders in promoting sustainable forest management, the Forestry Commission was the first forest service in the world to be independently audited to gain the green stamp of approval for sustainable forest management, and the national forests have just been audited again and re-certified. In reviewing the forestry strategy, sustainability will remain the overarching principle not just for the national forests but for the entire forestry sector.

EFFECTIVE, EVIDENCE-BASED ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION USING THE BEST AVAILABLE SCIENCE

9.17 We need good analytical systems in place to meet the end goal of living within environmental limits. Action in Scotland is being taken forward through:

  • increasing focus on ecosystems
  • strategic assessment of environmental impact
  • embedding the polluter pays principle
  • continuing application of the precautionary principle, underpinned by the best available science.

9.18 Healthy ecosystems - the balance and relationships between all forms of life and their surroundings - support and enhance our lives. A focus on the health of ecosystems is emerging internationally across marine, freshwater, biodiversity and soil policy, signalling a much more integrated approach to policy development. This new approach to environmental management is an integral part of sustainable development.

9.19 There is a good deal of work to be done to understand how ecosystems work and to assess their resilience and vulnerability. This includes developing a better understanding of environmental limits, such as robust methods for determining where critical thresholds lie and where cumulative impacts can cause irreversible change. The Executive will take advantage of the UK scoping studies on environmental limits, how we value the environment (economic and non-economic), pressures on the natural environment and the UK policy framework for the natural environment, which are due to report by March 2006, to review its approach to environmental management.

9.20 The environmental effects of development have historically been considered too late in the decision making process, to the detriment of both environment and development. The introduction of Strategic Environmental Assessment means that plans will in future be considered at a very early stage to identify and mitigate potential impacts on, for example, biodiversity, soil, water, air and landscape. Parliament has recently passed a Bill extending the scope of European requirements to cover all public sector plans, programmes or strategies with significant environmental effects. It should come into effect early in 2006.

9.21 Increasingly the polluter pays principle will be embedded into policies. In 2007 the Executive will introduce legislation to implement the Environmental Liability Directive, which will generally oblige operators in specified circumstances who risk or cause damage to land, water or biodiversity to avert the risk or pay to remedy the damage caused.

9.22 Our principles for sustainable development require us to manage risks where there is scientific uncertainty through the precautionary principle. Reasonable measures to prevent a serious or irreversible threat to human or animal health or the environment - such as climate change - should not be postponed solely because we lack full scientific certainty about the threat itself. Measures taken should be proportionate, cost effective and consistent with those adopted in similar circumstances and they should be kept under review in the light of developing scientific knowledge. The Scotland and Northern Ireland Forum for Environmental Research ( SNIFFER) 17 is working with regulators including SEPA, SNH, NHSScotland, the Food Standards Agency (Scotland) and Health Protection Scotland to develop practical guidance on the principle's application to administrative and regulatory functions.