Key Scottish Environment Statistics 2015

This publication aims to provide an easily accessible reference document which offers information on a wide range of environmental topics. It covers key datasets on the state of the environment in Scotland, with an emphasis on the trends over time wherever possible. The data are supplemented by text providing brief background information on environmental impacts and data source, a summary of the trend and brief information on the potential factors affecting the trend.

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The environment is a key aspect to the success and well-being of Scotland, affecting human health, wildlife and economic success. As a compendia publication considering many aspects of the environment, Key Scottish Environment Statistics may be used to provide an overview of how the environment in Scotland is changing. Scotland's environment in general is in a good condition but there remain areas where environmental quality is poor. Recent trends are highlighted below.

Public attitudes and behaviours

In 2008, 57% of respondents thought that climate change was an immediate and urgent problem, compared with 45% in 2014 (Perceived Immediacy of Climate Change: 2008, 2013 and 2014). Visits to greenspace and proximity to nearest greenspace is generally stable between years, with those living closest visiting their local greenspace more frequently (Frequency of Use of Local Greenspace: 2014). During 2014, 48% of adults are estimated to have visited the outdoors one or more times per week compared with 46% in 2013 (Outdoor Visits: 2006-2014).

Global atmosphere

Eight of the ten warmest years recorded in Scotland have all occurred in the 21st century. 2014 was the warmest year on record with a temperature of 8.45 °C (1.42°C higher than the 1961-1990 average), a 0.93 °C increase from 2013 (Annual Mean Temperature: 1910-2014). The average annual precipitation in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s was higher than in previous decades. Annual precipitation in 2014 was 26.3% above the 1961-1990 baseline (Annual Precipitation: 1910-2014).

Scotland's net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2013, including emissions from international aviation and shipping, were estimated to be 53.0 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e), 3.6% lower than 2012 and 34.3% below 1990 levels (Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Source: 1990-2013). Between 1998 and 2012, Scotland's carbon footprint fell by 6.3 per cent, from 82.0 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2e) in 1998 to 76.8 MtCO2e in 2012. Scotland's carbon footprint rose fairly steadily from 1998 to a peak of 94.3 MtCO2e in 2007 before falling sharply in the following years to 77.1 MtCO2e in 2009 and 72.9 MtCO2e in 2011 (Scotland's Carbon Footprint (Greenhouse Gas Emissions on a Consumption Basis): 1998-2012).

Air quality

Between 1990 and 2013, there have been decreases in air pollutant emissions of 28% for ammonia, 53% for particulate matter smaller than 10 microns diameter (PM10), 66% for non-methane volatile organic compounds, 67% for nitrogen oxides (NOx), 81% for carbon monoxide, 87% for sulphur dioxide and 99% for lead (Emissions of Air Pollutants: 1990-2013). In 2014, emissions of sulphur dioxide (SO2) from large combustion plants decreased by 34% compared with 2013, mainly due to the closure of Cockenzie power station in March 2013. NOx emissions from large combustion plants decreased by 52% between 1996 and 2014. The 2014 SO2 and NOx emissions from large combustion plants are the lowest on record (Emissions of Sulphur Dioxide and Nitrogen Oxides from Large Combustion Plants: 1996-2014).

Figures for air quality indicate that UK Air Quality Strategy (AQS) Objectives were not met at some Scottish sites. The second stage AQS objective for annual mean PM10 concentrations to be met by 2010 was not met at 10 of 58 automatic monitoring sites in 2014 compared with 15 of 59 Scottish sites in 2013 (Particulate (PM10) Concentrations: 1997-2014). In 2014, the annual mean objective for nitrogen dioxide was not met at 10 of the 68 automatic monitoring sites, compared to 14 of 70 sites in 2013 (Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations: 1992-2014). Ground level ozone objectives were met at 8 of the 9 sites with a data capture rate greater than 75%, compared to 5 of 8 sites in 2013 (Ground Level Ozone Concentrations: 1990-2014).

Around 60% of Scotland's land area contains habitats sensitive to acid deposition and 55% to eutrophication. The area of sensitive habitats in Scotland exceeding critical loads for acidification fell from 68% in 1995-97 to 31% in 2011-13. While there was a period of increase between 2001-03 and 2005-07; overall, nutrient nitrogen exceedance fell from 59% to 41% between 1995-97 and 2011-13 (Sensitive Habitats Exceeding Critical Loads for Acidification and Eutrophication: 1995-1997 to 2011-2013).


Between 2004/05 and 2014/15, treated water produced fell by 571 Ml/d (24%) to a new low of 1,807 Ml/d. There were similar reductions over this period in the amount of raw water abstracted by Scottish Water. The decrease in treated water is almost entirely due to a reduction in leakage of 549 Ml/d (48%) between 2004/05 and 2014/15 (Public Water Supplies - Water Abstracted and Supplied: 2002/03-2014/15). Between 1992 and 2014, the percentage of samples from consumer taps containing coliform bacteria fell from 4.64% to 0.45% and the percentage containing Escherichia coli (E.coli) fell from 2.08% to 0.02% (Drinking Water Quality: 1992-2014)

Using the old standards, the proportion of river length that was classed as slightly polluted, polluted or severely polluted in Scotland rose from 6.8% in 1992, to 7.4% in 1998, before falling to 3.4% in 2013,. Using the new standards, this proportion fell from 3.7% in 2013 to 3.2% in 2014 (River Water Quality: 1992-2014). Nitrate concentrations below 0.3 mg N/l are considered to be natural or background levels; the percentage of sites with mean nitrate concentrations of < 0.3 mg N/l has increased from 27% in 2000 to 35% in 2014. In 2014, less than 3% of sites had nitrate concentrations over 7.5 mg/l compared with over 7% of sites in 2000 (Nitrate Concentrations in Rivers: 2000-2014). The percentage of sites with orthophosphate concentrations less than 30 μg P/l has generally increased over time from 44% in 2000 to 73% in 2013 before falling to 62% in 2014. The percentage of sites with concentrations in excess of 125 μg P/l has generally fallen over this period (Orthophosphate Concentrations in Rivers: 2000-2014).

In 2014, all but two of Scotland's 81 coastal bathing waters met the mandatory standard, with 56% of Scotland's bathing waters also achieving the guideline standard. In general, there has been an improvement in compliance with the mandatory standard in recent years (Compliance with the EC Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC): 1988-2014).


In 2010, the average annual dose of radiation to someone living in Scotland was 2,300 microsieverts, this has fallen from 2,400 microsieverts in 2003. At 81%, the majority of the annual dose comes from natural sources (Exposure of the Population to All Sources of Radiation: 2010). Following the Chernobyl reactor incident in 1986, concentrations of[137] Cs in milk peaked in 1987 before beginning to fall again and are now below pre-Chernobyl levels (Activity Concentrations in Milk: 1966-20148).


Between 2005 and 2013, total waste landfilled decreased by 45%, and biodegradable municipal waste landfilled decreased by 50% (Waste Sent to Landfill: 2000-2013). The household waste recycling rate in 2013 was 42.2%, increasing from 41.2% in 2012 and 16.6% in 2004 (Household Waste Recycling: 2004-2013). In 2014, 40% of households reported using local authority provided food waste caddies to dispose of their household waste compared with 34% in 2013. There has been an associated decline in households throwing food out with general waste, from 73% in 2012 to 60% in 2014 (Food Waste Disposal Behaviour: 2012 - 2014). The proportion of households reporting that they recycled a range of other waste items increased each year between 2003 and 2011. Data for 2014 suggests a slight decline in recycling rate for some material types, but an increase for reported recycling of plastic bottles (Waste Recycling Behaviour: 2000-2014).


The total area of derelict and urban vacant land decreased by 4%, from 11,333 hectares in 2008 to 10,874 hectares in 2014 (Derelict and Urban Vacant Land: 2008-2014). Since 2009, the area of woodland and other land on agricultural holdings increased by 222,500 hectares (53%) to 642,000 hectares in 2014; whereas the area of land used for rough grazing and the area of grass decreased by 169,000 hectares (4%) and 53,000 hectares (4%) respectively over the same period (Agricultural Land Use: 1982-2014). Between 1986 and 2004, overall phosphate and potash application rates to crops and grass remained relatively stable. Both have since declined in recent years but there has been a slight increase in application rates since 2012. Nitrogen application rates also increased between 2012 and 2013 by 10% following a decline since 2001. Even with these increases, the application rates for all three nutrients in 2014 remain below the rates applied before 2008 (Nutrients Applied to Crops and Grass: 1986-2014). Provisional figures show that, as at 31 March 2015, 18.2% of Scotland's land was woodland, compared with 16.4% in 1995 (Area of Woodland: 1924-2015).


The area of designated protected areas and number and area of scheduled monuments has shown an upward trend over the long term (Designated Areas: 1991-2015 / Scheduled Monuments: 1991-2015). As at 31st March 2015, 79.3% of natural features on protected nature sites were assessed as being in favourable condition. This figure represents an increase of 0.5 percentage points from 2014 and has increased by 3.3 percentage points from 76.0% in 2007 (Percentage of natural features on protected sites in favourable condition: 2007-2015).


Between 1995 and 1999, biodiversity action plans were developed for 45 priority habitats in the UK, of which 39 occur in Scotland. As at 2008, of these 39, 15% of the habitats were increasing, 28% were considered stable and 33% were in decline. For the remainder, 23% had an unknown trend and for one habitat the trend was unclear (Status of UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Habitats in Scotland: 2008). In the 2008 assessment for Scotland, 38% of the priority species were increasing or stable and 21% were in decline. For the remainder of the species considered, 7% showed no clear trend, 32% had an unknown trend, one species (Wryneck) had been lost since the commencement of BAP in 1994, 2 had been lost pre BAP and 1 (scurvy grass) was no longer considered a true species (Status of UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) Species in Scotland: 2008).

The number of wintering waterbirds rose between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s, reaching a peak in 1997. Since then there has been a steady decline, with the abundance falling 27% between 1997 and 2012. The abundance of breeding seabirds has declined by 51% between 1991 and 2013. The abundance of terrestrial breeding birds has shown a long term increase of 3.6% between 1994 and 2013, with a 27% increase in the abundance of terrestrial breeding birds between 1994 and 2008 followed by a 18.4% reduction to 2013 (Status of Wild Bird Populations: 1975-2013). The total reported salmon rod catch (both retained and caught and released) for 2014 is 53% of the previous 5 year average. The number of salmon caught and released increased from 6,595 in 1994 to 37,139 in 2014. In 2014, 82% of the total rod catch was released compared to less than 8% in 1994 (Catches of Wild Salmon: 1952-2014).


Email: Kirsty Ciclitira

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