Biodiversity strategy: consultation

Biodiversity is vital for us all and it is in crisis, globally and in Scotland, so we need to change the way we use natural resources. We are seeking views on how we should tackle the biodiversity crisis through a new biodiversity strategy which will drive this transformation.

4. How Will We Know When We Have Succeeded?

a. Development of an Outcomes Framework

Ministers have defined two key milestones to guide us in delivering the strategy and its vision:

  • reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 (in line with the Leaders' Pledge for Nature); and
  • deliver the Vision by restoring and regenerating biodiversity by 2045.

A group of experts have been advising the strategy development process and with some of our stakeholders have helped us to develop a set of outcomes which will deliver these 2030 and 2045 milestones. These outcomes are framed by broad landscape type and marine environments and draw on recently published works[6].

  • Rural environments;
    • farmland;
    • woodlands / forestry;
    • soils;
    • uplands (including peatlands);
  • Marine environment;
  • Fresh water environments – rivers, lochs and wetlands;
  • Coastal environments;
  • Urban environments – towns and cities;
  • Across our land and seas – overall ecosystem health, resilience and connectivity.

b. Proposed Outcomes

1. Scotland's Rural Environment – Farmland, Woodlands and Forestry, Soils and Uplands

The Issues

The way rural land is managed is one of the most important drivers of biodiversity loss in Scotland. Transforming the way we use and manage land will be critical if we are to deliver our vision. The outcomes below focus both on the quality of landscapes (their health and resilience) and quantity of landscape-types (area of e.g. woodland and restored peat). Although these outcomes have their own distinctive issues there is substantial overlap between them.

i) Farmland

70% of Scotland is solely or partially managed for agriculture (roughly 10% arable; 20% pasture; with the remainder rough grazing, much of which in the Uplands is secondary to grouse moor and deer estate management).

The past 50 years has seen an increased use of pesticides and fertilisers, continuous cropping, changed sowing seasons, a loss of non-cropped habitat and major loss and fragmentation of farmland habitats. There have been substantial long-term decreases in some key farmland bird populations: declines of more than 50% for greenfinch, kestrel, and lapwing, and 25-50% declines in oystercatcher and rook. There have been substantial long-term decreases in pollinators and species-rich grasslands, e.g. 39% loss of lowland meadow.

ii) Woodlands and Forestry

Scotland is the most wooded of the UK countries (19% woodland cover) but the UK remains one of the most heavily deforested countries in Europe, with woodland cover well below the current European average of 37%. Approximately a third, 442,611 hectares of Scotland's woodland is considered native. This includes globally important areas of Scottish rainforest, including oak and hazel woodland, and Caledonian pine forest – recognised as being of very high value to biodiversity, but currently fragmented and restricted in range.

Woodland biodiversity faces a huge challenge from invasive non-native species, specifically rhododendron. Ever increasing deer numbers restrict natural regeneration, habitat restoration and undermine replanting efforts.

iii) Soils

Changes to ploughing, crop rotations, fertiliser use and livestock numbers have negatively impacted soil and water quality, carbon storage and led to increasing greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to climate change.

Soil sealing (the process of covering soil in impervious substances such as concrete or tarmac) has increased the rate and extent of Wetland loss, and changes in Farming practices have led to the disappearance of many lowland ponds formerly used to water livestock. Soil erosion through cultivation and trampling by animals close to watercourses has added individually small, but cumulatively large, pollution loads. Inappropriate muirburn, including on deep peat, can damage vegetation and soil, leading to nitrogen deposition and release of carbon.

Towards a nature-rich landscape in the lowlands

1. Restoring lowland raised bogs to a more natural state contributes to a more diverse lowland landscape and delivers climate benefits

2. Mixed forestry sequesters carbon, produces timber, and is more resilient to the changing climate and more beneficial to wildlife than single species plantations

3. Natural open woodlands and scrub at higher elevations bring climate benefits, and a natural and scenic diversity that is currently missing

4. A more nature-rich landscape in the lowlands can improve the well-being of local communities and visitors

5. Species-rich grasslands support scarce plant species, provide food to pollinators and other insects and bring colours to the landscape

6. Hedges wide and tall support more biodiversity, prevent erosion, sequester carbon and connect habitats, enabling wildlife to move through the landscape

7. Buffer zones of wetland vegetation growing by the side of the river, away from crops and fenced off from livestock, enable the resurgence of wetland plants and animals

8. The integration of trees in grassland or in crops in an agroforestry system can deliver multiple benefits for the environment and for farm productivity

9. A re-naturalised river system that supports wildlife and brings back riverine habitats enhances landscape beauty and reduces flood risk

10. Removing land at the field edge to create or enhance wildlife habitats is important as part of a network of nature-friendly linear features around fields

11. Cover crops, legumes and wild bird cover provide an additional boost to wildlife while reducing soil erosion

iii) iv) Uplands (including peatland)

In the uplands of Scotland, essentially land above the limits of enclosed farmland, there are a range of habitats including moorland, rough grassland, blanket bog, woods, species-rich grasslands, etc. Much of this is managed for field-sports, livestock, renewable energy, nature conservation and amenity interests. Large areas of the uplands are under agriculture management. Approximately a quarter of Scotland's area is covered in peat, storing over 3 billion tonnes of carbon. However, it is estimated that around 70% of Scotland's peatlands (1.6 million hectares) are degraded. At least 25% of wider uplands are also considered to be in poor condition.

The greatest decline in birds has been in uplands, with 18% decline since 1994;
17 species contribute to this indicator with nine in long-term decline. A range of species and habitats are declining, especially waders, hen harriers, mountain willow and juniper.

Rural Environment Proposed Outcomes

By 2045 we expect that:

  • Farmland practices have changed resulting in a substantial increase in biodiversity, ecosystem and soil health and markedly reduced carbon emissions while sustaining high quality food production;
  • A range of nature recovery activity enables:
    • sustainable natural regeneration of woodlands;
    • greater diversity of woodland species and woodland age structure;
    • increased woodland cover and connectivity between woodlands;
  • Restoration of degraded ecosystems increasingly incorporates soils as a nature-based solution for issues including flooding, erosion and biodiversity loss;
  • Deer range and grouse moor management and upland agriculture are contributing to high standards of sustainable land use in upland areas supporting regenerating habitat and wildlife interests.

Which means that by 2030 we need to have:

  • Farmland practices which demonstrate an increased uptake of high diversity, nature-rich, high soil carbon, low intensity farming methods while sustaining high quality food production;
  • Decreasing carbon emissions across arable and pastoral farmland allied to improving soil health;
  • Native woodland cover and woodland ecosystem health sustaining rich biodiversity, and large-scale regeneration is steadily increasing, largely through reductions in deer browsing and grazing impacts, and removal of INNS;
  • A reformed agricultural subsidy scheme which delivers for nature restoration and biodiversity as well as high quality food production, and climate mitigation and adaptation.
  • The number of deer and their impacts is reduced alongside other herbivore impacts to enable peatland restoration, natural regeneration of woodlands and increased structural diversity in our uplands;
  • Productive forests and woodlands are designed and managed in ways that deliver increased biodiversity and habitat connectivity whilst sustaining timber production and carbon sequestration to meet the climate crisis;
  • Healthy functioning soils support increasing biodiversity;
  • Substantial increases in biodiversity richness and ecosystem health, especially soil health;
  • Uplands and restored peatlands rich in biodiversity with high ecosystem health;
  • Peatland restoration targets which are being met with the gap closing between peatland carbon sequestered and peatland carbon emissions;

Large-scale upland biodiversity regeneration from low reaches to highest altitudes to sustain biodiversity richness currently absent in many upland areas.

Towards a nature-rich landscape in the uplands

1. Controlling grazing and fewer deer mean trees, woodland understorey and other vegetation can come back which reduces soil erosion and water flows down the hill

2. Mosaics of habitats instead of a landscape dominated by heather and grass will support more insects, mammals, birds and other animals, plants, fungi and lichens

3. Creating natural open woodlands and scrub at higher elevations brings climate benefits, and a natural and scenic diversity that is currently missing

4. Expansion of deciduous and native trees and other woodland plants support more wildlife, reduce flooding risk and store carbon

5. Healthy peatlands hold vast amount of carbon, support unique plant species, absorb rain water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions

6. Silvopasture such as wood pasture is good for biodiversity, provides shelter to livestock, improves animal welfare and farm productivity

7. A nature-rich landscape can offer diverse livelihood opportunities and support a greater number of people

8. Reintroduced species such as beavers will enhance the range of benefits to people, in terms of water quality and smoothing water flows

9. Riparian woodlands shade and nourish the river helping fish and other aquatic wildlife be more protected from rising temperatures

10. A wilder river that has reclaimed its floodplain supports more wildlife, enhances landscape beauty, and reduces flooding downstream


  • Do the 2045 outcome statements adequately capture the change we need to see?
  • Are the 2030 milestones ambitious enough? Are we missing any key elements?
  • What are the key drivers of biodiversity loss in this outcome area?
  • What are the key opportunities for this outcome area?
  • What are the key challenges for this outcome area?

2. Marine Environment

The Issues

Scotland's seas are highly dynamic, supporting a diverse range of habitats and species. They are of significant cultural and socio-economic importance, especially to local coastal and island communities, and support an array of marine industries. If managed sustainably, Scotland's seas can continue to provide food (through fishing and aquaculture) and renewable energy. Protecting and improving biodiversity is key to sustainable use of our seas.

Scotland's Marine Assessment 2020 (SMA 2020) concludes that overall, progress has been made. For example, Scotland's Marine Protected Area (MPA) network is now made up of 232 sites covering 37% of Scotland's seas, with progress in the implementation of MPA management measures. SMA 2020 also highlights the increasing impacts of climate change and ocean acidification, and that disturbance of the seabed by bottom-contact towed fishing gear remains a significant pressure. The 'no loss in extent' target for subtidal biogenic habitats[7] has not been met. The last 30 years have also seen significant changes in the plankton community with potential implications for marine food webs, including commercial fish species.

The abundance of some offshore whales, dolphins and porpoise has remained stable, whilst the abundance and distribution of coastal bottlenose dolphins on the East coast has increased. The grey seal population has increased but the harbour seal population continues to decline in the North Coast and Orkney Islands marine regions. Seabird numbers have been largely stable since 2011 but at a reduced level compared to the 1986 baseline. Species show markedly different trends with the most significant decreases in surface-feeding birds. Overall, Scotland's wintering waterbirds continue to increase in abundance, although species exhibit different trends with some changing their range in response to environmental change.

Marine Environment Proposed Outcomes

By 2045 we expect that:

  • Populations of marine mammals, marine birds and fish are healthy, have recovered, and have increased resilience to the impacts of climate change;
  • The health of water-column and seabed habitats has been enhanced so that they are more resilient (including to climate change), supporting wider ecosystem function and providing increased benefits to society.

Which means that by 2030 we need to have:

  • Populations of marine mammals, marine birds and fish are improving - reflecting prevailing environmental conditions and not significantly affected by human activities;
  • The status of water-column and seabed habitats is improving - managed to avoid significant impacts from human activities to support their recovery and provide benefits to society.


  • Do the 2045 outcome statements adequately capture the change we need to see?
  • Are the 2030 milestones ambitious enough? Are we missing any key elements?
  • What are the key drivers of biodiversity loss in this outcome area?
  • What are the key opportunities for this outcome area?
  • What are the key challenges for this outcome area?

3. Freshwater Environment: Rivers Lochs and Wetlands

The Issues

Scotland's rivers, lochs, and wetlands are important national assets. They supply drinking water, support fisheries and aquatic biodiversity, generate hydropower, mitigate flood risk, store carbon (wetlands), offer an essential resource for business and agriculture and serve recreation and exercise that promotes health and wellbeing.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency's (SEPA) monitoring shows that overall 64% of our rivers and lochs are in good or better than good condition in 2020. This is an improvement of 3 percentage points in overall condition since 2015. It is based upon assessment of water quality, flows and levels, physical condition and barriers to fish migration.

Despite the progress we've made, the remaining 36% of rivers and lochs are not in good condition, including the status of Scotland's iconic Wild salmon which can be impacted by a range of activity in both freshwater and marine environments. A range of pressures continue to have an impact on the condition of the water environment, and many of these are being addressed through Scotland's third River Basin Management Plan (2021-2027) and, for Wild salmon, through the Wild Salmon Strategy. This plan aims to achieve 81% of the water environment being in a good or better condition by 2027, and 90% in the long-term once natural conditions have recovered. The issues which continue to need tackling include increasing water scarcity and abstraction, increasing flood risk increasing water temperatures, rural diffuse pollution, wastewater, man-made barriers to fish migration, physical modifications to rivers, and the potential spread of non-native invasive species.

29% of freshwater features are categorised as 'unfavourable' or 'unfavourable recovering' due to management. Riparian woodlands have declined in coverage and condition. Poorly vegetated upper catchments and canalised river systems make downstream flash flooding events worse. The extent of wetlands and land available for temporal wetlands and habitat available for dependent species has declined.

Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) have considerable impacts on freshwater ecosystems and these are intensifying.

Diffuse pollution has been reduced in Scotland, particularly since the 1990s, but still represents a significant risk to freshwaters.

Freshwater Environment Proposed Outcomes

By 2045 we expect that:

  • The extent of restored catchments and improvements in ecological status of rivers, lochs and wetlands has increased;
  • Extent, condition, connectivity and resilience of wetland, including floodplain wetlands, and pond habitats are significantly improved and increased;
  • Freshwater species return naturally to areas in which they have been absent; their populations and supporting habitats are robust and resilient to extreme events.

Which means that by 2030 we need to have

  • Catchment, river, lochs and floodplain restoration routinely accepted and used as a nature-based solution to climate impacts;
  • Beavers, salmon recovery and riparian woodland evident as growing ecological components of restored rivers and wetlands.


  • Do the 2045 outcome statements adequately capture the change we need to see?
  • Are the 2030 milestones ambitious enough? Are we missing any key elements?
  • What are the key drivers of biodiversity loss in this outcome area?
  • What are the key opportunities for this outcome area?
  • What are the key challenges for this outcome area?

4. Coastal Environments

The Issues

Scotland's coastal habitats are experiencing pressure from climate change. The acceleration in the rise of sea levels and larger and more frequent storm-surges are causing erosion and reducing the connectivity of some beach, dune and machair habitats. These factors have led to changes in species composition.

Saltmarshes and some dune systems play an important role in increasing the resilience of coastlines to these pressures by reducing and absorbing wave energy and providing a buffer for sensitive inland habitats. However, these may be adversely affected by higher seasonal rainfall, increasing variation in groundwater, and freshwater run-off.

Scotland's estuaries are vital for water birds such as waders, ducks and geese. They provide safe feeding and roosting areas, enabling many thousands of water birds to use them as places to winter and refuel on their way to other destinations. Climate change is resulting in shifts in populations of some of our water birds, but coastal areas in Scotland remain internationally important.

Coastal Environment – Proposed Outcomes

By 2045 we expect that

  • Coastal ecosystems and adaptive management more widely adopted to allow naturally functioning coastlines in response to a changing climate;
  • Abundance and demography of coastal bird species indicate healthy populations that have recovered in line with changing conditions.

Which means that by 2030 we need to have

  • Coastal ecosystems, including lagoons and estuaries, managed for biodiversity and the dynamic processes underpinning this;
  • Management is tailored to nature-based solutions to climate impacts, notably sea level rise and coastal erosion;
  • Machair and saltmarshes managed extensively for biodiversity richness and to respond dynamically to climate change impacts.


  • Do the 2045 outcome statements adequately capture the change we need to see?
  • Are the 2030 milestones ambitious enough? Are we missing any key elements?
  • What are the key drivers of biodiversity loss in this outcome area?
  • What are the key opportunities for this outcome area?
  • What are the key challenges for this outcome area?

5. Urban Environments – Towns and Cities

The Issues

Urbanisation continues to steadily impact on lowland biodiversity, especially through expansion of housing and associated developments, and associated habitat fragmentation and loss. Well-designed green and blue infrastructure incorporated into new and older schemes, however, can benefit biodiversity. Local processes require strengthened approaches to position biodiversity more centrally in designing the urban fabric.

Urban Landscapes Proposed Outcomes

By 2045 we expect that:

  • All towns and cities will comprise established nature-rich environments, with measurable increases in urban biodiversity;
  • Multi-functional urban nature-based solutions provide the basis for healthy and resilient communities (enabling people and biodiversity to adapt to our changing climate by cooling the urban environment and managing extreme rainfall events);
  • Blue and green infrastructure is designed and managed to have high biodiversity value.

Which means that by 2030 we need to have:

  • Nature-rich networks with growing biodiversity richness comprising a range of habitats are integrated into the urban fabric, and ecologically coherent;
  • Nature-richness is a feature of all developments, and prominent in school, health, neighbourhood and community spaces;
  • Opportunities to retrofit green and blue infrastructure that includes measures to enhance biodiversity are identified.


  • Do the 2045 outcome statements adequately capture the change we need to see?
  • Are the 2030 milestones ambitious enough? Are we missing any key elements?
  • What are the key drivers of biodiversity loss in this outcome area?
  • What are the key opportunities for this outcome area?
  • What are the key challenges for this outcome area?

6. Across our Land and at Sea – Overall Health, Resilience and Connectivity

The Issues

Climate change poses a significant threat to ecosystem health and resilience. That resilience is further threatened by the historic reduction in Scotland's biodiversity resulting from centuries of human activity. The Biodiversity Intactness Indicator ranks Scotland and the UK poorly. Scotland's biodiversity intactness has been assessed as 56%: it has retained just over half of its historic land-based biodiversity, with slightly more biodiversity intact compared to other parts of the UK. The report ranks the countries and territories assessed from 240 (most biodiversity intact) to 1 (least biodiversity intact). The UK as a whole, and Scotland separately rank in the bottom 25% of nations and territories for biodiversity intactness.

Making progress on the overall health and resilience of Scotland's landscapes and marine environments will depend on delivering the outcomes above which cumulatively and in combination (due to the key inter-linkage between them) will improve our overall ecosystem, connectivity and resilience.

Across our Land and at Sea – Proposed Outcomes

By 2045 we expect that:

  • On land, Nature Networks at landscape scale demonstrate widespread increasing resilience and health of species and habitats, and increases in carbon sequestered across ecosystems;
  • Ecosystems are diverse, healthy, resilient and deliver a wide range of ecosystem services.

Which means that by 2030 we need to have:

  • Spatially identified Nature Networks which are widespread and embedded in land use planning and management;
  • Increases in the diversity of ecosystems which therefore deliver stronger functioning, ecosystem health, resilience and ecosystem services.


  • Do the 2045 outcome statements adequately capture the change we need to see?
  • Are the 2030 milestones ambitious enough? Are we missing any key elements?
  • What are the key drivers of biodiversity loss in this outcome area?
  • What are the key opportunities for this outcome area?
  • What are the key challenges for this outcome area?

Achieving the strategy vision and halting biodiversity loss by 2030 and substantially restoring it by 2045 will depend on progress across all of these outcomes. Critically, due to the complex relationships between ecosystems, land types and marine environments we will need to see progress in all areas – falling short on one outcome will undermine the overall goal.


  • To what extent will these outcomes deliver the Vision?
  • What might be missing?
  • What evidence and information should we use to assess whether we have delivered the Vision?



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