2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity

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

5 Land and freshwater management


Nature is faring well, and ecosystems are resilient as a result of sustainable land and water management

Key steps

  • Promote an ecosystem approach to land management that fosters sustainable use of natural resources and puts biodiversity at the heart of land-use planning and decision-making.
  • Ensure that measures taken forward under the Common Agricultural Policy encourage land managers to develop and retain the diversity of wildlife habitats and landscape features.
  • Support 'High Nature Value' farming and forestry.
  • Put in place the management necessary to bring Scotland's protected areas into favourable condition and improve the ecological status of water bodies.
  • Ensure that biodiversity and ecosystem objectives are fully integrated into flood risk management plans, and restore wetland habitats and woodlands to provide sustainable flood management.
  • Restore and extend natural habitats as a means of building reserves of carbon and to help mitigate climate change.
  • Provide clear advice to land and water managers on best practice.


Protection, management and enhancement of nature are three pillars for sustainable land and water management. This chapter points to ways in which we can manage ecosystems better.

Developing a strategy for Scotland's land and freshwater

Scotland's Land Use Strategy (2011) [13] promotes the sustainable use of land and water through the integration of land use policies, aimed at securing multiple benefits. It recognises the diverse roles of nature, and urges the adoption of an 'ecosystem approach' in planning and decision-making. The strategy provides a starting-point for public bodies to work together and with businesses at landscape scales.

Pressures on the uplands

There are growing demands on land in Scotland, and these are keenly felt in parts of the uplands, where there are conflicting demands for livestock grazing, forestry, field sports, renewable energy developments, recreation and peatland restoration. Wind turbines and associated tracks can disturb upland habitats and birds, while small hydro-schemes can impact on the ecology of stream and associated habitats. Contributing to the environmentally desirable aim of a 'low-carbon economy', these developments have a key role to play in shaping the future of the uplands.

On more productive agricultural land, market forces, technological developments and certain policies encourage farmers to increase productivity. If this intensification results in a loss of wildlife it is unsustainable. Wildlife and semi-natural habitats are an integral component of some of the most intensively managed landscapes, where they help maintain ecosystem services like pollination and water purification, critical to successful agricultural production.

Best practice and accreditation

By incorporating biodiversity objectives into best practice standards and accreditation schemes we can help raise the general standard of management.

  • The UK Forestry Standard Guidelines (2011) [51] provide a guarantee that timber and its products originate from woodland managed in a way that supports biodiversity and improves water quality.
  • Linking Environment And Farming ( LEAF) promotes environmentally responsible farming, helping farmers produce food to high environmental standards in a way that secures a market and may attract a premium.
  • Wildlife Estates Scotland demonstrates how sustainable sporting management combined with wildlife conservation objectives can provide multiple benefits for society and rural communities.

On our poorer land there is a trend towards less intensive agricultural use. In response to fluctuating prices and changes in basic support payments livestock farmers in some upland areas have reduced their sheep flocks. In some respects wildlife has benefited from this, but there are indications that the stock remaining are less well managed, and that they congregate in sheltered areas or on the more fertile ground where they still graze and trample vegetation heavily. Crops on in-bye land, which provide food for birds that over-winter or breed in the uplands, has also declined.

High nature value farming and forestry

  • High Nature Value ( HNV) farming and forestry makes up a large proportion (around 40%) of Scotland's agricultural and forest areas. 'Extensive' production systems have helped shape Scotland's landscapes, and support much of our special wildlife.
  • Extensive cropping and cattle grazing on the sandy plains of the Uists, for example, have given rise to the uniquely rich machair.
  • In order to maintain the management practices associated with these systems and their benefits for nature, we need to ensure that there are adequate incentives and rewards for land managers. But we must also have regard to the social and economic structures of remote rural areas that sustain them.

Red deer are an economically important part of Scotland's nature for hunting, food and tourism. In many areas, however, their grazing and browsing prevents the regeneration of woodland and damages upland vegetation and soils. The Deer Code (2012) [52] encourages sustainable deer management, balancing commercial and sporting objectives against those of environmental sustainability, and emphasises the need for cooperation between land managers.

Challenges ahead

Climate change is already affecting Scotland's nature and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. Healthy and resilient ecosystems can be a key factor in ensuring habitats and species adapt to change.


Since 2004, funding available for managing biodiversity on farmland, woodland and upland estates has increased under the Scottish Rural Development Programme ( SRDP). The priorities for the next programme (2014-20) are likely to include ecosystem restoration, soil and water management, and promoting a shift to a low carbon economy.

The SRDP will be a major source of funding for the 2020 Challenge. However, the squeeze on public and private finances means there is likely to be less money to invest in wildlife conservation. Clear priorities need to be set and we need to find additional ways to secure a better future for farmland wildlife. We need to consider how new EC directives can be implemented to benefit biodiversity, for instance by promoting integrated pest management and controls for diffuse pollution.

Changes to the Common Agricultural Policy ( CAP) will affect how Scotland responds to the biodiversity challenge. We need to use every opportunity available through the CAP reform package to achieve biodiversity benefits, such as:

  • taking forward 'greening measures' associated with direct support payments.
  • considering appropriate advice and support services for land managers to help yield environmental and biodiversity benefits.
  • developing collaborative planning mechanisms to encourage landscape-scale action.

Soil biodiversity plays a key role in maintaining soil fertility and its many ecosystem services (such as providing clean water, nutrient cycling and climate regulation). We need to protect soils from erosion, loss of organic matter, structural damage and pollution to sustain these services.

By restoring and expanding natural habitats we can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases arising from the oxidation and erosion of soil carbon, and we can mitigate some of the effects of climate change by increasing the capacity to lock carbon into soils and vegetation. Upland peat soils contain vast amounts of stored carbon; and SNH will lead demonstration work to restore favourable management of 2,000 hectares of peatlands.

The Scottish Forestry Strategy (2006) [53] sets a target to plant 100,000 hectares of new woodland by 2022, which contributes to national carbon sequestration targets. Approximately half of this area is likely to have native trees. Part of the challenge is to determine which types of land are best suited to new planting, but also to ensure that new planting is consistent with other biodiversity objectives.

Fresh water

The EC Water Framework Directive (2000) [29] ( WFD) provides the legal framework for protecting the water environment and for the sustainable use of water, with land management playing a key part in this. It poses the challenge of achieving 'good ecological status' for all water bodies. Many of Scotland's rivers and lochs are classed as having good ecological status (compared with only half of these across Europe) but there are still problems arising from nutrient enrichment, physical modifications to water bodies and colonisation by non-native species.

The WFD is put into practice through river basin management plans. The Scottish Government intends to build on this approach as the basis of more integrated land and water use planning across whole catchments. Ecosystem health indicators will be used to identify priority catchments and identify action to tackle problems at an ecosystem scale. The Glasgow and Clyde Valley Green Network Partnership goes some way in demonstrating how this can be achieved.

Creating buffer strips, hedgerows, farm woodlands and wetlands helps to reduce diffuse pollution, and to increase biodiversity. Reducing the runoff of soil nutrients and agricultural waste will benefit aquatic habitats and species, and will help improve the quality of drinking and bathing waters.

Restoring rivers, floodplains and associated habitats to a more natural state should create natural flood storage within catchments. Such measures need to be fully integrated into flood risk management plans by 2015. Similar principles as those applied by sustainable urban drainage system (2013) [54] ( SUDS) can provide benefits for people and nature at a fraction of the cost of hard engineering solutions.


Despite significant improvements, air quality continues to have adverse impacts on the environment with nitrogen deposition still at levels which are damaging to sensitive soils, plants and habitats over much of Scotland. Agriculture is the main source of ammonia with emissions coming principally from animal waste and the application of fertilisers. Reducing these emissions is one of the main aims of the Scottish Government's Farming for a Better Climate (2012) [20] initiative. Pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, ammonia and ozone can travel great distances and cause damage far from their source, so action is needed both at national and international levels. SEPA will continue to regulate emissions as required by the EC Industrial Emissions Directive (2010) [55] .

Continued reductions in emissions from industry and the transport sector will lessen air pollution pressure on ecosystems and their wildlife. Scottish Government and local authorities promote greener transport to help reduce nitrogen deposition. Better nutrient budgeting on farms should reduce nitrogen related eutrophication and reduce farm costs.

Key messages from this chapter

  • Land managers, public bodies and communities need to work together to address the challenges facing biodiversity.
  • Support and incentives for managing biodiversity need to be better targeted.
  • River basin planning should become the basis of a more integrated approach to land and water management across whole catchments.
  • Woodland expansion and habitat restoration will benefit biodiversity while serving important social and economic objectives, such as flood risk management and contributing to a low carbon economy.
  • More effort is needed to manage arable land in a way that will benefit soil biodiversity and wildlife.
  • Land and water managers need to be more aware of the important role nature plays in their business.

What will be different as a result of applying the principles in this chapter?

  • Advice about biodiversity will be readily available to land and water managers.
  • Land managers will have a clearer understanding of what they can do to sustain nature.
  • A greater area of arable farmland will be managed expressly for biodiversity.
  • Extensive areas of peatland will be managed to conserve their wildlife, and to improve their capacity for storing carbon.
  • The benefits of 'High Nature Value' farming and forestry for biodiversity will be more appropriately reflected in financial support and incentive schemes.
  • Native woodland cover will increase and substantial peatland and wetland habitats will be restored
  • Deer and habitat management will be more closely integrated to sustain biodiversity.
  • There will be an improvement in the state of farmland wildlife conservation.


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