2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity

A strategy for the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in Scotland.

Executive summary

This 2020 Challenge is Scotland's response to the Aichi Targets (2010) [5] set by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (2010) [10] and the European Union's Biodiversity Strategy for 2020 (2011) [6] . These call for a step change in efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and to restore the essential services that a healthy natural environment provides. Investment in the natural assets of Scotland will contribute to sustainable economic growth and support wellbeing and wealth creation.

Scotland's 2020 Challenge aims to:

  • protect and restore biodiversity on land and in our seas, and to support healthier ecosystems.
  • connect people with the natural world, for their health and wellbeing and to involve them more in decisions about their environment.
  • maximise the benefits for Scotland of a diverse natural environment and the services it provides, contributing to sustainable economic growth.

All of this supports the Scottish Government's purpose of ' creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish through increasing sustainable economic growth'. Table 1 shows key outcomes from the chapters of the 2020 Challenge, which contribute towards the Scottish Government's purpose and strategic objectives.

Our understanding of biodiversity has changed since 2004. The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (2011) [11] ( UKNEA) provides the first objective analysis of the benefits of the environment for nature itself, society and economic prosperity. Examples include the ways in which natural riverside habitats help to regulate river flows, and peatlands and woodlands lock up carbon from the atmosphere. Together, these many benefits represent a massive financial asset to Scotland, valued at between £21.5 and £23 billion per year.

Chapter 1 makes the case that ecosystems need to be protected, and where necessary restored and enhanced, to ensure that they continue to support nature, wellbeing and a thriving economy. Maintaining nature's capacity to provide vital services costs far less than replacing them. Tackling flooding, erosion and other forms of degradation require broad scale action across entire river catchments, landscapes and marine areas.

Table 1. The contribution of the 2020 Challenge to the Government's strategic objectives and aims for increasing sustainable economic growth.

Scottish Government's purpose: increasing sustainable economic growth
2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity
Aims Key outcomes Chapter
and Fairer

the benefits
of a diverse

  • Natural resources contributing to strong, sustainable economic growth
Ch 2
  • Diverse natural environment is a national asset we must protect
  • Health and well-being improved through physical activity and contact with nature
Ch 3
  • Nature providing goods and services which support our lives, welfare and economy
Ch 1
and Stronger
  • Healthy natural environment is much more resilient to climate change

people with
the natural

  • Communities involved in decision-making take pride in their local environment
  • An integrated approach taken to land and water use
Ch 5
  • Healthier local environments more widely understood and
    supported by communities
Ch 7
Greener Support bio-
diversity and
  • Scotland's internationally renowned nature is highly valued and secure
Ch 4
  • We have clean, healthy, safe,
    productive and biologically
    diverse seas and coast
Ch 6

The 2020 Challenge takes 'an ecosystem approach' to securing multiple benefits from sustainable management of our land and seas. This approach to planning and decision-making will establish what needs to be done at the landscape scale to solve problems. It provides a unified agenda that public bodies, land managers and marine users can work towards and focuses action on areas in greatest need of restoration based on assessments of ecosystem health. This approach can empower communities by giving them a say on priorities at the local level pursued through a framework of national action.

Growing our natural capital is central to Chapter 2. Scotland trades heavily on the quality of its natural environment in the imagery used by the food and drink industry, tourism, and to attract new businesses. Nature contributes to all of this in ways that are hard to measure in amounts of money, but we know the value is high.

The Natural Capital Asset Index (2012) [12] describes changes across Scotland since the 1950s. This reveals a marked decline in natural capital from 1950-2000 with some encouraging signs of recovery in some habitats since 2000. A key purpose of this Strategy is to extend those signs of recovery to all habitats, to invest in the assets that support wellbeing and wealth creation and to sustain benefits for the future. The importance of natural assets should be reflected in national accounts and ultimately in business accounting. Peatlands are given particular emphasis because of their vital role in storing carbon and thereby contributing to a low carbon economy, and also because of their international conservation importance.

Health, wellbeing and education are key benefits provided by the natural environment. Chapter 3 describes these, showing how an increase in physical activity is often described as 'the best buy in public health'. A growing number of studies show benefits from outdoor exercise and regular contact with nature, contributing both to physical and mental wellbeing. The educational benefits of out-door learning are now firmly rooted in the Curriculum for Excellence.

Good quality green space and path networks play an important role in place making and regeneration. These need to be provided closer to people who need them, especially in the most deprived areas of Scotland where access to good quality greenspace can be very limited. In addition, providing more of these green spaces in and around National Health Service grounds can add value to health treatment and rehabilitation.

Local communities need greater opportunities to be much more involved in managing 'their' green spaces - around schools, community centres and of course where they live. Public bodies and buinesses are encouraged to play a more active role in realising these benefits.

Chapter 4 considers the vital roles of protected places and action for wildlife and habitats in helping nature itself, as well as supporting our prosperity, health and wellbeing.

There are compelling reasons for protecting and managing wildlife. Iconic species like dolphins in the Moray Firth and white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Mull provide thrilling entertainment for residents and tourists. Beyond such examples we need to improve our understanding of the role of less spectacular plants, animals and other organisms in providing vital services such as recycling nutrients in soils and purifying water.

Much still needs to be done to conserve, manage and reintroduce species to ensure the greatest gains for nature and us. We have indicated some priorities, and recognise in particular that we must tackle the threats posed by invasive non-native species, where early action is vital. A few conflicts between wildlife and people dominate the headlines, and we need to work together creatively to eliminate some of the consequential problems.

Chapter 5 makes the case for a much more integrated approach to land and freshwater use and management. The pressures on the natural environment from habitat loss, nutrient enrichment and climate change require concerted action at the landscape scale. Building on the Land Use Strategy (2011) [13] , this chapter proposes an ecosystem approach, aimed at securing multiple benefits for nature, businesses and people.

The Scottish Government intends to build on river basin management planning as the basis of more integrated land and water use planning across whole catchments. This will provide a means of integrating public policy objectives in order to tackle issues such as diffuse pollution, flood risk, soil protection, peatland restoration and an expansion of woodland cover. We shall support 'high nature value farming and forestry'. We are looking to provide ways of coordinating action among public bodies and targeting financial incentives at land managers working at the local level. The Scottish Rural Development Programme ( SRDP) remains the major source of funding for this.

The marine and coastal environment features in Chapter 6. This is especially important for jobs and tourism, particularly in remote parts of the country. Fishing and aquaculture industries, tourism and recreation all rely on marine and coastal environments that are clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse. Changes in sea temperature, rising sea level and more frequent storm surges are already affecting marine species and coastal habitats adding urgency to the need for effective marine and coastal management. In Scotland we have some of the world's strongholds for marine wildlife so we will be focusing efforts on protecting these.

The Marine Nature Conservation Strategy for Scotland (2011) [14] describes much of what needs to be done. We need to establish a network of Marine Protected Areas with an emphasis on adaptive management, improving the status of priority marine features, and introducing a new system of marine planning to improve the management of our seas. Central to this is the sustainable use of marine resources and involvement of stakeholders in decision-making. Coastal areas need special consideration, ranging from maintaining sustainable inshore fisheries to helping habitats adapt to sea level rise. Contingency plans will be put in place to protect our islands, the marine environment and industries from invasion by non-native species.

Chapter 7 considers how we will track progress towards the 2020 Challenge. Already-established UK indicators will feed into reporting at Europe-wide and global levels.

We need good data to measure progress effectively. In Scotland we are very fortunate to have a wealth of biodiversity information, thanks largely to the efforts of specialist volunteers and national recording schemes. Web-based information portals such as Scotland's Environment Web offer excellent opportunities to combine biodiversity information and other environmental data. Indicators for healthy ecosystems will help us to guide adaptive management at the catchment/landscape levels. These indicators will contribute to Scotland's reports on progress against the Aichi Targets (2010) [5] , and more widely.

It is vital that we have clear ways to both track progress and identify where there are problems. Where there are success stories we need to share them rapidly and widely not least so we can demonstrate how a more inclusive and joined-up approach to managing nature helps our country, and nature, grow stronger.


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