Key Scottish Environment Statistics 2016

Reference document offering information on a wide range of environmental topics, covering key datasets.

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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 is generally 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 and 50% in 2015 ( Perceived Immediacy of Climate Change: 2008, 2013-2015). Walking distance to people's nearest greenspace and the frequency of use has remained fairly stable year to year, with those living closest to their local greenspace generally using it more frequently ( Frequency of Use of Local Greenspace: 2015). During 2015, 49% of adults are estimated to have visited the outdoors one or more times per week compared with 48% in 2014 and 44% in 2006 ( Outdoor Visits: 2006-2015).

Global atmosphere

Eight of the ten warmest years recorded in Scotland have all occurred in the 21st century. In 2015, the average temperature was 7.58 °C (0.55 °C higher than the 1961-1990 average), a decrease of 0.87 °C from 2014, which was the warmest year on record ( Annual Mean Temperature: 1910-2015). The average annual precipitation in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s was higher than in previous decades. 2015 was the second wettest year since records began in 1910 with annual precipitation 33.3% above the 1961-1990 baseline ( Annual Precipitation: 1910-2015).

Scotland's net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2014, including emissions from international aviation and shipping, were estimated to be 46.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent ( MtCO 2e), 8.6% lower than 2013 and 39.5% below 1990 levels ( Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Source: 1990-2014). Between 1998 and 2012, Scotland's carbon footprint fell by 6.3 per cent, from 82.0 MtCO 2e in 1998 to 76.8 MtCO 2e in 2012. Scotland's carbon footprint rose fairly steadily from 1998 to a peak of 94.3 MtCO 2e in 2007 before falling sharply in the following years to 72.9 MtCO 2e in 2011 ( Scotland's Carbon Footprint (Greenhouse Gas Emissions on a Consumption Basis): 1998-2012).

Air quality

Between 1990 and 2014, there have been decreases in emissions of many pollutants, including 13% for ammonia, 46% per cent for particulate matter smaller than 10 microns diameter ( PM 10), 65% for non-methane volatile organic compounds, 69% for nitrogen oxides ( NOx), 75% for carbon monoxide, 90% for sulphur dioxide and 98% for lead ( Emissions of Air Pollutants: 1990-2014). In 2015, sulphur dioxide ( SO 2) emissions from large combustion plants decreased by 27% compared with 2014 and NOx emissions fell by 13% over the same period, mainly due to lower emissions from Longannet power station. The 2015 SO 2 and NOx emissions from large combustion plants are the lowest on record, starting from 1996 ( Emissions of Sulphur Dioxide and Nitrogen Oxides from Large Combustion Plants: 1996-2015).

Measurements of air pollutant concentrations with a data capture rate greater than 75% indicate that UK Air Quality Strategy ( AQS) Objectives were not met at some Scottish sites. The second stage AQS objective for annual mean PM 10 concentrations to be met by 2010 was not met at 4 of 64 automatic monitoring sites in 2015 compared with 10 of 58 Scottish sites in 2014 ( Particulate (PM10) Concentrations: 1997-2015). In 2015, the annual mean objective for nitrogen dioxide was not met at 8 of the 70 automatic monitoring sites, compared to 10 of 68 sites in 2014 ( Nitrogen Dioxide Concentrations: 1992-2015). Ground level ozone objectives were met at all 11 sites, compared to 8 of 9 sites in 2014 ( Ground Level Ozone Concentrations: 1990-2015).

Around 60% of Scotland's land area contains habitats sensitive to acid deposition and 55% to eutrophication, with much of the area sensitive to both. The area of sensitive habitats in Scotland exceeding critical loads for acidification fell from 68% in 1995-97 to 31% in 2011-13. Over the same time period, nutrient nitrogen exceedances fell from 59% to 41% ( Sensitive Habitats Exceeding Critical Loads for Acidification and Eutrophication: 1995-1997 to 2011-2013).


Between 2004/05 and 2015/16, treated water produced fell by 598 Ml/d (25%) to a new low of 1,780 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 608 Ml/d (53%) between 2004/05 and 2015/16 ( Public Water Supplies - Water Abstracted and Supplied: 2002/03-2015/16). Between 1992 and 2015, the percentage of samples from consumer taps containing coliform bacteria fell from 4.64% to 0.25%, the lowest level recorded, and the percentage containing Escherichia coli (E.coli) fell from 2.08% to 0.01% ( Drinking Water Quality: 1992-2015).

Using the old standards, the proportion of river length that was classed in SEPA's long term river water quality indicator 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 3.5% in 2015 ( River Water Quality: 1992-2015). 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 less than 0.3 mg N/l has increased from 27% in 2000 to 34% in 2015. In 2015, less than 3% of sites had nitrate concentrations greater than or equal to 7.5 mg/l compared with over 7% of sites in 2000 ( Nitrate Concentrations in Rivers: 2000-2015). 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 63% in 2015. The percentage of sites with concentrations greater than or equal to 125 μg P/l has generally fallen over this period ( Orthophosphate Concentrations in Rivers: 2000-2015).

On the basis of initial assessments for 2016, 85% of the 81 coastal bathing waters met the new minimum European standard with 73% classified as excellent or good quality. There has been an increase in the number of coastal bathing waters assessed as excellent quality from 16 over the four years to 2015 to 25 over the four years to 2016 ( Coastal Bathing Water Quality 2000-2016).


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 137Cs in milk peaked in 1987 before beginning to fall again and are now below pre-Chernobyl levels ( Activity Concentrations in Milk: 1966-2015).


Between 2005 and 2014, the amount of Scottish waste sent to landfill decreased by 42%. Over the same period, the amount of biodegradable municipal waste landfilled in Scotland decreased by 51% ( Waste Sent to Landfill: 2000-2014). The household waste recycling rate in 2015 was 44.2%, increasing from 42.8% in 2014 ( Household Waste Recycling: 2004-2015). In 2015, 46% of households reported using local authority provided food waste caddies to dispose of their household waste compared with 40% in 2014. There has also been a decline in households throwing food out with general waste, from 73% in 2012 to 55% in 2015 ( Food Waste Disposal Behaviour: 2012 - 2015). The proportion of households reporting that they recycled a range of other waste items increased each year between 2003 and 2011. Between 2011 and 2015, there was little change in the percentage of households recycling each item, except for plastic bottles which increased by 7 percentage points to 82%. In 2015, the recycling rate was highest for paper and card at 87% and lowest for glass at 77% ( Waste Recycling Behaviour: 2000-2015).


The total area of derelict and urban vacant land increased by 10%, from 11,530 hectares in 2009 to 12,674 hectares in 2015; mainly due to the addition of 2,217 hectares of former surface coal mines that became derelict in East Ayrshire in 2014. The most recent survey (2015) showed a net decrease of 458 hectares from 2014 ( Derelict and Urban Vacant Land: 2009-2015). Since 2009, the area of woodland and other land on agricultural holdings increased by 237,600 hectares (57%) to 657,100 hectares in 2016; whereas the area of land used for rough grazing and the area of grass have decreased by 141,100 hectares (4%) and 32,900 hectares (2%) respectively over the same period ( Agricultural Land Use: 1982-2016). Potash, phosphate and nitrogen application rates have declined overall since 1986. The application rates of nitrogen and potash varied between 1986 and 2001, but have both since declined. The application rate of nitrogen was 89 kg/ha in 2015 and the application rate of potash was 34 kg/ha. The phosphate application rate remained relatively stable until 1997 before declining steadily to 27 kg/ha in 2015 ( Nutrients Applied to Crops and Grass: 1986-2015). As at 31 March 2016, the area of woodland in Scotland accounted for 18.4% of the total land area, compared with 16.4% in 1995. There were 4,600 ha of new woodland planted in 2015-16 ( Area of Woodland: 1924-2016).


The area of designated protected areas and number and area of scheduled monuments has shown an upward trend over the long term ( Designated Areas: 1991-2016- Scheduled Monuments: 1991-2016). As at 31 March 2016, 80.4% of natural features on protected nature sites were assessed as being in favourable condition. This figure represents an increase of 1.1 percentage points from 2015 and 4.4 percentage points from 76.0% in 2007 ( Percentage of natural features on protected sites in favourable condition: 2007-2016).


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 26% between 1997 and 2013. The abundance of breeding seabirds has declined by 44% between 1991 and 2014. The abundance of terrestrial breeding birds has shown a long-term increase of 20.1% between 1994 and 2014. In the last year, the abundance of terrestrial breeding birds increased by 14.6%, following a general decline from the peak of 2008 ( Status of Wild Bird Populations: 1975-2014). The total reported salmon rod catch (both retained and caught and released) for 2015 is 69% of the previous 5 year average. The number of salmon caught and released increased from 6,595 in 1994 to 45,973 in 2015. In 2015, 84% of the annual rod catch was released compared to less than 8% in 1994 ( Catches of Wild Salmon: 1952-2015).


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