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Highlands and Islands Scotland: European Regional Development Fund 2007-2013: Structural Funds Operational Programme

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ANNEX F: SUMMARY OF ENVIRONMENTAL SITUATION

Introduction

The following environmental baseline was prepared by Ecodyn Ltd for the Environmental Report as part of the Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Programme.

Overview

The area of the Highlands and Islands stretches for over 640km from Shetland in the north, to Campbeltown at the southern tip of Argyll. The Highlands and Islands has a total land area of just over 39,050km 2 and a coast line of over 9,000km.

Population

The Highlands and Islands region, as a whole, experienced population growth during the 1990s rising to 361,625 in 2001. However, the general trend is that more remote, fragile and peripheral areas, such as the Western Isles, are experiencing population decline while relatively prosperous population centres, such as Inverness and Nairn, are experiencing population growth.

Projections

The population of the Highlands and Islands as a whole is projected to grow by 2% between 2004 and 2024 (this projection is purely based on fertility and mortality rates and does not take into account potential public sector interventions which may affect population). This, however, masks the variations seen between 1991 and 2001 with the more peripheral and fragile areas projected to see continuing population decline.

Density and Distribution

With a population of around 360,000 and an area of 39,050 km 2, the Highlands and Islands is one of the most sparsely populated parts of the European Union. Its population density of 9 persons per km 2 (this falls to 7.8 if the city of Inverness is excluded) compares with an EU average of 116 per km 2, and is on a par with the northern parts of Finland and Sweden. The Scottish average is 64.8 and the UK figure 242.4. In addition to a very low population density, 23% of the population of the Highlands and Islands (some 99,000 people) live on more than ninety inhabited islands.

Inverness is the largest settlement with more than 40,000 people. The inner Moray Firth (Nairn, Inverness, Dingwall, Alness and Invergordon) contains approximately 70,000 people, nearly 20% of the regions population. 61% of residents live in rural areas or settlements of fewer than 5,000 people.

Low population density leads to additional costs in the provision of goods and services due to a lack of economies of scale and a corresponding business base while depopulation, particularly in fragile areas, can have an adverse effect on community confidence and service sustainability.

Biodiversity, flora and fauna

Designations

The Highlands and Islands have a low intensity of development and high quality marine and land natural resources. This is reflected in the range and scope of natural heritage designations across the region. In terms of biodiversity this is particularly apparent because of the large areas qualifying for inclusion in the Natura 2000 series under the EU Birds and Habitats Directives ( SPAs and SACs). The range and number of protected species in the region also underlines the high level of natural biodiversity. Key habitats within the region include mountain areas, low intensity agricultural land, native woodlands, and marine and coastal zones.

Nature Conservation Designations 2006

Designation*

No of Sites 2

Area km3

% of total land area4

Special Area of Conservation ( SAC)*

154

7,224

18%

Special Protected Area ( SPA)*

100

4,719

12%

National Nature Reserve ( NNR)

40

797

2%

Ramsar Site

26

2,569

6%

Biosphere Reserve

3

68

<1%

Council of Europe Diploma Site

2

56

<1%

World Heritage Sites 1 ( WHS)

1

255

1%

Environmentally Sensitive Areas ( ESA)

6

5,267

13%

Sites of Special Scientific Interest ( SSSI)

672

6,749

17%

National Parks ( NP)

2

2,380

6

National Scenic Areas ( NSA)*

28

11,687

29%

Notes:
1 The St Kilda WHS has dual natural and cultural heritage status.
2 Number of sites includes those that overlap the OP boundary
3 Only the part of the designated site that falls within the OP area has been included in the area totals.
4 Different designations can overlap and the total area for different designations should not be added together.
Source: Data provided by SNH (2006).

Site Condition

SNH have just completed the first cycle of site condition monitoring for designated sites spanning April 1998 to March 2005. 88% of all features on designated sites in Scotland have been monitored and 71% of all features monitored are in favourable condition or classed as 'unfavourable but recovering'. This monitoring means SNH are better informed on what is happening on designated sites and why it may be happening. This information will be used primarily to bring features on designated sites into favourable condition.

Species

Scotland has some 90,000 species and this is still being counted; the majority (99%) are species of virus, bacteria, invertebrates, plants and fungi. At a more comprehensible level, there are 242 species of birds, 63 different mammals and ten species of reptiles and amphibians.

Scotland has 65 out of the total 159 conservation priority habitats listed in the European Habitats Directive and according to the Scottish Biodiversity list, which contains flora, fauna and habitats considered to be of principal importance for biodiversity conservation, within Scotland there are:

  • 1,806 important terrestrial and freshwater species; several are threatened and 117 have shown a decline in the last 25 years;
  • 177 important terrestrial and freshwater habitats, 11 are rare and 18 unique to Scotland; and
  • 197 important marine habitats and species, 12 of which have declined in the last 25 years.

The UK signed up to the 1992 UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan ( UKBAP) was published to develop formal strategies to protect biological diversity. Between 1995 and 1999, action plans were developed for 45 habitats and 391 species in the UK. Of these, 41 UKBAP priority habitats and 261 species either occur in, or have recently been lost from Scotland. The Scottish Biodiversity Forum is responsible for implementing the objectives of the UKBAP in Scotland and by 2001, action plans had been developed for all the priority habitats and species. Trend data for most of these is detailed in table x. By 2005, 32% of the species considered, were stable or increasing, while 14% were in decline. Figures for habitats indicate that 33% of those considered were stable or increasing, while 30% were in decline.

Scottish Biodiversity Action Plan Species and Habitat Trends 2005

Number of Species

Number of Habitats

Increasing

11

5

Stable

56

8

Declining (slowing)

18

12

Fluctuating (probably declining)

3

1

Declining (continuing/accelerating)

11

0

No clear trend

17

3

Lost (pre UKBAP publication)

3

0

Unknown

90

11

Totals*

209

40

Note:
*Based on 209 UKBAP priority species in Scotland
Based on 40 UKBAP priority habitats in Scotland
Source: Scottish Executive Key Scottish Environment Statistics 2006.

Water

Water Quality

The Highlands and Islands area encompasses some of the most diverse hydrological conditions in the UK and includes by far the largest proportion of the surface freshwater resources. There has been considerable hydro-electric development resulting in impoundment, inter-catchment transfer and regulation of river systems but much of the region still exhibits natural runoff characteristics.

Water quality is classified annually by SEPA. In 2004, the net length of unsatisfactory Class C and D rivers, estuaries and coastal waters were all reduced. Overall SEPA's 2006 quality targets have been met well ahead of schedule and further improvements are anticipated. Across Scotland monitoring of river bodies indicates:

  • 72% are not affected by pollution;
  • 73% are not affected by abstractions or dams; and
  • 66% are not affected by engineering works.

Although there are pressures and ongoing quality issues, in general, water quality in the region is high and this is being maintained. With the exception of extreme weather events, water quality issues arise primarily due to human activity and therefore tend to occur in more urban and industrial areas or areas of intensive agriculture. This is less of an issue in the Highlands and Islands region where water quality levels are steadier than at the national level.

Water Bodies at Risk

Despite the above figures, water bodies within the region are still under a range of pressures which put them at risk including: point source and diffuse pollution, abstraction, flow regulation, morphological alterations and alien species. Closer industry regulation means that pollution from point discharges (e.g. sewage and industrial effluent) is becoming much rarer. The focus is now on marginal impacts from more diffuse sources (e.g. agriculture and forestry). These are harder to identify and therefore to control.

Water bodies considered to be at risk 2005

Water Bodies 1

Number

Length / Area

Rivers

913

9,976km

Lochs

167

567km 2

Transitional water bodies

23

507km 2

Coastal water bodies

128

7,720 km 2

Groundwater bodies

25

27,484km 2

Note:
1 Water bodies are taken from the Scotland River Basin District which extends beyond the OP boundary
Source: SEPA Scotland River Basin District Characterisation (2005).

In March 2006, the extension of a new 'sensitive area' status was announced. This will cover more than 80 river and loch locations around Scotland. The status is designed to ensure that sewage discharges from works in these areas are treated to a more stringent treatment standard. There are a number of sites in the region, although the majority are in southern and eastern Scotland.

Drainage

Human impacts on natural water drainage can cause problems such as pollution, exacerbate flooding etc. Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems ( SUDs) are one way in which this issue is beginning to be addressed across the UK. The essence of SUDs is to deal with surface water runoff more naturally and in ways which avoid the problems associated with conventional drainage practice. Despite the name, this is a design approach which is equally applicable to the more rural sites found in Highlands and Islands.

A recent report SUDS in Scotland - the Scottish SUDS database indicates that the use of SUDS has become standard practice in Scotland, with over 700 sites being listed and nearly 4,000 systems having been implemented. Many planning authorities are now requiring SUDs for new developments.

Groundwater

SEPA monitors both groundwater quality and quantity by operating a groundwater monitoring network across Scotland. There are 3 sites where groundwater levels are monitored in the region and approximately 40 sites where groundwater quality is monitored. The most recent results are available for 2003 but no clear trend data are available. From the 1 st April 2006, implementation of the WFD introduces requirements which should result in a review and expansion of the monitoring framework.

Marine environment and coastal waters

Any consideration of water within the region needs to include the marine environment. 80% of the total land area of the region is within 20km of the coast, and this zone also contains 96% of the region's human population. Many of the region's natural designations also extend into the marine environment. This creates the potential for considerable pressure on environmental quality from human activity in the coastal zones. In June 2005, the Scottish Executive announced the intention to create Scotland's first coastal and marine National Park during 2008. Many of the key candidate areas are in the Highlands and Islands.

Coastal erosion affects most coastlines in Scotland at rates ranging from <1 mm per year on cliffs to 4m+ per year on certain dune coastlines. There is rarely any single, identifiable cause of coastal erosion with both natural and non-natural processes having an effect. Although coastal erosion is not necessarily undesirable from a conservation perspective it can have a significant impact on existing land use and development.

Flood risk

Flooding is an issue in the Highlands and Islands in both low lying coastal areas and in areas close to river catchments. Specific data or maps detailing current flood risk in the region were unavailable at the time of writing. The issue of aquatic biodiversity is dealt with under Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna.

Some research work has been done on future flood risk in Scotland; however it is subject to significant uncertainties. In terms of coastal flooding it is estimated that 1990 100-year levels will on average be reduced to between 20 and 40-year events by 2050. Regional variation is also suggested with the Argyll and Ayrshire coastline being least affected and the far north being most affected. With regards to fluvial flooding the study suggests that the impacts of climate change may be felt to a greater extent in the east and to a slightly lesser extent elsewhere. In the east the flow that currently equates to the 100-year event is likely to become twice as common by 2080. This has implications for current and future flood prevention schemes but as the exact nature of future flood risk is difficult to determine, so are the solutions.

Climatic Factors

Climate

The Highland and Islands climate is typical of the North Atlantic coast, with high rainfall, cool temperatures and high winds. All these are most pronounced in the islands and on the west coast. Scotland has an abundance of rainfall over much of the mainland and the islands. Annual average precipitation exceeds 4,000mm in parts of the west, falling to less than 600mm along the east coast fringe. Seasonal differences in rainfall are relatively small as Scottish summers can be as wet as winters. However, there is a large year-to-year variation in rainfall, especially between wet and dry summers.

As far as describing the general climate is concerned, it is not necessary to separate out the Highlands and Islands from the rest of Scotland, however, with regards to potential climate change impacts, these will vary across the region. The global climate naturally exhibits long-term fluctuations. However, current trends are unlikely to be entirely natural in origin and there is evidence that human activities are having an impact. These bring wide-ranging implications for Scotland and could affect a whole range of aspects from flood risk, water resources, agriculture, tourism, habitats and species to health. In Scotland:

  • 1901-2000 surface temperature rose by 0.61°C;
  • By 2100, temperatures are predicted to rise by 3.5°C in summer and 2.5°C in the winter; and
  • Rainfall patterns will change to considerably wetter winters and drier summers.

Although these trends may seem modest, and may even be of direct benefit to Scotland, the disruption they will cause to the global economy will have catastrophic secondary effects. Even the relatively smooth trends predicted above will result in the inundation of a large proportion of global economic infrastructure, major disruption to global agriculture and political unrest following changes to freshwater distribution. In addition, more and more positive feedback mechanisms are being identified, such as the lubrication of glaciers by meltwater and their acceleration by the removal of ice sheets, melting of tundra causing release of stored methane and so on, which have the potential to step up the rate of climate change dramatically. This issue should be monitored closely over the lifetime of the plan, as prevailing attitudes may change significantly over that period: the political consensus at the moment is that this is a problem that must be faced on the scale of centuries, or possibly decades. Scientific opinion suggests that, although it is too late to avoid major disruption, it may be possible to avoid catastrophe if decisive action is taken within the next few years.

CO 2 Emissions

Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO 2) contribute to global warming. In 2002, Scotland emitted 44 million tonnes of CO 2 from the production and consumption of energy. CO 2 can also be emitted from other activities such as land-use which disturbs peaty soils. Relative to 1990, overall energy consumption fell in 2002 by just over 2%, partly because of improvements in energy efficiency and the move towards less energy-intensive sectors. However, this has been largely balanced by the increased use of energy for transport. High CO 2 emissions are concentrated in the main urban areas, where houses, traffic, businesses and factories are located. Emissions in the region are low relative to the Central Belt and Aberdeen with the exception of Inverness.

According to the Scottish Government, Scotland's net greenhouse gas emissions fell by 14% between 1990 and 2003 (from 17.3 to 14.9 million tonnes of carbon). Recent announcements indicate that Scotland will exceed its UK climate change contribution by reducing carbon by an additional one million tonnes in 2010. Although superficially impressive, recent research makes these targets and their achievement seem trivial. A recent report prepared by the Tyndall Centre concludes that a 70% reduction in emissions is required by 2030 if the UK is to achieve the Government priorities of "living within environmental limits" and "achieving a sustainable economy."

( http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/publications/briefing_notes/Livingwithacarbonbudget.pdf)

Excluding the new accession states, many of which have suffered economic decline since the 1990 baseline year, in the EU only the UK, Sweden and Greece have managed to meet even the very small emissions reductions to which they committed at Kyoto.

Renewables

One measure to help offset carbon emissions is through the use of energy sources which are renewable. The Scottish Government is committed to having 18% of electricity generated in Scotland from a range of renewable sources, including biomass by 2010. This is to rise to 40% by 2020. In 2004, 11.5% of the electricity generated in Scotland came from renewable sources, 77% of which was existing large-scale hydro-electric. Other renewables have increased their contribution from 0.6% in 2000 to 2.6% in 2004. This is primarily from existing hydroelectric generators but wind, newer small-scale hydro schemes and thermal renewable sources are beginning to contribute. Across Scotland as a whole, the Highlands and Islands region contains a high proportion of the potential renewable resource.

There are approximately 110 renewable sites in Scotland. 13 of these are large wind farms, and 42 are large hydro schemes. Most of the remainder are small-scale hydro schemes. There is also one wave power station, and also a growing number of solar heating and photovoltaic panels, biofuel heating systems and small-scale wind turbines installed and operating throughout Scotland

Energy Efficiency

Most renewables development is focused on electricity generation, however electricity only makes up 20% of Scotland's energy use. Heating and transport make up the remaining 80%, so there is a need to do much more to support renewable heating (for example biofuels and solar heating), and renewable transport fuels (for example bio-diesels or hydrogen fuel generated from electricity), as well as encouraging better energy efficiency.

Climate Change Adaptation

The Scottish Government has commissioned research work into potential climate change adaptation in Scotland. As with all climate change work, however, it is subject to significant uncertainties, specifically in the nature and therefore potential impacts of climate change. Despite this, the study found that many public and private institutions within Scotland with responsibilities with respect to likely climate impacts (e.g. flooding) already have existing management frameworks which either implicitly or explicitly account for these impacts. This suggests that an adaptation strategy to climate change in Scotland does not require a fundamentally different framework but must be integrated into an existing, often complex, policy framework.

Material assets

Land

Land is probably the key material asset in the Highlands and Islands although much of the land in the region is subject to low intensity land uses. There is a relatively high proportion of forest by UK standards but a significant area of land is too high for cultivation and the potential for agriculture and forestry is limited by the terrain and climate. The environmental quality of the land is in contrast high, as illustrated by biodiversity data and the extent of protected areas.

Land is central to the region's economy, in particular through agriculture, forestry, sport and recreation. However, there is a good deal of land which is essentially undeveloped and urban settlements make up a very small proportion of land use. In 1988, 97% of Scotland's land area was non-urban and about one tenth of the population lived in 'rural' areas.

According to the Scottish Vacant Land and Derelict Survey (2005) over the past 10 years there has been a decrease in land recorded in the survey, partly attributable to land being brought back into productive use. Vacant, derelict and contaminated land is largely an urban issue. The majority of vacant land recorded is in the central belt of Scotland (Glasgow and North Lanarkshire account for 31%) while Fife and Ayrshire account for 46% of all contaminated land recorded. Highland Council has the 3 rd highest amount of recorded land at 1,128 hectares (11%), however when you consider derelict land as a proportion of Local Authority area, it is extremely low in the Highlands and Islands. There is also very little known contaminated land in the Highlands and Islands.

Forestry

There are 667,000 ha of national forests in Scotland managed by Forestry Commission Scotland ( FCS). This is nearly 10% of the total land area and a significant proportion of this is in the Highlands and Island. These forests have a specific economic purpose creating employment, often in more remote and rural areas and producing timber for the wood processing industry. Between 1979 and 1997, 100,000ha+ of public forest was sold off but this was stopped in 1997 and has remained relatively stable since. FCS has diversified and there has been a growth in woodland being developed for recreational activities e.g. biking. There is also more interest in using woodland planting to encourage biodiversity and wildlife.

Waste

In terms of resource use and material assets, waste generation is a major environmental issue. In 2002/2003, a total of 3.35 million tonnes of controlled wastes were collected by, or on behalf of, Local Authorities in Scotland. The majority of this (92%) was for disposal and only 8% for recycling/composting. Stricter legislation is beginning to restrict what can be land-filled and what has to be recovered or recycled. Scotland's National Waste Plan sets out objectives for Local Authorities to reduce waste and improve waste management by 2020. Recent figures show that national recycling and composting target for municipal waste of 25% is being met, however most Local Authorities in the Highlands and Islands are below this average (Shetland and the Western Isles significantly so).

Since 1989, the amount of municipal solid waste arisings has varied between 2.9 million and 3.4 million tonnes per year. The latest estimate is 3.32 million tonnes in financial year 2003-2004. Data from other parts of the UK indicate that waste production has been rising at a rate of 2-3% per annum but this is not apparent from the Scottish data. It is not clear whether the Scottish data is reliable enough to assume that Scottish waste production is not also growing. The National Plan set a revised target for municipal waste reduction of achieving zero growth by 2010. This should mean that no more than 3.5 million tonnes of municipal waste would be produced in 2010. Progress is being made on waste but it is still fairly minimal with regard to the scale of the issue.

Recycling

No common indicator is used internationally to measure recycling of household waste. In Scotland the indicator is based on estimates of household waste provided by Local Authorities. It excludes both commercial and industrial waste that is recycled and household waste that are composted at home.

In 2002-2003, an average 10.1% of household waste was recycled in Scotland, which is a slight improvement on the previous year. A further 2.2% of household waste, representing a similar tonnage as the previous year, was used for the recovery of heat, power or other energy sources

In previous years, rural councils have generally recycled more household waste than urban councils. The Highlands and Islands region is made up of Local Authorities which are all defined as rural for the purposes of waste collection. In 2003-2004 this trend changed with 13.2% of household waste in urban councils recycled compared with 12.3% of household waste in rural councils. The national target is to recycle or compost 25% of municipal waste by 2006.

Cultural heritage, including architecture and archaeology

Designations

Scotland has a rich heritage of 'ancient monuments' - archaeological sites, ruins, structures and buildings, which include the settlements, temples, tombs and forts of the early inhabitants, the remains of the Roman occupation, the humble dwellings and great church buildings of the middle ages, the remains of Scotland's industrial heritage and the defences erected against invasion in the 20th century.

Because of the high level strategic nature of the OP, it is not considered useful to collect data and map all the historic features in the region as a baseline list. Instead, it is considered that a good understanding of what constitutes the historic environment and therefore what may be impacted on by the Programme is more useful.

For the purpose of this SEA and based on discussion with Historic Scotland, the historic environment is understood to comprise the following features:

  • scheduled ancient monuments ( SAMs);
  • historic and listed buildings;
  • conservation areas;
  • designed gardens and landscapes;
  • archaeological sites including maritime archaeology;
  • townscapes;
  • historic landscapes; and
  • the wider setting of the features listed above

The Highlands and Islands has a significant share of this rich cultural heritage. Cultural heritage is protected in a similar way to natural heritage through various designations and listings. Designation does not preclude development and the loss of cultural heritage to insensitive or destructive developments is always a concern.

Buildings at Risk

The Scottish Civic Trust maintains a Buildings at Risk Register on behalf of Historic Scotland. This was established in 1990 and although its principal purpose is to assist the sale or lease of historic buildings in need of rescue it highlights some (although not all) properties of architectural or historic merit throughout the country that are considered to be at risk or under threat. At the time of writing the Register contained details of approximately 1,300 buildings (refer to the Appendix). Most buildings on the Register are also listed.

Landscape

Landscape designations cover a considerable percentage of land in the Highlands and Islands, specifically; nearly 30% of the land area is covered by 28 National Scenic Areas. Similar to biodiversity designations, this has a significant bearing on land use. Describing landscapes and placing a value on their importance can be extremely difficult, not least because they constantly evolve. To help the process, SNH has undertaken a Landscape Character Assessment Programme for the whole of Scotland in partnership with local authorities and other organisations. 12 regional studies carried out in the Highlands and Islands provide a comprehensive inventory of the landscape of the region and are designed to provide assistance in managing landscape change.

The physical qualities and cultural heritage of the Highlands and Islands result in a very diverse landscape. This is a unique resource for both residents and visitors. Landscape and scenery are some of the main attractions for tourists to the region (see Tourism below).

Transport and access

Accessibility

Remoteness is an issue in the Highlands and Islands. The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation looks at a number of aspects but one specifically concerned with access. This is measured by the drive time to specified services ( GP, supermarket, petrol station, primary school and post office) and captures a set of problems such as financial cost, time and inconvenience. Unsurprisingly, remote areas and the Island Authorities score particularly poorly.

The concept of 'fragile areas' is also used to describe parts of the region. These are areas which are economically and socially disadvantaged, characterised by a number of factors including poor infrastructure and remoteness.

Transport Services

The region is served by standard transport services: air, rail, ferries and bus and an extensive road network. However, geography and natural features limit the extent of transport services and access to certain communities is limited. Under previous Structural Fund Programmes considerable support has been allocated to address these issues, funding ferry infrastructure, roads projects and the Highlands and Islands Airports Limited Development Programme.

Whilst transportation and access to services and facilities may be an issue, public access in terms of land for leisure and recreation is extremely good across the Highlands and Islands. In addition to formal routes and rights of way, the Land Reform Act has ensured far greater access to land and water ways across the country. This is an extremely important tourist resource for the region.

Countryside Access

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act came into force in 2003 ending the historic legacy of feudal law and created a framework for responsible access to land and inland water as well as for rural and crofting communities to have the right to buy land in their area. The Act sets precedence for the rights of responsible access across Scotland which has significant bearing on development activities and tourist, leisure and recreation activities such as walking, climbing and canoeing.

In addition, under the Act, Local Authorities are currently required to establish a network of core paths in their area. The Core Paths Plan will designate a system of paths sufficient for giving the public reasonable access throughout the area and are aimed at helping and encouraging people to exercise access rights. It is likely that the core paths network will incorporate some existing paths and rights of way but it may also promote other new paths helping to make links where useful paths have not previously existed.

Within the region there are numerous existing pathways including two long distance routes.

Tourism

Scotland is an extremely popular tourist destination and tourism is very important to the economy, especially in more remote areas. Over the past 30 years, tourism in Scotland has grown by 43% but has changed in focus. UK visitors are spending fewer nights but more money, reflecting a rise in short breaks. Over the long term, the growth has come primarily from overseas. Over 18 million tourists took overnight trips to Scotland in 2003. According to a Tourist Attitudes Survey:

  • seven in ten visitors to Scotland specifically visit areas in the Highlands and Islands;
  • by far the main attraction is the landscape, countryside and scenery;
  • specific aspects mentioned were mountains, hills, lochs, rivers, and the nature and wildlife; and
  • cultural heritage is also a key attraction for one in five visitors.

Environmental management and research

The number of companies implementing environmental management systems ( EMS) within the UK is growing. An EMS goes beyond minimum legal compliance and demonstrates continuing improvement in environmental performance. Invariably this directly improves economic performance. In Scotland there are:

  • seven companies registered with the EUEMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme); and
  • 208 companies registered with ISO14001.

There are a number of different EMS accreditation schemes and many companies are also implementing the basics of an EMS to help manage their environmental impacts and obligations.

New research co-coordinated by Envirowise suggests that Scottish businesses place more importance on improving green policies than businesses in other parts of the UK. The Tomorrow's World report indicated that 48% of Scottish companies believe improving green policies will enhance their market opportunities, compared with only 23% of companies in the rest of the UK. However, many of these Scottish businesses are failing to actually implement and benefit from environmental management. The report also reveals that 52% of Scottish respondents stated that they did apply pressure to their suppliers to reveal information concerning the management and improvement of their environmental impacts but only 22% of Scottish companies stated that they themselves had a formal environmental planning process through which they identified environmental policies, goals or targets.

In tandem with growing environmental awareness across the business sector and the public in general, environmental research has increased. Although the academic sector has arguably always been ahead in terms of trying to understand environmental issues, numerous higher education institutions now have an environmental research capacity. The UHIMI is no exception and has a dedicated Environmental Research Institute, based at the Northern Highland College in Thurso, where research is focused on climate change, waste issues and new technologies.

Gaps, limitations and future data

Within the SEA process, data collection cannot continue indefinitely. This means that there are likely to be gaps in data collection and data can be superseded during the process of consulting on and completing the SEA. In addition, there are often issues with regard to data quality (eg. how current it is, what level it corresponds to). Where this is the case this has been highlighted through the SEA. Fundamentally, this may affect the level of environmental assessment which can usefully be made. To improve the process and future SEAs, recommendations have therefore been made where appropriate on future data collection. The requirement to monitor will also help to produce some of this data for future SEAs.

The main issues encountered with regards to data were:

  • Availability - not all the data which it is considered would be useful is available at the moment e.g. flood risk maps for Scotland and River Basin Management Plans; and
  • Comparability - in some cases the data is available for a single year or the parameters change between years. This means that comparison or trend analysis is not always possible.

On the positive side, on the whole, where data exists it is generally fairly current. In addition, although coverage is often restricted to the Scottish level, due to the nature of the Programme and the environmental impacts considered, this geographical level is generally appropriate for the purposes of this SEA. Requiring all data to be specifically at the Highlands and Islands regional level would be difficult and in many cases e.g. with regards to climate and climate change, this is not really required.

Environmental trends, issues and problems

Schedule 2 of the Regulations requires that the environmental report includes a description of existing environmental problems, in particular those relating to any areas of particular environmental importance. The purpose of this section is to explain how existing environmental problems will affect or be affected by the OP, and whether the Programme is likely to aggravate, reduce or otherwise affect existing environmental problems.

Details of the key environmental trends, issues and problems relevant to the Programme and the Highlands and Islands are given in the table below. This section is based on discussions with the CAs, specifically feedback on the Scoping Report, the detailed environmental baseline and Programme context.

Environmental Trends, Problems and Issues

SEA Topic

Key Trends, Issues and Problems including Supporting Data

Data Sources

Implications of, and/or for, the Programme

Population

Population Growth

The population of the Highlands and Islands as a whole is projected to grow by 2% between 2004 and 2024 (this projection is purely based on fertility and mortality rates and does not take into account potential public sector interventions which may effect population). However, there is a split with more remote and peripheral areas, such as the Western Isles, experiencing considerable population decline while centres, such as Inverness and Nairn, are experiencing population growth through in-migration. Population decline in remote areas brings problems in terms of economic stability. Conversely, population increase puts pressure on specific geographical locations and resources such as land. This also brings associated problems with waste generation, traffic etc.

GROS Population Projections (2005)

The Programme has the potential to have a positive impact on some of the problems experienced by both the fast growing population centres and the more remote and fragile communities in the Highlands and Islands through all three Priorities. Sustainable economic development is fundamental to maintaining population in fragile communities and also ensuring growing population centres do not have a negative impact on the environment.

Distribution and Density

The region has an average population density of 9 persons per km 2. This compares with an EU average of 116 per km 2 and is on a par with the northern parts of Finland and Sweden. In addition, 23% of the population live on more than ninety inhabited islands. This makes the provision of many services difficult e.g. public transport and recycling etc

Human Health

Life Expectancy

Life expectancy in general is increasing throughout Scotland. Life expectancy is higher in the Highlands and Islands than the Scottish average, although this is influenced by many complex factors not just provision or access to health care. A good environment, free of pollution, with clean water, clean air and facilities which enhance quality of life also plays a considerable part.

Healthy Life Expectancy in Scotland (March 2004)

The Programme has the potential to have impacts on aspects which contribute to human health e.g. good water infrastructure, employment opportunities, tourism, and community regeneration. These impacts will depend on the nature of the projects supported but will primarily be indirect. The potential to significantly impact on human health (either + or -) is however, considered to be outwith the scope of the Programme (refer to section x).

Deprivation

Within the Highlands and Islands there are very few areas which fall within the most deprived 10% in Scotland in terms of factors such as health and education. There are however key issues with regards to access and infrastructure. This is unsurprising and is due to the remote and rural nature of much of the area. This aspect is considered below under Transport and Access.

SIMD 2004; Fragile Areas

Biodiversity, Flora and Fauna

Designations

The number of designated sites has increased in the Highlands and Islands in the last few years corresponding to a growth in legislation. It is one of the most heavily designated regions in the UK in terms of numbers and the % of land area covered by natural heritage sites. For example:

  • 18% of the region is covered by 154 SPAs;
  • 12% by 100 SACs (these include marine areas); and
  • 17% by 672 SSSIs.

This has a significant bearing on land use and there is potential for conflict with other interests such as economic development.

SNH Annual Report 2003-2004;

SNH Designation Data 2006

The Programme should not support projects which will cause harm to biodiversity in the Highlands and Islands, specifically with regard to protected species and designated areas. Beyond this statutory requirement, there is some scope for the Programme to enhance or improve biodiversity through the specific projects which are ultimately funded. This particularly relates to sub-objective 3.3 concerned with maximising the benefits of tourism and environmental heritage and Priority 2 looking at Community Regeneration. Funding could potentially be used to improve aspects such as site condition or to encourage habitat creation e.g. community wildlife gardens. Several sub-objectives under Priority 3 could, however, also have negative impacts on biodiversity e.g. renewable development. There will be more scope in the SRDP to get specifically involved in projects with a positive biodiversity aspect.

Site Condition

The condition of sites is also a concern with the results of a recent site monitoring programme indicating that nearly 30% of features within the designated sites which were monitored are in unfavourable condition. The focus of much of SNH's work is to address both issues through promoting good land management and monitoring.

Species and Habitats

The Highlands and Islands are home to several species and habitats listed at the European level. According to the Scottish Biodiversity list, which contains flora, fauna and habitats considered to be of principal importance for biodiversity conservation, within Scotland, there are around:

  • 1,800 important terrestrial and freshwater species, several are threatened and 117 have shown a decline in the last 25 years;
  • 170 important terrestrial and freshwater habitats. 11 are rare and 18 unique to Scotland; and
  • 200 important marine habitats and species, 12 of which have declined in the last 25 years.

Declines are specifically recorded for certain bird species, natural and semi-natural habitats and commercial salmon catches, although species and habitat trends vary considerably with declines as well as increases indicated in the available data. Complex interactions effect biodiversity but species trends are often closely related to habitat condition where changes are often associated with land management and atmospheric pollution. In terms of the latter effects of climate change may become increasingly important and evident in the future.

Scottish Biodiversity Strategy (2005);

Key Scottish Environment Statistics 2006

Soil

Soils

Soil patterns in the Highlands and Islands are influenced heavily by climate and the underlying geology. This dictates habitat types and directly affects the potential for types of land use such as forestry and agriculture. Most soils are shallow and in some parts of the region soil erosion is becoming an issue, particularly due to heavy recreational pressures e.g. ski centres or popular walking routes.

SNH The Soil Landscapes of Scotland

In the past, Programmes have supported the reclamation of brownfield and contaminated sites. Depending on specific projects this may happen again. However, there is little contaminated land in the region and the impact on soils from the level of projects supported is unlikely to have a significant impact on the soil resource in the region.

Contaminated Land

There is very little known contaminated land in the Highlands and Islands. Currently 92 hectares has been recorded, 96% of this in Inverness, Nairn and Ross and Cromarty. Contaminated land is a much greater issue in the central belt of Scotland.

Scottish Vacant and Derelict Land Survey 2005

Water

Water Quality

Water quality is classified annually by SEPA. In 2005, the net length of unsatisfactory class C and D rivers, estuaries and coastal waters were all reduced. Overall, SEPA's 2006 quality targets have been met well ahead of schedule, and further improvements are anticipated. In general the quality of waters is high in the region and this is being maintained. With the exception of extreme weather events, water quality issues arise primarily due to human activity and therefore tend to occur in more urban and industrial areas or areas of intensive agriculture. This is less of an issue in the Highlands and Islands region where water quality levels are steadier than at the national level.

SEPA Water Quality Classification Data (2005)

The Programme is unlikely to impact negatively on water quality, which is closely monitored and controlled by SEPA. However, there is potential under Priority 3 to support projects which may have an impact on water quality e.g. transport, tourism and renewables. Wherever possible projects should be developed in a way which will have a positive impact on water quality e.g. through the implementation of Sustainable Urban Drainage.

Wherever possible the Programme should try to improve water quality and the water environment. This is in accordance with the WFD.

Due to population distribution it is likely that the Programme will support projects within close proximity or actually on the coast. The issues of marine environment and coastal zone will need to be taken into account e.g. under the renewables sub-objective could be tidal or offshore.

Water Bodies at Risk

Water bodies within the region are under a range of pressures, which put them at risk including: point source and diffuse pollution; abstraction; flow regulation; morphological alterations; and alien species. Closer industry regulation means that pollution from point discharges (e.g. sewage and industrial effluent) is becoming much rarer. The focus is now on marginal impacts from more diffuse sources (e.g. agriculture and forestry). These are harder to identify and therefore control. Water bodies 1 considered to be at risk from one or more of the above pressures, include:

  • 913 rivers (9,976km);
  • 167 lochs (567km 2);
  • transitional water bodies (507km 2);
  • 128 coastal water bodies (7720 km 2); and
  • groundwater bodies (27,484km 2).

SEPA Scotland River Basin Characterisation Report (2005)

Marine Environment

80% of the total land area of the region is within 20km of the coast, and this zone also contains 96% of the region's human population. Many of the region's natural designations extend into the marine environment. This creates the potential for considerable pressure for environmental quality and human activity in the coastal zones. Sea level rise and erosion are also ongoing issues, with particular concerns for low lying areas such as South and North Uist in the Western Isles.

SNH; SEPA

Air

Air Quality

Air quality in the region is on the whole extremely good. No Local Authorities have, as yet, needed to designate any Air Quality Management Areas. There are localised air quality issues relating to specific industrial processes and several of these are located in Inverness, which as the only major urban centre also has the highest traffic concentrations. However this is being monitored through regimes such as IPPC and local measuring programmes.

SEPASPRI Emissions Data;

National Air Quality Archive;

The Programme will not significantly impact on air quality and as yet, there are no major air quality concerns which the Programme could seek to address.

Climatic Factors

Climate Change

The global climate naturally exhibits long-term fluctuations. However, current trends are unlikely to be entirely natural in origin and there is evidence that human activities are having an impact. These bring wide-ranging implications for Scotland and could affect a whole range of aspects from flood risk, water resources, agriculture, tourism, habitats and species to health. In Scotland:

  • Between 1901-2000 surface temperature rose by 0.61°C;
  • By 2100, temperatures are predicted to rise by 3.5°C in summer and 2.5°C in the winter; and
  • Rainfall patterns will change to considerably wetter winters and drier summers.

Key Scottish Environment Statistics 2005

A changing climate is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. Almost all activities supported by the Programme could have impacts (both + and -) on climate change, primarily through emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Under Priority 3, the Programme has 2 sub-objectives which have the potential to support conflicting interests with regards to climate change, strategic transport and renewable energy (there may be others). The Programme should seek to reduce carbon emissions and encourage energy efficiency and greener transport. Under Priority 1 the programme could also promote RTD looking at cleaner technologies. There is a further consideration specifically under renewables. The promotion of electricity generated from renewables is an important element of the Scottish Climate Change Programme. Whilst the overall effect will be positive on climate change, there is potential for negative effects on landscape and possibly biodiversity. As a significant proportion of Scotland's renewable energy resources lie within sensitive areas. This issue is particularly important as climate change is the only environmental issue which is not currently regulated to some degree by an existing regime e.g. planning or environmental protection.

Carbon Dioxide and Energy Use

Emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) contribute to global warming. In 2002, Scotland emitted 44 million tonnes of CO2 resulting from the production and consumption of energy. CO2 can also be emitted from other activities such as land-use which disturbs peaty soils. Relative to 1990, overall energy consumption fell in 2002 by just over 2%, partly due to improvements in energy efficiency and the move towards less energy-intensive sectors, however, this has been largely balanced by the increased use of energy for transport. High CO2 emissions are concentrated in the main urban areas, where houses, traffic, businesses and factories are located. Emissions in the region are low relative to the Central Belt and Aberdeen with the exception of Inverness.

Scottish Energy Study: Volumes 1 and 2 (2006)

Renewable Energy

The Scottish Government is committed to having 18% of electricity generated in Scotland from a range of renewable sources, including biomass by 2010. This is to rise to 40% by 2020. In 2004, 11.5% of electricity generated in Scotland came from renewable sources. Between 2000 and 2004 renewable production has increased by 19% (although this is from a relatively low base). The contribution of renewables to overall electricity generation in Scotland has risen from 11% in 2000 to 13% in 2004. This is primarily from existing hydroelectric generators but wind, newer small-scale hydro schemes and thermal renewable sources are beginning to contribute. The majority of electricity is still generated from traditional energy sources, with nuclear comprising more than a third (35%), coal, and oil and gas just over one-quarter respectively (26% each).

Scottish Energy Study: Volumes 1 and 2 (2006)

Key Scottish Environment Statistics (2006)

Material Assets

Land

Land is central to the economy of the Highlands and Islands, mostly in the form of extensive uses such as agriculture, forestry, sport and recreation. However, there is a good deal land which is essential unused and urban settlements make up a very small proportion of land use. In 1988, 97% of Scotland's land area was non-urban and about one tenth of the population lived in 'rural' areas. According to the SVDLS over the past 10 years there has been a decrease in land recorded in the survey. This is partly attributable to land being brought back into productive use. Highland Council has the 3 rd highest amount of recorded land at 1,128 hectares (11%), however when you consider derelict land as a proportion of Local Authority area, it is extremely low in the Highlands and Islands.

Land Use in the Highlands and Islands;

Scottish Vacant and Derelict Land Survey 2005

The Programme has the potential to impact on material assets in the region. Due to the available resource, any land take is unlikely to be significant although brownfield development should take preference over greenfield where possible. Certain industries such as forestry could benefit from the Programme, which may be able to support diversification and projects for recreation or new community woodlands.

Resource use and waste are however, significant issues. Almost all development activities use resources and generate waste from construction debris to office paper. The Programme should look to encourage resource efficiency and waste minimisation wherever possible, including moving further up the waste hierarchy and trying to minimise at source. Sub-objectives such as encouraging RTD and providing infrastructure could have a positive impact on waste and resource use if directed appropriately.

Forestry

There are 667,000 ha of national forests in Scotland managed by the Forest Commission Scotland ( FCS). This is nearly 10% of the total land area and a significant proportion of this is in the Highlands and Island. These forests have a specific economic purpose creating employment, often in more remote and rural areas and producing timber for the wood processing industry. Between 1979 and 1997, well over 100,000 ha of public forest were sold off but this was stopped in 1997 and has remained relatively stable since. FCS has diversified and there has been a growth in woodland being developed for recreational activities e.g. biking and walking. There is also more interest in using woodland planting to encourage biodiversity and wildlife.

FCS Land Review 2004

Waste

Waste generation is a major environmental issue. In 2002/2003, a total of 3.35 million tonnes of controlled wastes was collected by, or on behalf of, Local Authorities in Scotland. The majority of this (92%) was for disposal and only 8% for recycling / composting. Stricter legislation is beginning to restrict what can be land-filled and what has to be recovered or recycled. Scotland's National Waste Plan sets out objectives for Local Authorities to reduce waste and improve waste management by 2020. Recent figures show that across Scotland the recycling and composting target for municipal waste of 25% is being met, however most Authorities in the Highlands and Islands are below this average (Shetland and the Western Isles significantly). Progress is being made but it is still fairly minimal with regards to the scale of the issue.

SEPA Waste Digest;

Municipal Figures 2006

Cultural Heritage

Designations

Cultural heritage is protected in a similar way to natural heritage through various designations and listings. Designation does not preclude development and the loss of cultural heritage to insensitive or destructive developments is a concern. The trend in designations is changing annually, not least of all due to Historic Scotland's scheduling and listing programmes. Currently within the Highlands and Islands there are just under:

  • 3,000 Scheduled Ancient Monuments; and
  • 8,000 Listed Buildings (all grades)

Historic Scotland PASTMAP 2006

The Programme should not support projects which will impact negatively on cultural heritage in the region, specifically with regard to listings or designations. The main potential negative impacts relate to loss, damage or changes in setting. Beyond statutory requirements, there is scope for the Programme to enhance or improve cultural heritage through the specific projects, which are ultimately funded. This particularly relates to the sub-objective concerned with maximising the benefits of tourism and cultural heritage, for example, bringing listed buildings back into viable use.

Historic Features

The historic environment as a whole comprises a range of features and aspects not just those which are designated, including: SAMs; historic and listed buildings; conservation areas; designed gardens and landscapes; archaeological sites including maritime archaeology; townscapes; historic landscapes; and the wider setting of the features listed above. For many of these aspects trends or unknown.

Landscape

Designations

Landscape designations cover a considerable percentage of land in the Highlands and Islands, specifically; nearly 30% of the land area is covered by 28 National Scenic Areas. Landscape and scenery are some of the main attractions for tourists to the region (see Tourism below). Similar to biodiversity designations, this has a significant bearing on land use. Landscape change is a natural as well as human induced process and quantifying landscape value and the impact of various types of developments is a complex process.

SNH Designation Data 2006

Through the various projects which will be supported, the Programme has the potential to impact on landscape. Many of the impacts will be localised and small scale however these have the potential for cumulative impacts at the landscape level. There are a number of sub-objectives with the potential to cause effects at a scale which could be significant to landscape e.g. strategic transport, infrastructure and specifically renewables.

Transport and Access

Transport Services

Transport provision throughout the region is heavily influenced by geography, which limits certain services such as rail and makes other services such as ferries and air travel essential. To the 90+ in habited islands these represent lifeline links. A 2005 study found that:

  • Air services increased across the region 2004 to 2005 with the introduction of a number of new flights. Passengers at the region's twelve main airports increased, by 9%, to 1,266,000.
  • Service provision on ferries, rail and buses has both decreased and increased with the addition of new services in some areas but the cessation of others.
  • The region's trunk roads have relatively low traffic flows. The busiest (A96-Forres) is ranked 20th out of 37 Scottish trunk roads for which data are collected. Demand is relatively seasonal and on the A9 and A82 average flows demonstrate the importance of non-business/commuting traffic.
  • Fuel prices per litre in remote Scottish areas are higher than the national average. The differential was 4.1 pence, equating to a premium of 5% over the Scottish level.

Transport Provision and Trends in the Highlands & Islands (2005)

One of the sub-objectives within the Programme specifically seeks to support strategic transport, which improves access and reduces peripherality. This is important for access and population but also has the potential to impact negatively on a number of environmental aspects most notably climate change through carbon emissions etc. This depends on the nature of the projects supported but should be taken into account.

Access and Telecommunications

Areas within the Highlands and Islands are some of the most deprived in Scotland with respect to geographic access and telecommunications. Within the SIMD this aspect is measured by the drive time to specified services ( GP, supermarket, petrol station, primary school and post office). This captures a set of problems such as financial cost, time and inconvenience. The Island Authorities score particularly poorly on this aspect.

Since 2006 every community in Scotland has access to Broadband this includes some 378 remote and rural telephone exchange areas. This has significant implications for businesses and individuals in the region.

Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation ( SIMD) 2004

Tourism

Visitors

Scotland is an extremely popular tourist destination and tourism is very important to the economy especially in more remote areas. Over the past 30 years tourism in Scotland has grown by 43% but has changed in focus. UK visitors are spending fewer nights but more money reflecting a rise in short breaks. Over the long term, therefore, the growth has come primarily from overseas. Over 18 million tourists took overnight trips to Scotland in 2003. According to a Tourist Attitudes Survey:

  • 7 in 10 visitors to Scotland specifically visit areas in the Highlands and Islands;
  • By far the main attraction is the landscape, countryside and scenery;
  • Specific aspects mentioned were mountains, hills, lochs, rivers, and the nature and wildlife; and
  • Cultural heritage is also a key attraction for one in five visitors.

Recent research has indicated that Scotland is tapping into the specific eco-tourism market and is increasingly attracting visitors who are environmentally aware, with a majority highlighting the country's scenery and natural environment as the main reasons for coming. A 2005 poll of 60,000 booking enquiries through the online travel agency responsibletravel.com ranked Scotland as the top European eco-destination and 9th in the world.

Visit Scotland and SNH Tourist Attitudes Survey 2001;

Visit Scotland Data 2003;

Sustainable Tourism Partnership

Tourism is an important economic driver in the region. One of the sub-objectives within the Programme specifically seeks to maximise the economic and social benefits of tourism. Depending on the types of projects supported this has the potential to impact on aspects such as landscape, biodiversity and cultural heritage. This should be done in a way that supports and enhances these aspects of the environment, i.e. through restoration, habitat creation etc.

Environmental Management

Environmental Management Systems

The number of companies implementing environmental management systems ( EMS) within the UK is growing. An EMS goes beyond minimum legal compliance and demonstrates continuing improvement in environmental performance. Invariably this directly improves economic performance. In Scotland there are:

  • 7 companies registered with the EUs EMAS (Eco-Management and Audit Scheme); and
  • 208 companies registered with ISO14001.

EMAS Register

The Programme specifically looks to assist business development and support economic growth through RTD. This could be done in a way, which supports more environmentally positive practices, such as EMS's, green design, and environmental technologies. These do not have to be contrary to economic aims and can in fact provide specific economic benefits i.e. reduced energy and water consumption.

Environmental Research

Activity focussed on environmental research is growing in the region, specifically through the work of the UHI but also through independent organisations and private companies such as the Sustainable Research Development Centre ( SRDC) in Forres and the European Marine Energy Centre ( EMEC) in Orkney. The region has particularly abundant renewable resources and a large geographical area over which they could be exploited. This potential is well recognised and the area is now attracting considerable development and research interest.

FE and HE Sector

Inter-relationships2

Climate Change

This has the potential to impact on almost all of the other factors detailed above e.g. through:

  • Sea level rise;
  • Increased precipitation and flooding; and
  • Change in growing seasons and in species behaviour e.g. migration.

The Programme should consider the potential for inter-relationships between various environmental effects. This has been considered in as much as is possible in the SEA in the assessment matrices ( section x).

Renewable Energy

The move to increase renewable energy provision has the potential to impact on landscape, water and recreation, biodiversity and cultural heritage, in particular the settings of historic features e.g.:

  • Tidal / offshore renewable developments in sensitive marine environments;
  • Significant changes in landscape visual amenity; and
  • Impacts on recreational opportunities e.g. micro-hydro and kayaking.

Transport and Access

Aims to improve accessibility and strategic transport in the region can significantly affect other environmental aspects. Physical infrastructure development or support for modes of transport such as the private car or air travel (in their current forms) can:

  • Increase CO2 emissions and contribute to climate change;
  • Contribute to habitat loss and landscape change; and
  • Impacts on water quality due to run-off.

Sectoral / Location Focus

Selection criteria for support funding may give a greater weighting to factors which favour more economically vulnerable parts of the region. Broadly speaking, somewhere like Inverness would be likely to attract lower grant rates compared to more fragile areas such as the Western Isles.

Notes:
1 Water bodies are taken from the Scotland River Basin District which extends beyond the OP boundary