Scotland and the sustainable development goals: a national review to drive action

This review provides a statement of our pre-COVID-19 ambition on driving progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in Scotland. It brings together evidence, actions and stories of how we are making progress to meet the Goals.

15 Life on Land

  • Environment

Enhancing and protecting Scotland’s biodiversity and ensuring the health of its environment is critical in the fight against climate change and ensuring the environmental, social and economic benefits they bring for future generations. Biodiversity sustains our lives and is at the core of what makes Scotland so distinctive. The wildlife, habitats and other forms of nature in Scotland are valuable in their own right, as well as the ways in which they support and sustain people. Increasing understanding of how nature sustains us, and the connections between biodiversity, healthy ecosystem functioning and wider benefits to individuals and society is vital to facilitate protection of Scotland’s environment.

Biodiversity plays an essential role in meeting the Scottish Government’s vision of a smart, sustainable and successful Scotland, and lies at the heart of our economic strategy. Our natural environment plays a vital role in the prosperity of Scotland and in our national identity. Biodiversity supports our tourism, farming, forestry, aquaculture and fishing industries, and is crucial to attracting investment and marketing of our food and drink. Our urban green spaces vastly contribute to our health and wellbeing.

Scotland’s Land Use Strategy 2016 – 2021 (targets 15.3, 15.5 and 15.9)

Scotland’s first Land Use Strategy (LUS) 2016-2021 was a step change in the Scottish Government’s approach to land use, adopting the ecosystems approach defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity. The first Strategy provided a policy agenda for all land in Scotland and set out a direction of travel towards a more integrated and strategic approach to land use. It recognised the benefits we all derive from land, including underpinning our economic prosperity, assisting with measures to both mitigate and adapt to climate change and the need to ensure a sustainable future for our land. Decisions about the way land is managed are important to balance pressures on ecosystem services due to climate change. The increasing complexity of land related matters in Scotland is recognised and the second LUS deals with the key issues which we believe would impact upon Scotland during the five years from 2016 - 2021.

In light of the UK’s potential exit from the EU and other strategic drivers such as planning reform, the Scottish Government are currently taking stock of the Land Use Strategy proposals. This will help to identify any future actions which will most significantly contribute to the strategy’s vision for land use and its objectives. In particular, the Scottish Government are taking opportunities to build policy alignment in a number of key areas such as the development of an Environment Strategy for Scotland, Scotland’s Forestry Strategy 2019-29, preparations for the development of the next National Planning Framework and long term policy on the rural economy, including land management support. As part of this process the Scottish Government will consider how best to take forward proposals that deliver against a range of Goal 15 targets.

Planning policies (targets 15.3 and 15.9)

Scotland has planning policies in place to support and enhance the natural environment, taking into account environmental assets in decision making. The Scottish Planning Policy sets outs that planning should “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”. More widely, planning authorities, and all public bodies under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, have a duty to further the conservation of biodiversity. This statutory duty must be reflected in development plans and development management decisions. Scotland also has a strong and effective system of environmental assessment in place for both planning, and related consenting regimes. The Conservation (Natural Habitats &c.) Regulations 1994, mentions planning specifically, and The Town and Country Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Scotland) Regulations 2017, lay out Environmental Impact Assessments for planning.[17]

Biodiversity (targets 15.5 and 15.9)

Progress on halting biodiversity loss will be measured in great part by Scotland’s success or failure in meeting a key set of targets: the Aichi targets as part of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020. This is a ten-year framework for action by all countries and stakeholders to save biodiversity and enhance its benefits for people. This and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation targets are both part of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). Scotland, like many other countries, is facing the challenge of declining biodiversity and is currently reporting a mix of successes and challenges.

Scottish Natural Heritage reported that seven Aichi targets are assessed as being on track. A further twelve are showing progress, but requiring additional action if we are to meet these targets by 2020. Only one of the twenty targets, related to funding, is moving away from target, which is critical to the work that underpins projects helping to meet all other targets.[18] While the UK indicator shows a decline in funding for biodiversity since 2010/11, overall government funding for biodiversity in Scotland has increased over the same period, mainly through specific targeted projects, such as the Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention Programme and the Peatland Action Programme. Whilst core funding of organisations with a specific biodiversity remit has declined since 2010/11, targeted projects have led to an increase in total financial resources allocated to biodiversity in Scotland over the last two years.

Other data on biodiversity show a more granular picture. The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy report to the Scottish Parliament 2014-2016 of July 2017, contains a summary of Biodiversity State indicators. Of the current indicators in the report, three (abundance of terrestrial breeding birds; notified species in favourable condition; notified habitats in favourable condition) were considered to be improving, three (wintering waterbirds; breeding seabirds; butterflies - specialists) were worsening, and one was stable (butterflies - generalists).[19] A subsequent report has found that specialist butterflies long term trends are stable compared to when records began in 1979.[20] Scotland’s NPF Indictor for biodiversity shows a 19% increase in terrestrial breeding birds since 1994, however key species of farmland birds are in decline.

The Data Picture: Biodiversity - Terrestrial Breeding Birds

Target 15.5 aims to take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species.

The latest figures show a significant change in the index of abundance of terrestrial breeding birds between 2017 and 2018. In 2018, the index was 110.3 compared to 119.0 in 2017 (against a value of 100 in 1994).

Line graph showing abundance of terrestrial breeding birds increases from the 1994 index of 100 to 110 in 2018. It is not a stable upward trend and shows a substantial degree of volatility, rising and falling from year to year, though every year is higher than the index year of 1994.

Index of abundance of Terrestrial Breeding Birds (1994 = 100)

Source: Breeding Bird Survey

In recognition of this challenge, the Scottish Government, set out the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity. This, in line with the global targets, aims to protect and restore biodiversity, support healthy ecosystems, connect people with the natural world, and maximise the benefits of a diverse natural environment and the services it provides, overall contributing to sustainable economic growth in Scotland. To do this we recognise that we must tackle key pressures on biodiversity, including climate change, invasive non-native species and habitat fragmentation.

Scotland’s ground breaking statutory biodiversity duty requires public bodies to report on their conservation and biodiversity activities. Currently 66 public sector organisations are reporting on their work to conserve biodiversity.[21] However, a recent examination of the duty implementation by the Scottish Parliament noted a low level of compliance with the reporting duty. At the end of the last reporting cycle in January 2018, compliance with the reporting duty was 41%. The Scottish Government acknowledged that while compliance was increasing, there remained a number of public bodies which are not engaged in the reporting process and that compliance with the reporting duty was directly linked to the compliance with the biodiversity duty. In order to improve public body compliance performance with the duty the Scottish Government is working closely with Scottish Natural Heritage on a range of actions to address the recommendations from the Scottish Parliament.[22] These range from improving guidance for public bodies, including information on how to conduct local and public engagement, sending reminders to public bodies ahead of the reporting cycle to raise awareness, and improving the report publication process to enhance transparency.

The Scottish Government works closely with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to meet its biodiversity goals. SNH is in ongoing to discussion on how to report on Scotland’s Biodiversity progress to 2020 Aichi targets for 2018. This report will follow earlier ones and set the design standard for UK reporting on the Aichi targets. Progress is described under the five Aichi Strategic Goals, which encompass the 20 targets:

  • Mainstreaming – good progress on public awareness and engagement and embedding biodiversity values through policy and practice on natural capital: the Scottish Nature Omnibus Survey (SNO) revealed around 65% of people were concerned about biodiversity – but while there is evidence of influencing decision making across key sectors of government and society, there is still scope for greater integration, for example through a renewed emphasis on the importance of compliance with the public sector biodiversity duty, and in ensuring production and consumption are within safe ecological limits.
  • Pressures on biodiversity – there remains much work to be done but there is evidence of positive changes in relation to sustainable management, pollution reduction and protection of ecosystems vulnerable to climate change, but more targeted action required on herbivore impacts and invasive species. The designation of marine and terrestrial protected areas now exceeds the international target.
  • Management, representativeness, integration, and connectivity - further work required to identify additional actions for certain species, including seabirds, waders, upland birds and specialist butterflies. As of March 2018, 79.7% of natural features on protected nature sites were assessed as being in favourable condition.[23] From a total of 3,710 designated features on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Scotland, 1,928 have had no Site Condition Monitoring assessments undertaken in the last six years. This represents 52% of all designated features on SSSIs in Scotland. However, some SSSI features were instead subject to a Site Check process, which involves a shorter site visit which can trigger further action by Scottish Natural Heritage, including Site Condition Monitoring or management intervention. Taking into account those features assessed by a Site Check, the extent of all designated features on SSSIs in Scotland not assessed in the last six years is 21%[24].
  • Benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services – good progress on the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources. Peatland restoration in Scotland is increasing each year and the ecological status of freshwaters habitats is continuing to improve. Ambitious targets for native woodland restoration and improving condition are in place, with measures to improve the management of lowland and upland deer.
  • Enhanced implementation - continued implementation of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and the Route Map to 2020 is regularly reported to the Scottish Parliament and Ministers. The protection of traditional knowledge and the rights of communities are contributing positively to Scotland’s biodiversity. The improved collation of data and data management are ensuring decisions are informed and information is shared and accessible. More work is required to address improved data recording, data analysis gaps and data relating to ecosystem functions.

Part of the response to these challenges set out by the data includes the Biodiversity Challenge Fund, a competitive fund with a budget of up to £2 million over 2 years designed to accelerate progress on 4 Aichi targets up to 2020:

  • Habitat loss (Aichi target 5)
  • Sustainable agriculture, aquaculture and forestry (Aichi target 7)
  • Invasive species (Aichi target 9)
  • Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change (Aichi target 10)

Around 80% of SNH’s £46 million budget contributes to SDGs 14 and 15. This includes a range of activities: management of protected areas, notifications and consents, for example, consents to land managers and others to manage protected areas. Wildlife management, licensing and authorisations, for example, licencing activities that affect protected species, such as bats, badgers or geese and the management of wild animals such as deer and seals. Planning and development advice, for example, statutory and good practice advice through the marine and terrestrial planning systems to local authorities, Marine Scotland and development interests on the siting, design and mitigation of development to achieve the right development in the right place. SNH events over the coming months will enable stakeholders to contribute their thinking on how to shape our strategy post 2020. The Scottish Government is preparing to participate actively in discussions with the UK Government and others to influence these outcomes.

National nature reserves (targets 15.1, indicator 15.1.2)

Scotland has 43 National Nature Reserves (NNRs) showcasing the very best of Scotland’s nature. They include mountain tops, ancient woodlands, remote islands with huge colonies of breeding seabirds, and lowland lochs that are vitally important staging posts for migrating birds. The NNRs had around 600,000 visitors during 2017/18 and over 93% were satisfied with their visit. They complement SNH’s work in tackling inequality by hosting school visits, and offering volunteering opportunities and a venue for health walks, targeting groups and individuals from disadvantaged communities or those facing particularly challenging personal circumstances, ensuring no one is left behind. SNH supported 16 wheelchair users to access the NNRs with Pony Axe S – a company that gets people in wheelchairs to wild places.

Peatlands (targets 15.1 and 15.3, indicator 15.1.2)

Peatlands are a key part of the Scottish landscape, and an internationally important habitat and carbon store. Scotland’s peat soils cover more than 20% of the country and store around 1600 million tonnes of carbon. However, according to a 2016 report, it is estimated that over 80% of our peatlands are degraded.[25] This is why Scottish Natural Heritage’s internationally-renowned work on peatland restoration is of such importance. It mitigates against climate change and has benefits for flood management, water quality and biodiversity. The Scottish Government-funded Peatland ACTION programme, is the principal funding mechanism for this work. Annual targets are vulnerable to spells of bad weather, but almost 20,000 hectares of peatland have been restored in total.

Wetlands (targets 15.1 and 15.5, and indicator 15.1.2)

Globally wetlands are amongst the most threatened habitats. They are often very rich in species and provide important ecosystem services such as flood mitigation, provision of water and food, and recreation. Wetlands are at risk from climate change, pollution, invasive non-native species, drainage, over-exploitation and development. The Ramsar convention was signed in 1971, and originally focused mainly on protection of wetlands for water birds. It has since broadened out to cover other species and now encompasses 2341 sites around the world.[26] The UK has the highest number of sites of any country and over a quarter of these (51 sites covering about 313,000 hectares) are in Scotland. The main types of wetland in Scotland are marine and coastal wetlands, such as estuaries and rocky shores, and inland wetlands such as rivers, lochs, and marshes. All Ramsar sites are also either designated as Natura sites and/or Sites of Special Scientific Interest and are protected under the relevant legislation. Where Ramsar interests are not the same as Natura qualifying interests but instead match SSSI features, these receive protection under the SSSI legislation rather than Natura regulations.

Green infrastructure (target 15.9)

Finally, over £36 million has been committed to green infrastructure since 2015. This money has gone to support urban biodiversity and help urban dwellers, particularly those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods, to have access to nature and the benefits this brings, ensuring that no-one is left behind.[27]

Closer Look - Middlefield Greenspace and Regeneration Project (Aberdeen City Council)

This Project has been developed with the community, during a consultation process that commenced in 2014. A ‘Total Place’ audit was undertaken of this neighbourhood. One of the identified actions was to upgrade this Park. The Project will provide a high quality, outdoor recreational space that is readily accessible to those whose life choices are limited by their personal circumstances. It is intended that these persons will also be supported in participating in a wide range of activities within this park. It is anticipated that these improvements and activities will have a positive effect on a range of deprivation indicators.

Closer Look - St Eunan’s Community Greenspace (West Dunbartonshire Council)

West Dunbartonshire Council is planning to develop the former St Eunan’s Primary School site which is located within a residential neighbourhood of Clydebank and is currently inaccessible and severely contaminated. The site will be transformed into an attractive and exciting new Community Green Space with biodiversity areas, raised bed allotments, recreational areas for children, outdoor exercise equipment, and outdoor education areas as well as interpretation about the heritage of Clydebank. In addition, new pedestrian routes will be provided through the site.

Edinburgh Living Landscape consists of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Council, Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust, Butterfly Conservation Scotland, RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Government (targets 15.9 and links with Goal 3, 11 and 13). This project focuses on achieving changes across Edinburgh, from bringing wildlife into people’s gardens to integrating green infrastructure into Edinburgh’s biggest networks, turning grey into green in densely-populated areas, and ensuring green areas are sustainable and resilient, creating meadows and more natural areas that can be explored and enjoyed. In new developments, nature will be seen as an asset and natural features will be built into the infrastructure.

  • Confor is a membership organisation that promotes sustainable forestry and wood-using businesses
  • The Institute of Chartered Foresters is the Royal Chartered body for foresters and arboriculturists in the UK. The Institute works to foster a greater public awareness and understanding of forestry in order to serve a variety of commercial, recreational, environmental and scientific interests
  • The Community Woodlands Association aim to help communities to connect people with nature and build social capital in communities across Scotland, to manage their woodlands to meet local needs, and to deliver a broad range of social, environmental and economic public benefits
  • Woodland Trust Scotland works with government, communities and individuals to plant new native woods, restore existing ones to peak condition, and halt the loss of ancient woods and trees to inappropriate development
  • Scottish Environment LINK is the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment organisations, with over 35 member bodies representing a range of environmental interests with the common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society
  • Scottish Land and Estates is an association for landowners and rural businesses

Forestry (targets 15.1 and 15.2 and indicators 15.1.1 and 15.2.1)

In 2019, Scotland’s forests and woodlands covered more than 1.45 million hectares, equivalent to 18.5% of the country’s total land area. This is a higher percentage than other UK countries, but is below the European Union average of around 40%. The Scottish Government has the most ambitious woodland creation targets in the UK, and aims to increase the forest area from 18.7% to 21% by 2032. Forestry contributes £1 billion per year to the Scottish economy and supports more than 25,000 jobs.[28] Scotland’s forests and woodlands are also home to 172 protected species, they absorbed around 9.5 million tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere in 2016, and provide opportunities for people to engage in healthy activities - 63% of adults in Scotland visited a forest or woodland in 2014.

The Scottish Government is committed to the international principles of sustainable forest management and endorses the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS). The UKFS defines the agreed approach to sustainable forest management across all the administrations of the UK. The UKFS sets out the regulatory requirements for forestry and meeting its requirements is a pre-condition of felling licences, forest plans and government forestry grants.

A new era for sustainable forestry in Scotland

From 1 April 2019 Scottish Ministers will be accountable to the Scottish Parliament for forestry policy, regulation, grant funding, forest research and managing Scottish Ministers forested land, as a result of completing the devolution of forestry. A key part of the devolution process was the passing of the Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Act 2018. The Act places a duty on Scottish Ministers and Scottish public authorities to promote the internationally recognised principles of sustainable forest management. It also places a duty on Scottish Ministers to publish a forestry strategy to set out how it would deliver its ambitions for forestry including the promotion of sustainable forest management.

A new forestry strategy, Scotland’s Forestry Strategy 2019-2029, was published by the Scottish Government on 5 February 2019. The Strategy sets out the 10 year strategic framework for forestry in Scotland. It has sustainable forest management at its core and will be delivered in partnership with public, private and third sector organisations. The implementation of the Strategy will support Scotland’s ambition to deliver greater economic, social and environmental benefits now and for future generations.

The new strategy has a 50-year vision for forestry in Scotland that reflects the long term nature of forestry and includes the commitment to sustainable management:

‘In 2070, Scotland will have more forests and woodlands, sustainably managed and better integrated with other land uses. These will provide a more resilient, adaptable resource, with greater natural capital value, that supports a strong economy, a thriving environment, and healthy and flourishing communities’.

This vision will be delivered by meeting the following 10 year objectives:

  • Increase the contribution of forests and woodlands to Scotland’s sustainable and inclusive economic growth (target 15.9)
  • Improve the resilience of Scotland’s forests and woodlands and increase their contribution to a healthy and high quality environment (target 15.2)
  • Increase the use of Scotland’s forest and woodland resources to enable more people to improve their health, wellbeing and life chances

Underpinning these objectives are six priority areas for action. This includes the priority of ‘Ensuring forest and woodlands are sustainable managed’. The activities identified to achieve this priority include:

  • Maintaining and promoting the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) as the benchmark of good forestry practice, and assessment of the quality of forest and woodland expansion proposals and forest management plans
  • Further developing our shared understanding of the application of sustainable forest management principles in a Scottish context

The Scottish Government will publish a more detailed implementation, monitoring and reporting framework to support the delivery of the strategy by 1 April 2020.

Scotland is making good progress on the indicator to sustainably manage forests. Scotland has the largest proportion of independently certified forests (process to verify forest are sustainably managed) in the UK - 59% against a UK average of 44%.[29] Scotland exceeded its 10,000 hectare a year woodland creation target by planting 11,210 hectares in 2018/19 – 84% of all woodland planting in the UK. That included over 4,000 hectares of new native woodland meaning Scotland’s native woodland area is expanding. Native woodland accounts for 22% of Scotland’s forests. and 46% of native forest is in satisfactory condition for biodiversity[30]. In March 2017, 68.1% of native woodland features in protected areas were in good condition[31]. The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy: 2020 route map has targets to improve both the extent and condition of Scotland’s native woodland (see below). The new forestry strategy re-iterates these commitment and has a number of priority actions to support their delivery including “Enhancing the environmental benefits provided by forests and woodlands” that in particular will focus on “protecting and enhancing associated biodiversity.”

As part of its commitment to sustainable forest management the Scottish Government seeks to prevent inappropriate woodland loss, particularly of ancient woodland. The regulatory framework for forestry, the requirements of the UKFS and the implementation of the Government’s Control of Woodland Removal Policy support this commitment. Between 2006 and 2015 1,700 hectares of woodland was permanently removed mainly as a result of built development. Of that 11 hectares was ancient woodland.

Scotland has also signed up to the Bonn Challenge, which aims to regenerate deforested and degraded landscapes across the world. The Scottish Government has committed to a range of actions as part of the pledge to the Bonn Challenge, including:

  • By 2030, 165,000 hectares of new woodland will be planted. This is part of Scotland’s wider ambitions to increase woodland cover from 18% to 21% by 2032
  • Delivering a greater level of carbon sequestration with around 10MtCO2e of emissions being soaked up each year up to 2032 – some 130 million tonnes of CO2e
  • Increasing the annual woodland creation target of 10,000 hectares a year to 15,000 hectares by 2024/25
  • A commitment to improve the condition and extent of native woodlands – delivering a target to ensure 3,000 to 5,000 hectares of new native woodland is established each year

The Scottish Government is committed to protecting, enhancing and valuing Scotland’s environment and increasing stocks of natural capital. Scotland’s forests and woodlands can help to support delivery of the biodiversity strategy as well as the Scottish Soil Framework and approach to River Basin Management Planning.

All Scotland’s forests, woodlands and associated open ground habitats provide some biodiversity value. However, suitably managed native, and in particular ancient and semi-natural woodlands, including appropriately restored plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS), will contribute the most.

There are also opportunities to manage Scotland’s forests and woodlands to enhance the environmental benefits they provide, including helping to manage water quantities in times of flooding or water scarcity, protecting and improving water quality, helping to reduce soil erosion and improve slope stability.

Many of Scotland’s existing forests and woodlands were planted before the formal concept of sustainable forest management was adopted, around 20 years ago. Scotland is therefore still dealing with the impacts of some forestry practices carried out prior to this. These practices included the siting and design of forests and woodlands that did not reflect sensitive landscapes, take into account priority habitats and areas of deep peat, or appropriately consider other land-use objectives. These impacts are now being addressed when the forests and woodlands are harvested, with their redesign and replanting meeting the requirements of the UKFS.

Invasive non-native species (target 15.8, indicator 15.8.1)

Scotland has many non-native species but only a small number of those count as invasive (they cause damage to the environment, economy, and our health). Scotland’s Biodiversity Route Map frames invasive non-native Species (INNS) as a key driver of biodiversity loss in Scotland. Among the 1,161 non-native species established in Scotland, 183 (16%) have negative ecological impacts, with the majority of INNS species being higher plants.[32]

The official statistics report on protected areas condition states that invasive species constitute ‘the single biggest negative impact on feature condition’ in Scotland. Island ecosystems are particularly vulnerable to INNS impacts, a major concern given the important, protected biodiversity that Scotland’s islands host. Rhododendron ponticum, originally from Spain, is the main INNS threat to terrestrial biodiversity, especially woodlands. Rhododendron ponticum forms dense thickets, shading out flowering plants, bryophytes and lichens, and preventing tree regeneration. SNH and Scottish Forestry have drawn together the experiences and outcomes of past and current projects to create a national strategy that identifies priority areas for rhododendron control associated with woodland in Scotland, and to produce supporting information and guidance. Public and private land managers are working together in several areas of Scotland, including Glen Creran in Argyll and Torridon. Funding is available through the Forest Grant Scheme to support such work in priority areas.

Notable partnerships to address this target in Scotland include work being undertaken by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) with ten Fishery Trusts/Boards and the University of Aberdeen on the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) (target 15.8). This is a four‑year partnership project which aims to work with local organisations and volunteers to control INNS along riversides in Northern Scotland, for the benefit of our native wildlife and communities.

Partners in the Centre of Expertise for Plant Health include the Scottish Government, BioSS, Forest Research, James Hutton Institute, SRUC, NERC CEH, SEFARI, SASA, University of Edinburgh, University of Strathclyde, and the University of Exeter (target 15.8 and links with SDG 13). Coordination of needs and activities across Scotland to strengthen resilience to pests and pathogens. RBGE is the data hub for monitoring and managing pathogen risk within horticultural settings.

The Scottish Government is working with partners across the UK to minimise the risk posed, and the negative impacts caused, by INNS in Scotland and action to address this is coordinated across the UK, particularly across Great Britain. The GB Programme Board, comprising senior representatives from the three administrations and their agencies, gives strategic consideration of the threat of INNS across Great Britain. Much of the work carried out is underpinned by The Great Britain Invasive Non-Native Species Strategy, which the Scottish Government launched in partnership with Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government in 2015.

The following two groups have been set up in Scotland:

  • The Non-Native Species Action Group, to ensure effective policy co-ordination and practical implementation in Scotland
  • The Statutory Group on Non-Native Species, to oversee the use of new statutory powers and coordinate work between the statutory bodies with specific responsibilities for non-native species in Scotland

The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 enabled Scotland to adopt the internationally recognised three-stage approach to dealing with invasive non-native species, which aims to:

  • Prevent the release and spread of non-native animal and plant species into areas where they can cause damage to native species and habitats and to economic interests
  • Ensure a rapid response to new populations can be undertaken
  • Ensure effective control and eradication measures can be carried out when problem situations arise

With these mechanisms in place, Scotland’s performance on these non-statistical indicators, in terms of compliance in legal and policy terms, is strong.

Closer Look - Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh

Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE) works with partners: Scottish Government, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Forestry, Cairngorms National Park (NP), Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, Glen Creran National Nature Reserve (NNR), Glasdrum National Nature Reserve - on ex situ conservation, restoration, reintroduction and translocation of priority Scottish native plant species. RBGE helps to deliver target 8 of the GSPC for Scotland, maintaining ex situ populations of 83% of target species (156), and reintroducing priority species including Cicerbita alpina, Salix lanata and Woodsia ilvensis to the highlands. Targets 15.1: 15.2: 15.3: 15.4 and 15.5 and links with SDG 13.

RBGE also works with the Scottish Government, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Forestry, Cairngorms NP, Loch Lomond & Trossachs NP, Glen Creran NNR, Glasdrum NNR, RSPB, Butterfly Conservation, BSBI, Plantlife and other local partners on various plant diversity programmes. RBGE’s extensive research, conservation and outreach programmes further the understanding the plant diversity of Scotland (including globally rare temperate rainforest, outstanding diversity of cryptogams, and iconic pinewoods, blanket bogs and machair grasslands). RBGE determines how Scotland’s plant communities may respond to environmental change, develop solutions to protect them (including ex situ conservation, species reintroduction and restoration programmes, and urban and rural habitat management), and connect plants and people resulting in enhanced sustainability and environmental stewardship. Target 15.1 and links with SDG 13.

RBGE works with Scottish Government, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scottish Forestry, Cairngorms NP, Loch Lomond & Trossachs NP, Glen Creran NNR, Glasdrum NNR, on expanding our knowledge and providing tools for understanding and conserving Scotland’s outstanding cryptogam diversity, including a toolkit for risk analysis of Scotland’s epiphytes, the impact of Scotland’s free-ranging reindeer herd, and translocations into Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park. Target 15.1 15.4: 15.5. and links with SDG 4 and 13.

International contribution (target 15.6)

Scottish Forestry will encourage the sharing of best practice and case studies (Scotland has long shared its experience internationally), such as through existing platforms such as WWF’s New Generation Plantations programme. And will continue to work closely with DEFRA on developing the UK Government’s international forest policy.

SNH has contributed advice internationally on approaches to species conservation and management, including multi-partner conservation and management, translocations, reintroductions, non-native invasive species control and conservation frameworks.

The Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh works on a number of international projects which include:

The International Conifer Conservation Project (target 15.5) with Rainforest Concern which aims to purchase a £2.6 million, 5,000 acre piece of Andean rainforest, home to threatened conifers some of them more than 5,000 years old, to save it from development such as wind farms and protect the animals and plants that depend on it and the carbon locked into it. Their International Conifer Conservation Project also maintains ex situ populations containing 13,000 trees of threatened conifer species at 170 ‘safe sites’ across the UK, including material of genotypes no longer found in the wild.

Genetic studies of Theobroma cacao (cocoa tree) (target 15.6, links with Goals 1,10 and 12) consists of a partnership between RBG, the University of Rosario, University of the Andes (Colombia), University of Miami, and USDA. The project aims to generate information on genetic diversity and genetic traits (such as disease resistance and drought tolerance) within Theobroma cacao and related species, to help improve the viability, quality and quantity of the crop that can be grown in situ, supporting the livelihoods of local people in Colombia in a changing climate.

Biodiversity surveying work in the mountains of Nepal, China, the Himalaya, Oman, and the Andes, among others (target 15.4 and links with Goal 13). The numerous, partners in this project include the Government of Nepal’s Department of Plant Resources, Tribhuvan University in Kathamndu, the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology and the University of Tokyo, Kunming Institute of Botany (CAS), Institute of Botany Beijing (CAS), Government of Oman, Earthwatch Oman, Oman Botanic Garden, IUCN SSC Arabian Plant Specialist Group, British Council, CONICET (Argentina), UK BEIS, IANIGLA (Argentina), IMASL (Argentina), CIMA (Argentina), Universidad de Concepción (Chile). Outcomes from this work have included numerous publications, workshops and networks. Awareness-raising opportunities include the ongoing Flora of Nepal, the establishment of the Jade Dragon Research Station and Lijiang Botanic Garden in the Hengduan Mountains (Yunnan), the discovery of important plant areas in Oman feeding into national development plans, and the trans-Andean workshop ‘Plant dynamics and Climate Change in the Andes.’

Invasive Plants of Nepal (target 15.8 and links with Goals 1 2 5, 7, 10, 12 and 17). The project partners are DEFRA (Darwin Initiative), Nepal Academy of Science and Technology, Forest Resource Studies and Action Team, Nepal Department of Plant Resources, Tribhuvan University Central Department of Botany, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation Nepal, and the Nepal Alternative Energy Promotion Centre. Outcomes have included improved scientific knowledge-base and in-country capacity to tackle the increasing challenges from invasive plants in Nepal by engaging local communities in recognition, controlling and utilizing the invasive plants, and restoring the infested lands in three districts, covering 750 households and at least 4,000 people. Other benefits include:

  • Enhanced national capacity for detailed surveying and early detection
  • Knowledge gaps filled in botanical identification, appearance and characterisation
  • Multi-lingual manuals on recognition and control,
  • Raised awareness among local people on identification and impacts of invasive plant species
  • Local people empowered to control/manage invasive plant species

DNA barcoding and fingerprinting to support law enforcement and track threatened species and habitats (target 15.7, links with Goal 12). The People’s Postcode Lottery, researchers and wildlife protection agencies in South Africa, and the Roslin Institute are involved in this work. Aims include the development and employment of molecular methods to identify and track the source and movement of endangered species such as cycads and illegally-logged timber from threatened habitats.

GCRF Trade, Development and the Environment Hub (targets 15.7, 15b, links with Goal 1, 9, 10, 12). The UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre is the main project partner – see here for a full listing of other collaborators. Outcomes include the production of research and influence across supply chains to help ensure that trade becomes a driver of positive change for threatened species, with biodiversity loss halted and people permanently lifted out of poverty.

Taxonomic research (target 15.5, links with Goal 12, 13, 17) involving the Scottish Government, national and international academic and research institutes, national and international NGOs, UKRI research councils and other funding bodies, and national and international students. The RBG Edinburgh provide the baseline data necessary to underpin the action defined in target 15.5: we discover and describe new species around the world, document their distributions and assess their conservation status, to provide baseline data for conservation planning and sustainable use. Target taxa include conifers, cryptogams, Solanum (tomato, potato, aubergine), Theobroma cacao (cocoa), Zingiberaceae (gingers), Sapotaceae, Begonia and Gesneriaceae.

Challenges and next steps

Scotland’s overall performance against goal 15 represents a mixed picture. The number of Aichi targets being on target has increased. The condition of biodiversity is stable or slightly worsening. Key success stories are to be highlighted, such as breeding woodland bird numbers. Scotland shares with other countries the threat represented by climate change to its biodiversity health. Damage may only become exacerbated as Scotland’s climate continues to change. According to a recently published report, Scotland’s Nature on Red Alert: climate change impacts on biodiversity, evidence suggests that Scotland’s biodiversity is already experiencing a changed climate, affecting species abundance, distribution, their food sources, breeding and ability to adapt. According to the report, some of Scotland’s most well-known and iconic wildlife, including Atlantic salmon, capercaillie, freshwater pearl mussel and kittiwake, are under threat from climate pressures.

In response to the Climate Emergency and following the advice from the Climate Change Committee, the Scottish Government will be widely consulting on the transformational policies needed to feed into the update of the Climate Change Plan. It will also intensify its commitment under the Biodiversity Route map to 2020 and is committed to helping to shape the new post-2020 international biodiversity targets. The Scottish Government is working with Scottish Natural Heritage to co-ordinate this thinking, including ensuring that there is a sound evidence base on which to base future action and to help develop our strategic response to new targets.

Proper management for protected sites is also important. Without a robust monitoring system, it is not possible for the relevant government agencies to fully establish the condition of these sites, put in place remedial management measures where necessary and assess whether the Scottish Government is meeting its statutory obligation to protect these nature sites. Collaboration with partners across the public, private and third sectors will continue to be vitally important to improve compliance by public bodies with their duty to enhance biodiversity, where they can, in carrying out their functions.

Scotland is also participating in international discussions about the proposed UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, approved by the General Assembly, will run from 2021 to 2030 and emphasize scaling-up of restoration work to address the severe degradation of landscapes worldwide. The goal of the UN Decade is to boost landscape restoration work to the top of national agendas, building on a public demand for action on issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and the resulting impacts on economies and livelihoods.

Commitments in the Scottish Government’s 2019-20 Programme for Government that relate to this Goal

  • The Scottish Government will make an additional £2 million available to the Biodiversity Challenge Fund, funding projects which address biodiversity and climate change
  • Informed by a careful consideration of the recent IPBES global biodiversity assessment, the Scottish Government will write to Parliament with its initial assessment of current activity, what more needs to be done and what we need to do differently. This will inform a step change in the Government’s programme of work to address biodiversity loss, which will take account of the new post-2020 international biodiversity framework and targets
  • A strategic approach to wildlife management, putting animal welfare at the centre while protecting public health, economic and conservation considerations will be developed with a set of principles to be published next year



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