In 2013, we published The 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity. It updated and complements the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy; It's in Our Hands (2004), to take account of the Aichi goals and targets and to set out the major steps we need to take in order to improve the state of nature in Scotland.
Our awareness of the importance, value and fragility of nature is growing year on year. Through an impressive body of evidence we are building up a clearer picture of what needs to be done to care for and restore biodiversity. The work needed to improve matters is complex and challenging. The Route Map intentionally is not a catalogue of all activity that is underway or planned, but rather it sets out six 'Big Steps for Nature' and a number of priority projects which focus on collaborative work which the Scottish Government and a wide range of partners are taking forward to help deliver the 2020 Challenge and to improve the state of nature in Scotland.
Many of our habitats and wildlife are internationally important. Scotland's peatlands, mountain landscapes, coastal cliffs and seas, machair and a diversity of woodland ecosystems are exceptional by European standards. These support a fantastic range of species, as well as being key assets for public health and wellbeing. We want to improve the state of nature across Scotland and to ensure that many more people draw on its many benefits.
As set out in the 2020 Challenge, our well-being and prosperity depends on the benefits that biodiversity provides. Forests, meadows, rivers, saltmarshes and bogs in healthy condition provide clean water, food, fuel, storm protection, minerals and flood control. Nature underpins all of this, and of course is important in its own right. Regular contact with wildlife provides many health benefits, enables our children to enjoy learning, and helps bring people together. We need to protect and enhance nature to secure these benefits now and into the future.
Scotland's Economic Strategy (2015) states that 'Protecting and enhancing this stock of natural capital, which includes our air, land, water, soil and biodiversity and geological resources is fundamental to a healthy and resilient economy'.
The Natural Capital Asset Index provides an overview of the state of Scotland's natural assets (based on seven broad ecosystems), and is founded on an assessment of their area and quality. Between the 1950s and 1990s there was a decline in Scotland's natural capital, with the greatest rate of decline between the 1960s and 1970s. Since 1990 there has been a slight recovery, with freshwaters, woodland, coast and urban greenspace showing the greatest improvement. Moorland, grassland and cropland have not fared so well, primarily due to changes in forestry and farming practices.
Understanding the decline in the natural capital of Scotland, alongside an analysis of biodiversity action undertaken to 2010, has allowed us to identify action needed to improve matters. We have devised a range of biodiversity trends and indicators which provide us with the evidence base on the pressures biodiversity is facing, and specific work required.
Government policy and actions are critical, including the greening of Pillar 1 and the agri-environment measures on offer though the next Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP), which are targeted to benefit priority species in greatest need of conservation action. These provide opportunities for improved farming for the environment and for biodiversity. The Climate Change Adaptation Programme, the National Planning Framework 3, and the Land Use Strategy also provide clear policy guidance on biodiversity matters. Other important strategies include the Scottish Soil Framework, which aims to promote the sustainable management and protection of soils consistent with economic, social and environmental needs. The Water Framework Directive and River Basin Management Plans provide an important basis for multi-benefit coordinated action.
Much valuable work is already underway and is planned by Scotland's National Parks, NGOs, public agencies, Local Biodiversity Action Partnerships, Local Authorities (through Local Biodiversity Action Plans), businesses, land managers and committed individuals. Much of this work is undertaken on a partnership and collaborative basis, which we wish to deepen through some of the priority projects highlighted in this Route Map.
Many landscape scale projects, which involve communities, land managers and other partners, are already working to address biodiversity issues and to deliver socio-economic benefits. This work operates across much of Scotland; from projects in our National Parks to Coigach-Assynt in the far north, and from the Inner Forth and the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) to the Galloway and South Ayrshire Biosphere. Beyond this, there are many important urban-based projects supporting biodiversity in our towns and cities as well as work focused at a catchment scale.
Some of the key work is concentrated on particular habitats and species. There is a huge range of exciting work on species conservation, involving waders, black grouse, red squirrels, wildcats and freshwater pearl mussels, to name a few. The special communities of mosses, liverworts, fungi and lichens are gaining more attention, which is appropriate given their international importance. Indeed, across Scotland thousands of projects are underway, ranging in scale from restoration of tiny raised bogs and ponds through to ambitious woodland and river restoration schemes. Research projects, many involving hundreds of volunteers, provide a wealth of data on almost every part of Scotland, with basking sharks, seabird colonies, birds of prey, amphibians and reptiles, rare plants and fungi and hundreds of species figuring prominently in reports.
All of this work provides more places and opportunities for increasing numbers of people to experience, enjoy and learn more about biodiversity. In 2014, over 5 million people visited the two Scottish National Parks, and more than 12,000 young people were involved in practical biodiversity conservation in Scotland through the John Muir Award. RSPB has 1,700 active volunteers helping look after nature on their reserves and provides outdoor learning opportunities for 9,000 school children each year. These statistics are only a small part of the much wider effort by a range of organisations across Scotland. But they begin to clearly demonstrate the much larger contribution of this work to Scottish Government outcomes for physical activity, education, young people, community empowerment and tourism.
Scotland also has a role on the international stage, for example the work of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh includes increasing the understanding of plant diversity in more than 35 countries, with a major focus in tropical South America, the Sino-Himalaya, and South-west and South-East Asia. This involves species discovery and inventory, evaluation of threats, identification of areas of high conservation value, and development of management and policy guidance. Collectively these projects provide the evidence base to underpin conservation interventions, promote sustainable use of plant natural capital, and develop capacity and knowledge in taxonomy and biodiversity science in countries where it is urgently needed.
Much of the action underway across Scotland to tackle the decline in biodiversity is being captured in Biodiversity Duty reports and the Biodiversity Delivery Agreements that many organisations are currently developing.
This is the first version of the Route Map. We shall update it to report on progress and to set out further work that is underway or planned. We have governance structures in place, with the Scottish Biodiversity Committee, chaired by the Minister, providing leadership; and the Delivery and Monitoring Group driving delivery and monitoring progress.