RESAS Strategic Research: 2014 Highlights

A report highlighting research outputs and resulting impact that were funded though the Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services (RESAS) division within the Scottish Government's Rural Affairs, Food and Environment portfolio in 2013-14.

Making a difference

RESAS funds applied science covering a wide range of areas and sectors. This includes natural science strengthening the understanding of environmental processes and impacts, from investigations into ecosystems and biodiversity and marine and coastal processes through to issues surrounding climate change and land use decisions. Our research also contains a significant portion of social science which supports rural communities and agriculture. Some of our research is developed through contact with industry or representatives of specific sectors, and as such we have dedicated teams undertaking research around water and renewable energy and topics concerning the food and drink industry.

The following pages present case studies of some of the work that has been carried out in 2013-14, and impacts it has had, in each of these different areas of research.


Reducing GHG emissions from agriculture

Agriculture produces 9% of the UK's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; altering current farming practices can help limit emissions. The main sources of GHG emissions in agriculture are fertilisers, livestock, manure and from energy used on farms.

RESAS-funded research aims to improve farming techniques and livestock breeding and management strategies so that agriculture can lower GHG emissions.

Farming for a better climate

In Scotland, the Farming for a Better Climate initiative, supported by RESAS-funded research, is demonstrating approaches that improve farm profits while also reducing emissions. During the first round of Focus Farms from 2010-2013, on average the businesses reduced their carbon footprint by 10% with no loss of production. Financial savings ranged from £11,000 to £37,000 with additional financial savings and carbon savings likely in the future as measures continue to take effect. One example, demonstrated by the Focus Farms, showed the benefits of calculating the feed value of pit silage. The farmer was able to reduce the amount of concentrates fed pre-lambing by 13.5 tonnes resulting in a saving of just under £3,000 and 4.84 tonnes of CO2e with no loss of production.

Additionally, a carbon footprinting tool AgRE Calc©, has been developed with input from RESAS-funded work, SAC advisory and Technology Strategy Board. The tool is being used to help farmers quantify greenhouse gas emissions from their businesses and identify areas where efficiencies can be made.

Low-carbon cattle?

As a long-term commitment to reducing agricultural emissions, RESAS-funded scientists have recently undertaken ground-breaking research into methane emissions from cattle which could lead to more accurate and efficient measurement techniques and even the possibility of breeding for low-emissions livestock. The project found a relationship between methane emissions and digestive samples taken at slaughter from the live animals. From the digestive microflora it is possible to identify genetic signatures of low methane characteristics which in turn could enable the breeding for low-emissions livestock.

Guiding farming practices in England

RESAS-funded researchers are also supporting the Agricultural Industries Action Plan in England. This aims to reduce GHG emissions from agriculture by 3 million tonnes CO2e per year from 2018-2022.

Animal health and welfare

Farming has a vital role to play in managing Scotland’s countryside and supporting its economy. The combined value of meat produced in Scotland is well over £1bn annually, with dairy products producing another £300m on top of that. Scotland has approximately 18% of the UK’s cattle and 20% of the UK’s sheep, including over 3 million breeding animals, with even more reared for slaughter. RESAS-funded projects, aligned with Scottish Government’s strategic approach to improving livestock health and welfare, are committed to improving livestock productivity and sustainability, as well as preparedness to cope with new and emerging diseases.

Tackling parasitic diseases of sheep

Parasitic worms infect all species of grazing livestock and can have serious effects on livestock health, welfare and production. Parasitic gastroenteritis (PGE) is estimated to cost the UK sheep industry over £80m per year through reduced productivity. Worms are controlled by drugs, but resistance to the wormers is rife and an alternative control strategy which does not rely on drugs is needed.

In response, RESAS-funded researchers have successfully developed a vaccine for the Barber's Pole Worm (Haemonchus contortus), which is the most important roundworm parasite of sheep and goats worldwide (although fortunately it is only a sporadic problem for farmers in the UK). Barbervax® is the first vaccine in the world for a worm parasite of sheep and is now on sale in Australia.

This follows many years of research in Scotland and a five-year period of commercialization through collaboration with Australian partners.

RESAS-funded researchers have also recently demonstrated that a novel laboratory-produced vaccine could afford protection against Telodorsagia circumcincta, another roundworm which is the primary cause of PGE in temperate regions worldwide. They have demonstrated successful immunization of sheep against the worm using key proteins which the worms produce to enable them to escape the sheep's immune response. Research to develop the approach is continuing, and the scientists are in discussions with a vaccine production company about further developing the prototype into a product.

Sheep scab is the most important ectoparasitic disease of sheep in the UK, and costs Scottish farmers in excess of £14m each year. Industry, government and scientists are working together to control and reduce sheep scab in Scotland. A pilot study on the island of Mull, where sheep scab is either absent or present at very low levels, is being undertaken. Vets are using a new diagnostic blood test developed by RESAS-funded scientists to determine whether or not flocks have scab, saving farmers money by enabling the targeting of treatments and avoiding losses from clinical and subclinical disease. This has demonstrated the use of the test as a means of assessing disease status as part of a local eradication campaign. The project could be extended to other parts of the UK.

modelling and simulations:

Livestock movement and disease spread

An outbreak of a notifiable disease has potential for very serious consequences with rapid spread among our livestock. These diseases, such as foot-and-mouth disease, can have serious socio-economic or public health consequences and are of major importance in the international trade of animals and animal products. During an outbreak, often little is known about the source and spread of the disease. RESAS-funded scientists are developing cutting edge models to help predict disease spread and evaluate control options, helping Scottish Government provide a rapid and effective response to disease outbreaks.

Foot-and-mouth modelling

A RESAS-funded project uses a cutting edge epidemic simulator to inform policy development on the control of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks. This has been used to explore the effects on mitigation and the economic benefits of reactive vaccination in the event of an outbreak. Findings showed vaccination is not necessarily beneficial in all outbreak situations. With recent upgrades to make it among the most advanced tools of its type in the world, new ways are also being developed to incorporate real-time virus sequencing data in the simulator while it is being made user-friendly for Scottish Government and commercial use.

Schmallenberg virus

The emergence of Schmallenberg virus (SBV) in the UK has been of concern for the cattle and sheep industry. SBV is a livestock disease that was first discovered in 2011 and that has been detected in a number of European countries. RESAS-funded scientists have modelled the potential spread of SBV, and shown that transmission is very temperature sensitive within the current Scottish climatic range, with potential for large-scale transmission in warm years. As well as new predictions of risk and spread, the scale of likely impact on the spring lambing season has been assessed and the benefits of newly available vaccines evaluated.

National swine-fever simulation

RESAS-funded scientists provided analysis and risk assessments to an emergency timetable during a UK-wide large scale exercise to see how the government would cope with a major outbreak of classical swine fever. Quantitative scientists and epidemiologists combined their expertise to analyse pig movements and virus genetic data to inform investigation of disease transmission routes and help identify control options. Such analysis will contribute to policy decisions taken by Scottish Government during an outbreak.

Cattle - excluding bovine tuberculosis from Scotland

Bovine tuberculosis is a chronic disease of cattle and a major challenge facing large parts of the UK cattle farming industry. RESAS-funded scientists have used a combination of statistical and mathematical modelling to identify the main risk factors for a herd suffering a TB outbreak. Their research informed new Scottish Government policy which enabled a redesign of the programme of routine annual testing of herds, by targeting testing and safely exempting 1,000 'low risk' herds a year from testing. This saves Scottish Government and cattle farmers around £150,000 per year and focuses the remaining resources on higher-risk herds.

Informing Policy

The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been one of the most important decisions for Scotland's agricultural industry in recent years. The Scottish Government lobbied hard to ensure Scotland's diverse farming needs were well represented in the reformed policy. RESAS-funded researchers have been central in informing this debate and providing an evidence base to support not only key decisions over CAP, but also other key policy areas such as the Review of Agricultural Holdings Legislation and the Doing Better Initiative to Reduce Red Tape in Agriculture.

Common Agricultural Policy Direct Payments Modelling

RESAS-funded scientists carried out analysis on post-2015 options for CAP direct payments to investigate the consequences of detailed policy options in the EU regulation. This research was instrumental in enabling Scottish Government policy teams and external stakeholders to evaluate the consequences of Pillar 1 CAP reforms on Scottish Agriculture.

The analysis also assessed additional areas that could become eligible and responded to requests from the CAP stakeholder group to assess the effects of payment options on land with environmental designations and on variations on the Phase 1 budget options.

Agricultural Holdings Review

RESAS-funded researchers undertook an evidence review as part of the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment's Review of Agricultural Holdings Legislation. The available data on agricultural tenure in Scotland was examined and case studies of land tenure, ownership and new entrants from other countries were provided. The review drew on datasets and expertise developed through RESAS funding and experience gained as part of a consortium working for the EU Commission on the impacts of CAP reform on land markets.

Supporting the 'Doing Better' Initiative to Reduce Red Tape in Agriculture

RESAS-funded researchers have been engaged with the research and production of Brian Pack's report evaluating the regulatory processes and structures currently in place. The report clarifies current policy structures, the roles of the different institutions in regulating farming and demonstrates the reasoning for the changing regulatory landscape. Recommendations to industry and the government have been produced. The process involved engagement with a wide variety of Scottish Government officials and industry stakeholders.

climate change

Climate adaptation

While the identification and implementation of strategies to limit climate change and GHG emissions from industry and agriculture remains a priority, it is also becoming increasingly important to adapt to emerging changes. As environmental conditions shift, changes are needed to the way we manage rural, urban and marine areas to maintain productivity and also enhance resilience against, and support adaptation to further change. RESAS-funded research is committed to addressing this emerging issue and we have been working with a range of partners across all scales and sectors to safeguard industry and productivity.

Adaptation in forestry

In the forestry sector, a workshop in October 2013 focused on the key climate change threats facing Scotland's forests, important knowledge gaps and best practice. It was led by forest managers from Queen Elizabeth Forest Park - the first site in Scotland's Climate Ready Forest Network. RESAS-funded scientists worked with Forestry Commission Scotland (FCS) to support the Climate Ready Forest Network through the development of a number of films demonstrating how climate change might affect Scotland's forests and provide guidance on how to increase resilience to climate change threats. These accompany other resources and literature and are hosted on the FCS website.

Is adaptation working?

RESAS-funded scientists are developing a set of indicators to assess how adaptation is making a difference in Scotland. They are collaborating with Forest Research and Dundee, Heriot-Watt and Strathclyde Universities to produce a suite of indicators that will inform the independent assessment of the Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme being produced by the UK Committee on Climate Change. RESAS-funded scientists are also working with Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland to develop adaptation indicators for the marine environment.

Urban adaptation

Urban adaptation strategies are also being addressed. RESAS-funded scientists, in conjunction with the Initiative for Carbon Accounting held a number of workshops, attended by a range of industry leaders, aimed at sharing best practice knowledge among construction workers and contractors. These focused on themes such as Solar and Climate Ready Design, and Resilient Construction.

RESAS-funded scientists are also working with stakeholders to develop 12 demonstration case studies, showing current examples of adaptation in Urban Resilience, Forestry and Land Management. These are being displayed on the weADAPT Case Study map.

Scotland's peatlands:

Vast carbon stores

Peat soils cover over a fifth of Scotland's land and play a vital role in storing and removing (sequestering) carbon from the atmosphere. Peatlands hold vast amounts of carbon but are also important for agriculture, recreation, and whisky production, as well as supporting unique ecosystems. Scotland's deepest peats store approximately 3bn tonnes of carbon; ten times the amount stored in the whole of the UK's trees. Due to past draining and redevelopment of peatlands, their capacity to store and sequester carbon has been significantly reduced. It is vital that this capacity to sequester and store vast amounts of carbon is protected to limit climate impacts. RESAS-funded research is breaking new ground on assessing the carbon benefits of peatland restoration. New national and international guidelines act as a strong driver for the Scottish Government to keep improving emissions estimates and recognition of the wider benefits of peatland restoration ensures that demand for peatlands research remains high.

Peatland conservation

A decision support tool (WISE Peatland Choices) is being developed by RESAS-funded scientists to identify areas where peatland conservation and restoration may be most desirable.

In related research, measurements of peat depth and quality have been taken to construct 3-D maps of carbon content. These can be used to provide accurate estimates of carbon stock lost as a result of excavation, or to minimise carbon losses by constructing in areas of lowest carbon.

GHG emissions from wetlands

RESAS-funded scientists have also provided an assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) '2013 Supplement to the 2006 Guidelines: Wetlands', enabling Scotland to report GHG emissions from wetland drainage systems and peatland restoration activities. The report examines the accuracy of the emissions factors quoted, and considers whether IPCC Tier 1 emissions factors are appropriate in Scotland or if they could be developed further for Scottish peatlands.

Reducing emissions

Aerial imagery has been used to collect data on the distribution of vegetation at a peatland restoration site in northern Scotland. Used in conjunction with GHG emissions, RESAS-funded researchers can scale up emissions data over large areas. This provides important data informing decisions on whether to restore peatlands currently under forest rotation. RESAS-funded scientists in partnership with an external consulting company have been developing a model to calculate the likely emissions savings from the restoration.

Peatland policy development

A RESAS-funded research group has contributed to policy development by providing evidence to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee (RACCE) of the Scottish Parliament. The evidence informed the Committee's consideration of the importance of peatlands as a potential means for carbon sequestration.

water and renewable energy

Renewable Energy

The renewable energy sector continues to grow in Scotland and in 2014 electricity produced through renewables supplied nearly 50% of the total gross electricity consumption. Renewable electricity production has increased by almost 140% since 2007. Over 60% of the renewable electricity production was through wind power, and the Scottish Government continues its commitment to research and development in this rapidly expanding industry. Along with expansion and the emergence of new large-scale onshore and offshore wind farms, many more small-scale projects are being granted licences as independent parties such as community groups, small businesses, farmers and other land owners look to increase sustainability and profitability.

Hartwood Farm Wind Farm

Plans have been developed for a wind farm and renewables demonstration site at Hartwood Farm, North Lanarkshire, in a collaborative project between the MRPs and industry. Public engagement and awareness raising events have been held. Together, the parties have also worked on site planning, and the assessment and mitigation of impacts. This development will be part of a large Energy Farm initiative in collaboration with local communities.

Delivering multiple benefits - Reducing energy in the water sector

Working with Scottish Water, RESAS-funded scientists conducted a feasibility study for a new type of waste water treatment plant (WWTP) and an anaerobic digester (AD). The concept is a system in which waste biomass can produce bioenergy, with sewage sludge from the WWTP being applied to adjacent land, and crops grown for feedstock to generate electricity. The system is based on a WWTP/AD system in Nottingham. Scientists have developed and are running a farm model for tests which includes aspects such as using degraded land for crop production. They are also in talks with industry partners to discuss the possibility of working on suitable land previously used for mining.

Policy relevant outputs

Wind farms can create challenges in terms of placement and perception. These issues are addressed in two reports which have reviewed existing legislative frameworks in order to inform new policy decisions. One review "Legal compensation frameworks for wind farm disturbance" identified the current legal avenues available to householders seeking compensation for disturbance caused by wind farms. Another report "Review of separation distances for onshore wind farms" examined the evidence base for the current 2 km separation distance between houses and wind farms. This second report informed the Scottish Government's position on the revised Scottish Planning Policy.

Hydroelectric power reports

RESAS-funded researchers have published a report on Scotland's current and potential Hydro-Electric Power (HEP) resource, as well as a review of the environmental impacts of small-scale HEP schemes. This work together with the results of a third review (impacts of climate change on HEP resource) summarises the current knowledge relating to HEP development in Scotland.

Water quality

Scotland has a reputation for a high quality water environment which provides key resources for water supply, waste treatment, farming, tourism, distilleries and hydropower generation. Nevertheless, challenges remain in improving water quality, reducing pollution, and achieving an effective balance between the protection of Scotland's water environment and the interests of those who depend upon it for their prosperity and quality of life.

Underlying causes of water quality issues

An analysis of incidences relating to public water quality and provision was carried out to identify root causes and contributing factors. Five key common factors were identified which will help reduce the number of future incidences. It has also been helpful in shaping assessment processes within Scottish Water and has led to a stronger grounding for setting regulation and inspection policy.

Potential water and soil quality options for SRDP

At the request of SEPA, RESAS-funded scientists completed an assessment of options to improve water and soil quality. This project gave SEPA the necessary evidence on which to base its recommendations to the Scottish Government and has informed the second stage Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) consultation and second River Basin Management Plan in support of the implementation of the Water Framework Directive.

Biomass generation waste water treatment system

A RESAS-funded project in conjunction with Scottish Water has led to the development of a demonstration site for combined wastewater treatment and willow biomass generation in Dinnet, Aberdeenshire. The project provides an opportunity to monitor the effectiveness of wetland systems to improve the quality of wastewater while also aiding the production of willow biomass.


RESAS-funded researchers are contributing expertise on the multiple benefits of river edge buffer strips and their capacity for water quality protection, habitat resilience, water regulation, and flood plain connectivity. A report and scientific publication on river corridor management options and their multiple benefits is in progress. This links to the Danish BufferTECH project where researchers developed this work in collaboration with Danish colleagues on a Danish Research Council funded three-year international project.

Flood analysis and control

Flooding can result in serious impacts on people, homes, businesses and health. Historically Scotland has not faced the same degree of river and coastal flooding as England, mainly due to its topography. However, climate change is expected to increase flood risk in the future, potentially doubling risk in some areas of Scotland before the end of the century. RESAS-funded research is committed to identifying and mitigating risks while strengthening links with communities and partners to share knowledge and advice.

Fats, oils and greases

There are approximately 200,000 sewer blockages in the UK every year and about 75% are caused by fats, oils and greases (FOG). Constant clearing of blockages is expensive and time-consuming and can cause disruptions to public water usage. A report by RESAS-funded researchers outlined best practice for FOG management at UK and international level and opportunities for reuse of recovered FOG were also explored.

Surface water flooding project

Surface water flooding accounts for roughly 40% of flood risk in Scotland. A RESAS-funded project developed a methodology for surface water flood forecasting using the site of the 2014 Commonwealth Games as a case study. The research involved collaboration between RESAS-funded researchers, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the Met Office and SEPA. The project outputs will likely influence future flood management policy.

Media interest in flood research

RESAS-funded scientists have been investigating the potential of a new forage grass to reduce runoff and thus reduce flood risk. This received significant media interest and featured on BBC Radio 4's 'Farming Today' as well as the BBC and Guardian websites. Similarly, a research paper published on frameworks for managing run-off and pollution in the rural landscape using a Catchment Systems Engineering approach attracted a large amount of media interest including a feature on the popular BBC 'The One Show'.

food and drink

Cereal production and health benefits

Scotland supports a strong arable sector with cereal production a key contributor to the Scottish economy through its use in food production and malting for whisky and animal feed. Approximately 500,000 hectares of cereals and oilseeds are grown in Scotland with barley the largest crop. Through promotion of Scotland's agriculture, the Scottish Government aims to achieve a sustainable future. RESAS-funded science contributes to this by continued development of crop varieties and investigations into plant health, environmental resilience and beneficial traits for consumers using conventional breeding techniques.

Genomic approaches to barley and wheat breeding

RESAS-funded researchers have been collaborating with a UK plant breeder to investigate ways of optimising nitrogen uptake. Nitrogen is often the most limiting nutrient for plant growth, and increasing nitrogen uptake can increase crop yield and accelerate production. The work has started with barley but will extend to wheat where findings are likely to benefit the baking and bread making industries.

Based on outputs from RESAS-funded research, a US-based company has developed a custom assay for genotyping barley. The assay can identify over 400 key genetic markers and will offer a low-cost route for growers and seed developers to optimise key traits for yield, quality and resilience. This will boost development and speed the introduction of new varieties. The company plans to introduce the assay in the USA and Europe in the near future.

ß-glucan benefits

ß-glucans are a diverse group of molecules found within some plants. They are important for human health, boosting the immune system and reducing blood cholesterol. RESAS-funded research has been investigating its beneficial properties and ways of increasing its concentration in some cereals. Although beneficial to health, high levels of ß-glucan were found to have negative impacts on brewing, and this was discussed at a 'Barley and Brewing' workshop attended by over 40 Scottish craft brewers.

Sustainable diets:

School menus and low carbon behaviours

RESAS-funded research explored the environmental sustainability of school meals building on previous work investigating healthy and sustainable diets. The project considered where the greatest contribution of GHG emissions was likely to come from within the school meals service. It also provided an overview of current meals provided in schools and worked examples of how meals could be revised to reduce the GHG emissions.

Better ingredients, sustainable diets

RESAS-funded research into food and drink science focuses on building and developing a broad science base that will aid future economic growth. Much of the research provides potential future technology opportunities for two key programmes providing support to Scottish companies. These are the Scottish Enterprise Food and Health Innovation Service (FHIS) and the Scottish Government Reformulation Project.

Functional ingredients for sustainability and health

RESAS-funded scientists are working with national and international food companies with a view to incorporate functional ingredients into their products. In one project, FHIS is using new approaches to work directly with Scottish companies to help them develop new or reformulate existing products to be healthier. Companies are also being encouraged to use alternative ingredients to increase sustainability, ensure GM-free compliance and improve processing efficiency.

A collaborative project with the Swedish-Danish co-operative Arla Foods, the seventh largest dairy company worldwide, has led to the identification of a naturally occurring fatty acid which could be incorporated as a healthy supplement following results of a human trial.

Scottish rapeseed oil

RESAS-funded scientists have met with a rapeseed oil producers group comprising nine Small and Medium Enterprises to explore the possibility of developing a Scottish product. The group is supporting a £30,000 research project in conjunction with a number of universities to understand the regional and environmental factors affecting the composition of the oil.


New markets and new varieties

A number of RESAS-funded projects are investigating expansion in soft fruit markets and the development of new berry varieties. One of these new varieties, already approved for commercial cultivation, combines late season ripening with enhanced fruit quality. Other lines under trial have shown signs of resistance to raspberry root rot - the most economically damaging disease affecting UK raspberry cultivation. Similarly, a new blackcurrant variety has been approved for release. Combining enhanced quality and higher vitamin C levels, it also provides increased environmental resilience to predicted warmer winters. It is a potential replacement for the current Ben Lomond variety which has an annual UK market of £1m. Scientists have also cultivated a new blueberry variety which provided beneficial reductions in blood glucose levels in a human trial.

Currently only 1-3% of the £144m UK blueberry market is being supplied by British-grown blueberries. RESAS-funded researchers are using a Horticulture LINK grant to look at genetic traits and develop varieties more suitable for UK growth. A project partly funded by the Technology Strategy Board is investigating the commercial cultivation of blaeberries to use in the production of quality blueberry juice. This would allow all-year-round production.


Salmon successes

Scotland is already the largest farmed salmon producer in the EU and along with significant trout, halibut and mussel farming, aquaculture forms an important pillar of Scotland's economy. Scotland's aquaculture industry was estimated to contribute up to £1.4 billion per annum to the Scottish economy across the supply chain in 2012. If industry's 2020 sustainable production targets are met this could mean a turn-over value of well over £2 billion a year to the Scottish economy and support of 10,000 jobs. With such economic importance, it is vital Scotland's farmed fish stocks remain healthy and productive. RESAS-funded research is heavily involved in ensuring this through studies into disease prevention, breeding, growth as well as the production of sustainable and nutritious salmon. This has been helped by the establishment of a new aquaculture research group working in collaboration with Benchmark Holdings - a market leader in applied aquaculture science and biotechnology. In addition it has also enabled the development of an common interest group involving RESAS-funded researchers, Seafish, Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, Marine Scotland, Youngs and Marine Harvest. The 'Sustainable Fish Group' are interested in post-harvest impacts for quality including nutritional, consumer acceptance and wider fish consumption. This group will provide a platform to inform and prioritise future actions in this sector.

Using genetic markers to prevent disease

RESAS funding has enabled researchers to extend research on genetic markers for resistance to infectious pancreatic necrosis (IPN) in Atlantic salmon. In Scotland, the prevalence of IPN is very high in sea water-farmed salmon, and understanding the characteristics and mechanisms of spread is crucial. Landcatch Ltd. is now using the genetic markers identified to breed salmon for IPN resistance. Independent analyses valued the uptake of resistance breeding at £26.4m per year.

Investigations focusing on salmon alphavirus are also continuing. Our scientists have identified three pathways in which salmon fry can be infected - an initial step into developing a technique to prevent the virus.

Marine benefits

Scotland's coast and marine environment is of immense natural beauty and ecological value. The coastal zone is home to important seabird colonies and upwelling regions, which support fish and marine mammals. However it is also a focus of major industrial activity which must be managed carefully. RESAS-funded science is key to strengthening understanding of marine and coastal systems, identifying opportunities and benefits they provide and establishing boundaries for fishing and development in these areas.

Marine mammals

Marine mammals are useful indicators in establishing the health of an ecosystem. This can include being able to assess the amount of land-sea transfer from sewerage and agricultural run-off. A RESAS-funded investigation of seals on the Isle of May has detected pathogens including Campylobacter and Salmonella species. Studies suggest these have an agricultural origin. These pathogens together with a number of known viruses are responsible for neonatal deaths on this important Grey seal colony. Establishing their source and route of infection will allow steps to be taken to reduce and prevent infection.

Land and Sea Interface

A new collaboration with Scottish Association for Marine Science is using new, high resolution, seafloor mapping data to create visualisations of the seabed and analysis of its surface. The work is enabling spatial analysis of visibility to be tested for use in coastal environments for the characterisation of seascapes, and provides a basis for assessing potential onshore impacts of marine renewables.

Modelling seabird and cetacean distributions

Thanks to RESAS-funded research, an effective modelling method to predict bird, whale, dolphin and porpoise distributions has been developed. The research focused particularly on areas where offshore renewable energy developments are based and has increased awareness of the most appropriate modelling methods which are expected to be adopted by all parties involved.

Novel products from marine sources: health, animal feed and drug replacement

Scientists are working with different marine stakeholders to increase the understanding and importance of many marine organisms. RESAS-funded scientists have been investigating benefits of novel antioxidants from marine micro-organisms sourced from seaweeds. The studies have found strong evidence for three extracts to significantly decrease platelet activity and work in a similar way to the most effective anti-platelet drugs. Another collaboration is working on developing techniques to measure the production of health beneficial components in marine algae to provide more sustainable sources of animal feeds and niche chemicals.

Supporting marine spatial planning with local socio-economic data

An ecosystem approach to marine management is now compulsory under EU law and requires socio-economic and environmental data. In marine ecosystems socio-economic data in many areas is lacking, undermining marine planning. RESAS-funded researchers are developing a new approach to gather detailed information on local uses and values of coastal systems, to help underpin marine planning in Scotland.

rural communities

Developing and supporting rural communities

Rural communities throughout Scotland form a vital part of Scotland's heritage, identity and economy. They are home to almost one-fifth of our population and contribute greatly to the Scottish economy - over £30bn per year which accounts for approximately 30% of total on-shore output. RESAS-funded social scientists work closely with rural communities and industry to produce policy-relevant research, which supports and develops rural Scotland.

Developing policy

RESAS-funded researchers have contributed to the development of the next Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP). Researchers have been involved in setting up workshops which involves work with local authority representatives ensuring RESAS-funded evidence is reaching local as well as national government.

Researchers submitted responses to both the consultation on the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill and the consultation on Good Practice Principles for Community Benefits from Onshore Renewable Energy. Evidence was also presented to the RACCE Committee in the Scottish Parliament on the rural sustainability implications of the new National Planning Framework.

A RESAS-funded project, in collaboration with the Cairngorms National Park Authority, is investigating the links and dependencies between rural and urban areas. A case study at Boat of Garten will inform development of the Capercaillie Framework which will be instrumental in guiding rural housing development in the Park. Outcomes from the study will also be used to inform future rural policy and form a case study reference for future projects.

Wastewater, renewables and climate change

Responding to a request from Scottish Water, RESAS-funded research was carried out to review technologies for treating water and waste water, and for producing renewable energy from water in rural communities. The report informed a Scottish Water workshop on scoping out a vision of sustainable rural communities for water, wastewater and energy.

European partners in rural sustainability research

A RESAS-funded research centre is collaborating with several countries across Europe in the EU's Towards European Societal Sustainability project. The aim is to understand the contribution of community-based initiatives in the transition to a sustainable society. RESAS-supported researchers will work on all research topics and will lead the stakeholder engagement initiative.

Capacity for Change (C4C) programme

RESAS funding has been invested into developing and expanding the C4C programme which works to strengthen community resilience, sustainability, wellbeing and regional rural development. Working with LEADER, the researchers ultimately aim to develop a model to enable the identification of social and economic outcomes for local communities which will help them thrive and evolve. As a result of initial involvement in Dumfries and Galloway, researchers were invited to work in Ayrshire to evaluate a similar scheme (Ayrshire 21) which worked with 21 rural communities to help them develop community action plans.

land use

Land use and soils

Scotland hosts a hugely rich and varied environment available for a wide range of land uses - agriculture, recreation, development. Deciding how best to use the land can be a challenge as one land use may conflict with another. However not all are mutually exclusive and increasingly, multiple benefits from land are being sought - when the land is managed to maximise the benefits it provides from more than one utility.

Soils are a key factor in land use decisions, and are themselves a vital natural non-renewable resource, providing a wide range of essential environmental, social and economic functions. Scotland's soils are remarkably diverse for a country of its size, reflecting rich variation in our geology, topography, climate and land use history. RESAS-funded science is investigating how sustainable soil management can maximise benefit to ecosystems, communities and our economy.

Multiple benefits

RESAS-funded research identified opportunities for multiple benefits of land use from biophysical and socioeconomic perspectives. This strengthened the understanding of how to link land use management with ecosystem processes, functions and services to help identify multiple land use benefits and guide policy initiatives. RESAS-funded researchers have also evaluated land use options using GIS which allows risks to be assessed including key biophysical and socio-economic uncertainties. The influence of climate change for long-term planning has been highlighted.

To improve public and stakeholder understanding of multiple benefits, landscape visualisation and interactive media (Virtual Landscape Theatre) were used to identify preferences. Researchers also focused on the sustainable aspects of multiple benefits by organising an international conference on 'Delivering multiple benefits from our land: Sustainable development in practice'.

Soil research for agriculture

A RESAS-funded project is investigating the effects of enhancing the availability of phosphorus in soils which will improve uptake and increase productivity. Outputs will have impact on crop producers and fertiliser suppliers through to policy makers.

Research into liming practices has allowed farmers to target lime application more efficiently with literature on the practice being updated and distributed widely to farmers and land managers.

Soil information:

Databases, websites and apps

RESAS-funded scientists have been involved in providing content and data for Scotland's Soils website ( The site makes soil datasets and maps openly available, and presents key facts on Scotland's soils, their functions, and the pressures they face. A separate grant award has allowed researchers to help develop NERC's UK Soil Observatory - an inventory of soils data, knowledge and expertise which allows access to data sets and analytical tools.

A mobile app - SOCiT - has been developed by RESAS-funded researchers, and co-funded by QMS, for farmers and land users to assess carbon content of soils by taking a photo of the soil profile. This can help inform management decisions. The app has been downloaded and successfully used hundreds of times.

Improving soils technology and practice

Portable x-ray fluorescence equipment for rapid, cost-effective on-site analysis of soil mineral content, was developed by RESAS-funded scientists. The device has been tested using standard reference mineral soils and gives acceptable concentrations of most elements, making soil analysis much easier and quicker.

Scientists are also working with an industry partner which manufactures sediment fences - soil fences which capture eroding soils. Recommendations have been made on agricultural installations to improve efficiency. Results of trials presented at an international conference prompted interest from farming bodies in England with potential trials in Devon and Cornwall.

ecosystems and biodiversity

Threats to Scottish ecosystems:

Species and habitats at risk

Approximately 90,000 species of animals and plants live in Scotland. These are supported by our rich ecosystems across a wide range of habitats. Scotland is internationally important for its heather moorland and bogs, Atlantic oak woodlands, and its freshwater and sea lochs. While Scotland is proud to boast wide areas of wild, undeveloped land, we have to remain mindful of changes to the balance of the ecosystems and monitor the effects of any disruptions such as the introduction of new species, declines in other species, or changing environments. RESAS-funded scientists work to monitor and maintain healthy ecosystems across Scotland and work closely with organisations such as SNH, RSPB and other environmental bodies to ensure research in this constantly changing area continues to be relevant and effective.

Pollinator decline

Declines in pollinator populations pose a threat to biodiversity and ecosystems. Pollinators, such as bees, are keystone species and ensure propagation and genetic diversity of many plants, however factors such as loss of habitat and pesticide misuse can have a devastating impact on their numbers. RESAS-funded researchers delivered a Talking Science event 'Bee Serious' which helped raise public awareness of the importance of pollinators. RESAS-funded scientists also participated in an event at the Royal Highland Show highlighting the important roles invertebrates play in ecosystems. The events reached an audience of over 1,000 people.

Scottish biodiversity update

RESAS-funded scientists have been involved in developing the update of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. Significant contributions came from a variety of studies and reports including work on the importance of High Nature Value farming in Scotland, an exploration of how appropriate CAP reform is needed to benefit biodiversity and a report on the targeting of agri-environment measures to boost biodiversity.

Beavering away

The five-year trial reintroduction of beavers to Argyll ended in 2014 and the summary report will inform the decision on whether to support their continued presence. Data from RESAS-funded scientists monitoring the impact of beavers will form a key consideration in this decision.

Sustainable upland species management

Red deer populations in Scotland are a polarising issue, and while they bring economic benefits to many rural communities, they can also have a detrimental impact on sapling growth and forest ecosystems. A RESAS-funded project is investigating the effects large deer populations may have on Scottish upland habitats. The research shows increased grazing pressure is causing deer to encroach on new, previously ungrazed, habitats. Habitat choices are also changing in response to shifts in temperature. The research is vital in informing to debate on sustainable deer management.

RESAS-funded research has proved invaluable in informing decision making on mountain hare culls and use of tick pesticides on deer in both Scotland and the Netherlands. Deer and hares both carry ticks which impact grouse population size through the spread of a virus. Research has shown that for areas with deer, hare culls have negligible effect because deer carry so many ticks. The research received considerable media attention, and many grouse estates have subsequently stopped culling hares. SNH will also use the evidence when issuing hare culling licences. Both of these research projects are critical in informing policy decisions relating to habitat and deer management.

Scottish woodlands and ecosystem services

Around 14% of Scotland is covered by trees. The majority of this is coniferous plantations, cultivated for timber, biomass or processing into other materials. The remainder, approximately 2%, comprises native broadleaved, coniferous or mixed woodland. Although small in area, these woodlands are some of the UK's richest wildlife assets, creating unique habitats which support thousands of species. RESAS-funded science helps to conserve and expand these vitally important habitats.

Scotland's woodlands and other habitats are also thought of in the context of ecosystem services - the identification and quantification of the benefits that individuals and society can obtain from ecosystems. This concept is pervasive throughout our biodiversity and ecosystems research, allowing us to maximise the benefits of land and identify the best ways to conserve our rich heritage.

Woodland chemical ecology and plant pests

Resident expertise in woodland chemical ecology and plant pests has won RESAS-funded scientists grants from two UK research councils on woodland function and resilience. One of the projects, which involved international collaborators from Finland and Estonia, will measure the effects of tree genotypic and species diversity on forest ecosystem processes. Another grant in collaboration with research partners and Scottish universities will allow research into ecological solutions to novel pests and pathogens. This could lead to reduction in pesticide use and less contamination of soils.

Woodland Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function

Emerging relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem function are crucial to how we manage woodland environments for multiple ecosystem services and uses. RESAS-funded scientists along with policy advisors, stakeholders, and Forestry Commission staff took part in a workshop which helped to identify future research needs and match those with emerging policy requirements. A booklet was produced summarising a range of recent research outputs undertaken as a result of the RESAS research programme.

Ecosystem services to address poverty issues

RESAS-funded scientists are working with research institutes in Uganda and Ethiopia to demonstrate how improved knowledge about soils and ecosystem services can be used to address poverty issues. The research will look into ecosystem service values and trade-offs, geospatial risk analysis, and how the values placed on ecosystem services can inform policy making. A number of workshops have taken place and field soils sampling is due to commence.

Ash dieback

Ash dieback is a serious disease affecting ash trees and has the potential to cause significant damage to the UK's ash woodlands. The disease, which has no current cure, is usually fatal. It has been responsible for losses of between 60 and 90 per cent of ash trees in some areas of Europe. It was first confirmed in the UK in 2012 and is expected to affect up to 75% of trees in some areas. Expertise from RESAS-funded researchers has helped to secure six contracts to investigate the ecological impacts of the disease. The strong knowledge base also enabled the production of a Virtual Landscape Theatre presentation entitled 'Moving Forward from Ash Dieback'.

Conservation and ecosystem services

A joint contract with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology was awarded to RESAS-funded researchers as a result of their expertise in ecosystem services, valuation, biodiversity and nature conservation. Researchers provided a review of ecosystem services delivered from protected areas and sites managed for nature conservation, and conducted assessments of services provided in nine case studies across the UK. Varied sites allowed comparison across a range of different ecosystems and analysis of the effects of conservation on ecosystem services delivered was undertaken.


Email: Jenny Watson

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