Wild bird habitat duties: guidance for public bodies

Providing guidance for public bodies on duties relating to the preservation, maintenance and re-establishment of a sufficient diversity and area of habitat for wild birds in Scotland.

Implementation of the Bird Habitat Duty

In the majority of cases it should be possible to address habitat management requirements through existing Scotland-wide initiatives. Existing and developing initiatives that can play a role in this are listed below.

The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy

In Scotland the SBS 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity is a key plank for delivery of the EC Habitats and Birds Directive. The SBS makes links to the EU Biodiversity Strategy in which Theme 1 implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives sets the relevant context. The SBS chapter on “Wildlife, habitats and protected places” will address the needs of the Habitats and Birds Directive in Scotland.

Local Biodiversity Action Plans

Local Biodiversity Action Plan Partnerships are established across Scotland and are cited in the SBS as a key mechanism for delivering national priorities at a local level. These partnerships bring together many of the key organisations required to develop collaborative action for delivery of aspects of the Habitats and Birds Directive, particularly European Protected Species.

Scotland’s National Parks

Scotland has two National Parks, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park (LLTNP) and Cairngorms National Parks (CNP), both of which have important roles to play in habitat and species protection. Both National Parks work to overarching visions set out in their Partnership Plans. LLTNP Partnership Plan includes an outcome that ‘The Park’s natural resources are enhanced for future generations: important habitats are protected, restored and better connected on a landscape scale’. CNP Partnership Plan prioritises enhancing habitats on a landscape scale and protecting and enhancing species (including capercaillie and freshwater pearl mussel).

Central Scotland Green Network

The Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) is a national development covering 19 local authority areas across the central belt of Scotland. It has a vision that ‘By 2050, Central Scotland has been transformed into a place where the environment adds value to the economy and where people’s lives are enriched by its quality’. This includes elements of habitat restoration that are led by Scottish Forestry and SNH, and delivered by Forestry and Land Scotland.

The Land Use Strategy

Elements of this that focus on operating via an ecosystem approach, with the use of demonstration projects, could lead to habitat restoration for multiple benefits. Proposals to align land use regulations and incentives may assist negotiations to move CAP reform in a direction that assists the management of wildlife habitats.

Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme

This includes the aim for “A Scotland with a productive, healthy and diverse natural environment which is able to adapt to change” and an Objective to “Support a healthy and diverse natural environment with the capacity to adapt”. Many of the policies to deliver this objective could support the Duty including those covering deer management, green networks, and improving the condition and connectivity of native woodland. The Programme is being reviewed during 2018 and a new Programme will be published in 2019; the overall aim and objectives are unlikely to change significantly.

Scottish Forestry Strategy (SFS)

The 2019–2021 SFS calls for a focus on Sustainable Forest Management which will increase the environmental benefits derived from Scotland’s forest and woodland resource, in particular focusing on protecting and enhancing associated biodiversity. To achieve this, design and management practices which further these ambitions will be promoted, to help deliver greater environmental benefits.

The strategy encourages sustainable management of wild deer populations through collaborative deer management; safeguarding priority habitats and species; and supporting activity to improve the ecological condition and habitat quality of native forests and woodlands, including Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).

SRDP and CAP Reform

The SRDP and CAP play a key role in delivering the Bird Habitat Duty. In particular the Scotland Rural Development Programme 2014-20 (SRDP) provides funding support across Scotland for the management of birds in the wider countryside targeting species of conservation concern. Lowland farmland birds are a core objective of the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) (as well as supporting the preservation and enhancement of biodiversity including Natura 2000 areas and designated sites). Support is targeted to vulnerable species in greatest need of management through target maps and scoring. Where required management options can be complemented with funding for capital work.

A range of Arable Options are available to support habitat provision and food for arable and seed-eating birds, including Wild Bird Seed for Farmland birds, Unharvested Conservation Headlands, Retention of Winter Stubbles, Forage Brassica Crops and Stubbles Followed by Green Manure. Support to maintain traditional crop rotations is available for Cropped Machair mainly in the Western Islands.

Grassland Options provide for the habitat and management of key species in the red and amber lists including Corn Buntings (Corn Buntings Mown Grassland), Corncrake (Corncrake Mown Grassland, Grazing Management, and Management of Cover), Chough (Chough Mown Grassland and Grazing Management) and Wader species, such as Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Redshank, Curlew and Snipe (Wader and Wildlife Mown Grassland, and Wader Grazed Grassland).

Moorland Management is supported across upland areas for designated sites and the wider countryside encouraging good habitat management that will benefit upland and montane birds.

Funding is also targeted to Black Grouse and Capercaillie primarily through the Forestry Grant Scheme to provide habitat management and predator control.

Cross Compliance is a mandatory set of requirements and standards that land managers have to meet in order to receive support scheme payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This includes Statutory Management Requirements (SMR) related to existing EU legislative requirements, and Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) that are standards for appropriate management.

Under SMR2 recipients must not carry out any activities which are likely to result in the disturbance of birds or the deterioration of habitats affecting birds. This applies to all land, and has been made to comply with the requirements of the Birds Directive.

The related GAEC rules are more specific about certain aspects of land management. These include prohibitions on hedge trimming during the bird nesting and rearing season starting on 1 March and ending on 31 August (except for road safety reasons). The rules also require protecting the base of hedges from cultivation and spray, which will benefit ground nesting birds. Ploughing/reseeding rough grazing or other semi-natural areas is also prohibited unless approved as part of an environmental impact assessment (EIA).

In addition the new Greening practices part of the Basic Payment Scheme require business with larger areas of arable land to set a 5% of Ecological Focus Area and protect environmentally sensitive grasslands.

Additional clarification:

Note that this is the list of vulnerable species used for additional scoring in the AECS scheme:

Farmland waders – the application must directly benefit at least two of the following wader species.
The species selected must include curlew and / or lapwing.

  • curlew
  • lapwing
  • oystercatcher
  • redshank
  • snipe

Other species with significant Scottish population declines which depend on appropriate management.

  • corncrake
  • corn bunting
  • chough
  • twite (on in-bye only)
  • black grouse
  • hen harrier
  • marsh fritillary
  • great yellow bumblebee
  • great crested newt
  • freshwater pearl mussel

Scottish Planning Policy (SPP)

SPP sets out national planning policies which reflect Scottish Ministers’ priorities for operation of the planning system and for the development and use of land. Planning plays an important role in protecting, enhancing and promoting access to key environmental resources, whilst supporting their sustainable use. One of the principles of the planning system is to seek benefits for biodiversity from new development where possible, including the restoration of degraded habitats and the avoidance of further fragmentation or isolation of habitats.

Planning authorities, and all public bodies, have a duty under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 to further the conservation of biodiversity. This duty must be reflected in development plans and development management decisions.

International, national and locally designated areas and sites should be identified and afforded the appropriate level of protection in development plans. Identification and protection of these areas could make a substantive contribution to the duty, especially where national advice on priorities is tailored to local situations.

Where a development plan or proposal is likely to have a significant effect on sites designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) and Special Protection Areas (SPAs), which is not directly connected with or necessary to their conservation management it must be subject to an “appropriate assessment” of the implications for the conservation objectives.

Non-SPA SSSIs and other protected areas such as National Scenic Areas

Protected areas that are not SPAs can make a substantial contribution to the maintenance of habitat for birds. Of particular relevance here in terms of their geographical extent are SSSIs, SACs, NNRs and NSAs.

Water Framework Directive implementation

The EU Water Framework Directive requires Member States to take necessary measures to achieve Good Ecological Status in the water environment through a series of 6-year planning cycles, the current one of which finishes in 2021. The Directive covers freshwaters (rivers, lakes, groundwaters), transitional waters (estuaries) and coastal waters. As well as improvement objectives, there is also a requirement to prevent any further deterioration in ecological status for water bodies. The requirement to achieve good ecological status for predominant aquatic habitat types means that important bird habitat is being managed in beneficial ways to maintain or improve its overall status.

Marine Strategy Framework Directive

The EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive requires Member States to take necessary measures to achieve or maintain good environmental status (GES). The requirement to achieve GES for predominant habitat types means that important bird habitat will be managed in beneficial way to maintain or improve its overall status.

Marine – non-SPA MPAs and any wider initiatives

The MPA network which now covers around 20% of Scotland’s seas protects habitats in many locations which are known to be of foraging importance to seabird species.

Seabird Conservation Strategy

The Scottish Seabird Conservation Strategy is under development and is aiming to optimise the conservation prospects of seabirds in Scotland through effective management of existing and emerging threats. It prioritises a number of high level actions to deliver this outcome.

Prioritized Action Framework (PAF)

Consider the role of EU co-financing priorities in assisting habitat management priorities.

Wildlife Estates Scotland

Wildlife Estates Scotland (WES) is an accreditation Scheme set up by Scottish Land & Estate & Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to help encourage rural estates and farms to introduce and maintain best practice in how game and wildlife management is undertaken in Scotland. The key aims of WES, in line with principles of the EU Wildlife Estates (WE) label, are to:

i) Promote best practice in game and wildlife management to maintain high standards across all those involved;

ii) Build robust information on various species and their habitats, wildlife management, conservation projects and integration with other land uses to monitor activity and ensure continuous improvement; and

iii) Use the information derived from WES to engage public and private stakeholders in encouraging best practice management for further maintenance of Scotland’s natural biodiversity.

It does so through the establishment of an objective accreditation system, this involves the close assessment of an estate and its management against a set of criteria.There are currently over 1.25 million acres accredited with WES Level 2 (the highest level accreditation) and the goal is to double the amount of land accredited by encouraging many new entrants into the Scheme and through this help promote the principles of biodiversity, conservation, and wildlife management throughout Scotland that in turn will deliver multiple benefits for society and rural communities.


Email: naturaguidance@gov.scot

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