Publication - Progress report

Scottish Biodiversity Strategy: report to Parliament 2017 to 2019

The fifth report detailing progress on the implementation of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, covering the period 2017 to 2019, as required under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

63 page PDF

1.5 MB

63 page PDF

1.5 MB

Contents
Scottish Biodiversity Strategy: report to Parliament 2017 to 2019
6. Outcome 4: Wildlife, habitats and protected places

63 page PDF

1.5 MB

6. Outcome 4: Wildlife, habitats and protected places

The special value and international importance of Scotland's nature and geodiversity is assured, wildlife is faring well, and we have a highly effective network of protected places.

Key steps

  • Ensure that management of protected places for nature also provides wider public benefits
  • Align habitat restoration in protected areas with national goals for improving ecosystem health, with local priorities determined at the catchment or landscape scales
  • Integrate protected areas policy with action for wider habitats to combat fragmentation and restore key habitats
  • Develop a wildlife management framework to address the key priorities for sustainable species management, conservation and conflict issues, including reintroductions and invasive non-native species
  • Involve more people than at present in this work and improve our understanding of the poorly known elements of nature

Much of the activity to address this Outcome focuses on protected areas, and specifically on species requiring targeted actions. Tackling invasive species and wildlife crime, as detailed in the Route Map to 2020, are also key means of addressing this Outcome, as are the landscape-scale projects described above in section 3 on Healthy Ecosystems.

Partnership and collaboration have been at the heart of all of this work, thus ensuring that we maximise the skills and resources available across many organisations. Mechanisms such as the SRDP (described further in section 7.1) and other sources of funding including EU Life+, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, SNH, Scottish Government, SEPA, many charitable trusts, and contributions from conservation organisations through both their time and donations have enabled much to be achieved.

However, there are still challenges for some species in Scotland most notably breeding seabirds, upland waders and alpine plant communities. Understanding the reasons for changes in the extent and distribution of species populations is important, particularly if downward trends are to be reversed.

6.1 Assessing progress towards this outcome

The relevant indicators developed for reporting on the 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity are presented in Table 4. All these indicators have been updated during this reporting period with the exception of S6 - vascular plant diversity, and S12 - otters.

Table 4. Indicator summaries relevant to monitoring progress on Outcome 4 – Wildlife, habitats and protected areas

No.

Indicator

Start

Updated

Trend

S3

Abundance of terrestrial breeding birds[104]

1994

2018

S4

Wintering waterbirds[105]

1975

2018

S5

Breeding seabirds[106]

1986

2020

S6

National Plant Monitoring Scheme[107]

2015

2020

S8

S9

Terrestrial insect abundance - Butterflies[108]

Trends of moths in Scotland - abundance[109]

Trends of moths in Scotland - occupancy[110]

1979

1965

1965

2019

2019

2019

Divergent

NPI

Proportion of nature sites in favourable condition[111]

2020

S10

Notified species in favourable condition[112]

1999

2020

S11

Notified habitats in favourable condition[113]

1999

2020

S12

Otter – trend data[114]

1977

2015

Not updated this reporting period

6.2 Abundance of terrestrial breeding birds

Scotland's terrestrial breeding birds include those commonly associated with woodland, farmland and upland habitats. Some are closely associated with one habitat type while others utilise more than one. Of the 66 bird species surveyed in 2018 there were 40 species that increased in abundance and 24 that declined, compared to 35 increasing and 25 declining in 2015.

  • Woodland birds increased significantly by 58% since 1994.
  • Farmland birds increased steadily up to the late-2000s, peaking at 25% above the 1994 index value. It is currently 12% higher than in 1994.
  • Upland birds decreased significantly by 15% overall since 1994.

6.3 Wintering waterbirds

Overall waterbird numbers (41 species/populations) peaked in 1997/98 at 153% of the 1975/76 level, and then gradually declined. In 2015/16 the indicator was 18% higher than the baseline winter of 1975/76.

Relative to the baseline set in winter 1975/76:

  • Goose numbers (7 populations) have increased to 287%
  • Ducks and swans (wildfowl) numbers (16 species) have increased by 14%
  • Wader numbers (14 species) have been declining since 1996/97 and in 2015/16 were 21% lower than in 1975/76, making this the lowest levels on record.

The wintering waterbird index[115] has fluctuated over time with sustained declines for waders since the late 1990s. The individual species trends reveal a range of fortunes for Scotland's wintering waterbirds.

Scotland is an important destination for migratory wading birds in the East Atlantic Flyway[116]. Thousands of waders use Scotland's estuaries, coasts and inland waters as a place to winter or stopover on their way to other destinations on the flyway. Waders, as a group, have declined the most, in terms of both the combined trend and the individual species trends. Eight species have declined – turnstone, ringed plover, redshank, purple sandpiper, dunlin, knot, golden plover and lapwing. Their trends follow a similar pattern to each other, peaking between 1994/95 and 1999/99 then declining from 2002/03. Some species may shift in response to climate change, with good supporting evidence for knot and dunlin populations being mobile in response to changes in food availability.

6.4 Breeding seabirds

Scotland's breeding seabirds[117] are of international importance. They respond to a range of factors such as changes in food availability, weather, predation and pollution, and to changes to habitats outside Scotland. Being relatively long-lived the numbers of breeding seabirds usually changes slowly over time. Breeding success (the number of chicks produced) provides an indication of food availability (generally fish and other marine species) and other factors such as predation during the breeding season. Breeding success typically varies far more from year to year than breeding numbers (abundance).

Since 1986 when the UK Seabird Monitoring Programme was established there has been a decline in both seabird abundance and productivity with signs of stabilisation for some species in recent years. The latest update to the Scottish Biodiversity indicator on the numbers and breeding success of seabirds in Scotland was in 2017. This shows that breeding seabird numbers had decreased by 32% from the 1986 level. These declines partly reflect that the mid-1980s is recognised as a peak in seabird abundance and productivity in Scotland. Some species now appear to be stabilising at a new level that differs from the 1986 baseline. This may be in response to changing fishing practices (e.g. relating to discarding) as well as to climate change.

Arctic skuas have experienced the largest declines (78%) from the indicator baseline. The Northern Isles are their breeding stronghold; there have been declines in the availability of sandeels, which they obtain from other seabirds, such as kittiwake, by chasing to make them release their food (kleptoparasitism). Similar patterns of declines have occurred for the species they kleptoparasitise, notably kittiwakes and terns. Increased predation from great skuas has also been linked to the decline of these seabirds. Common terns increased in 2016 and remained high in 2017; like many colonial nesting terns they can respond to favourable breeding conditions rapidly, resulting in higher numbers at breeding colonies in some years.

6.5 Vascular Plants

The diversity of plant species across different habitats has declined by 10% between 1998 and 2007, as shown by The Countryside Survey data. This overall decline was reflected in butterfly numbers over the same period as they rely on many plant species such as wild thyme as a food source. Competitive species such as nettle increased significantly. The National Plant Monitoring Scheme[118] will inform the vascular plant indicator as data from the first five years between 2015 and 2019 is analysed. The first analysis is due to be completed in 2020.

The principal drivers of plant diversity loss have been land use change, and to a lesser extent, atmospheric pollution. The potential impact of plant diseases, such as sudden oak death, Phytophthora ramorum, on our native flora is of increasing concern. Plants are important for terrestrial biodiversity because they form the base of the food chain and provide the diversity of habitats that different species need to survive.

6.6 Terrestrial insects - butterflies

Butterfly populations[119] can show large natural fluctuations. These are mainly due to environmental features, especially weather conditions. Long-term changes in abundance and distribution have been linked to a range of factors including habitat loss and fragmentation, land use changes, and climate change. Overall, butterflies in Scotland show no overall change, with the benefits for established or expanding species brought about by the warming summer climate and positive habitat management, being balanced out by the negative effects of warmer and wetter winters, and negative land management practices in some habitats. Scotland's Pollinator Strategy[120] is helping through a large number of projects and raising awareness to boost populations of pollinators such as butterflies.

Overall Scotland's specialist butterflies remained stable between 1979 and the most recent survey in 2018. One specialist butterfly species, grayling, declined significantly, while the small pearl-bordered fritillary and pearl-bordered fritillary increased significantly. Habitat loss, climate change, urban development and increased nitrogen deposition, are all linked to declines. There is evidence that increased nitrogen deposition and warmer temperatures increases spring plant growth resulting in shading and cooler temperatures at soil level. Paradoxically, this means species that overwinter as eggs or larvae do not benefit from the increased temperatures. The effects of climate change were likely to be negative for butterflies with a northerly distribution, with predicted long-term range contractions at the southern edge and/or at lower elevations.

6.7 Terrestrial insects - moths

Moth abundance has almost halved (46% decline) over the last 25 years, with more 'significantly decreasing' than 'significantly increasing' species (58 versus 5). However, a moth occupancy indicator from National Moth Recording Scheme distribution data, suggests that moth occupancy has increased over the last 25 years by about 16%, with similar numbers of 'significantly decreasing' and 'significantly increasing' species (51 versus 60)[121]. Summer warming is an important factor driving northward range expansions and corresponding increases in occupancy, whilst this is being countered for some species by negative impacts from land management practices and habitat changes, together with warmer and wetter winters, leading to population declines.

Substantial range changes are taking place for some moth species, for example the Chamomile Shark has recently been found 120km north-east of its previous Scottish record, and there have been many new colonists to Scotland in recent years, such as Blair's Shoulder-knot Beautiful Snout, and the micro moths Thistle Ermine and Gold Triangle. Moth species associated with woodland habitats have shown the most rapid increase, most significantly between 1990 and 2014.

Moth abundance has almost halved (46% decline) over the last 25 years, with more 'significantly decreasing' than 'significantly increasing' species (58 versus 5). However, a moth occupancy indicator from NMRS distribution data, suggests that moth occupancy has increased over the last 25 years by about 16%, with similar numbers of 'significantly decreasing' and 'significantly increasing' species (51 versus 60).

In 2019 the 20 species in most rapid decline were associated with specific habitats; notably 13 species with semi-natural habitats, seven with a broader range of habitats including intensive farmland and plantation woodland and urban areas, whilst one is a common migrant. Eight of the 20 species are associated with moorland, suggesting moths may be declining disproportionately in this habitat.

In 2019 the 20 species increasing most rapidly were those associated (for 11 of the 20 species) with trees and woodland, whilst 18 of the 20 species were common or widespread species at a UK scale.

6.8 The condition of protected places

Protected areas represent the very best of Scotland's habitats and of the underlying geology. Their protection and management helps to ensure they remain in good condition for everyone to enjoy, both now and future generations. In Scotland there is a suite of 1,866 protected areas covering almost two million hectares.

Site Condition Monitoring is SNH's programme for monitoring the condition of nature conservation features of special interest on protected areas in Scotland. These features of special interest are known as 'natural features' and may be habitats (e.g. woodlands, reefs and freshwater lochs), species populations (e.g. otter, dotterel, marsh fritillary butterfly) or geological formations (e.g. caves, fossil beds, volcanic exposures).

The purpose of Site Condition Monitoring is to determine the condition of the designated natural feature within a site and the pressures which are influencing condition. This is to establish whether the natural feature is likely to maintain itself in the medium to longer term under the current management regime and wider environmental or other influences. There are in excess of 5,000 individual natural features of special interest on designated sites which are monitored on a rolling programme through Site Condition Monitoring. In March 2019 the proportion of natural features in favourable or 'favourable recovering' condition was 78.9% compared to 80.4% in 2016. The details of notified species and notified habitats in favourable condition are described below.

6.9 Notified species in favourable condition

In 2016, the condition of more than 200 of Scotland's most important species and groups of species protected within our suite of 1,866 protected areas (Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Ramsar sites, Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation) was measured.

In 2019, in total 70% of all species features were in favourable condition; 2% were unfavourable recovering; 2% were unfavourable with corrective measures agreed/in place; and 26% were in an unfavourable condition (values do not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding). Table 5 provides further detailed information across species groups.

Table 5. The percentage of species features that were in favourable and unfavourable recovering condition

Species group

2017

2018

2019

Amphibians and reptiles*

75%

75%

83%

Birds

72%

70%

68%

Butterflies

87%

87%

87%

Dragonflies*

100%

100%

100%

Fish

85%

85%

85%

Invertebrates

86%

85%

85%

Marine mammals

57%

57%

57%

Non-vascular plants

80%

81%

79%

Terrestrial mammals

88%

88%

88%

Vascular plants

92%

93%

93%

* Figures based on a small numbers of qualifying features

From 2017 to 2019 there has been a decrease from 76.1% to 73.2% of protected species (qualifying features) in favourable and unfavourable recovering condition. The low percentages of marine mammal features in favourable or unfavourable recovering condition is largely due to declines in harbour seal populations seen across the Northern Isles and along the east coast of Scotland. The causes of these declines continue to be investigated through the Marine Mammal Scientific Support Research Programme.

6.10 Notified habitats in favourable condition

In 2019, 63% of all habitat features on protected areas were in favourable condition, 9% were in unfavourable recovering condition, 10% of features were unfavourable with corrective measures agreed and 17% were in unfavourable condition (values do not add up to exactly 100% due to rounding).

The percentage of habitat features in favourable and unfavourable recovering condition as of May 2017, May 2018 and May 2019, are shown in Table 6 below:

Table 6. Percentage of habitat features in favourable and unfavourable recovering condition

Habitat type

2017

2018

2019

Marine

98%

98%

98%

Coastal

89%

88%

88%

Geological features

98%

98%

98%

Freshwater

74%

75%

75%

Wetlands

86%

87%

85%

Upland

84%

82%

83%

Woodland

68%

67%

65%

Heath

76%

78%

78%

Grassland

73%

76%

76%

From 2017 to 2019 there has been a slight decrease from 83.3% to 82.9% of protected habitats (qualifying features) in favourable and unfavourable recovering condition.


Contact

Email: biodiversity@gov.scot