5. Monitoring Framework
5.1 How we will know if and when we have halted biodiversity loss?
Statutory targets for nature restoration will set out our ambition for halting biodiversity loss and substantially restoring it by 2045. A range of considerations will shape the development of a monitoring framework to track our progress.
We already monitor the three strands of biodiversity identified in the Convention on Biological Diversity: ecosystems, species and genetic diversity. In line with the CBD, we will also monitor people's attitudes to nature and the benefits they gain from it.
Additional indicators will be needed which reflect nature recovery at scale. An extensive suite of connected protected areas improving and in good health will be paramount. This will allow species to adapt to climate change and ensure that diversity within species is not lost. Increases in soil and water health, habitat condition and species richness and abundance outwith protected areas should be evident to the extent that differences across protected area boundaries are small. Soils and species indicators will point to ecosystem health improvements and reveal which drivers are working positively or negatively across habitats and areas. Non-native invasive species, plant and animal pathogens, and deer and other herbivores suppressing nature regeneration, will be well controlled and contained.
Our suite of indicators will need to reveal how biodiversity is responding to the various pressures. Headline indicator changes alone can sometimes reflect the halting of biodiversity loss and subsequent recovery. However, such are the vagaries of changes in nature, we will need long-term data covering many species, habitats and influences to be clear on when and where loss has been halted, and real improvements have been made. We will also need to be able to drill down to individual species and habitats to focus conservation where it is most needed.
The Marine and Terrestrial Species Indicators (continuing to be developed) will show changes across a suite of species. Species for which Scotland is internationally important require special monitoring efforts. These include oceanic lichens, bryophyte, seabirds, and species associated with seagrass and maerl beds. This will help us understand and act to protect these species. The Marine and Terrestrial Species Indicators will allow us to analyse data by habitat and to look in detail at groups like pollinators, thereby helping direct conservation effort where it is most needed.
Genetic diversity gives organisms the ability to adapt to new situations, such as climate change or novel pests and pathogens. Diversity within species, measured by the Genetic Diversity Scorecard, will show a decrease in the threats faced by native species. This will be the result of both better habitat connectivity and targeted efforts such as Gene Conservation Units.
Indicators will be required which demonstrate that the extent of land and sea under protected areas and Other Effective Area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs), and the condition of protected and managed features are increasing to at least meet the global target of 30% of land and sea protected. Key habitats – wetlands, woodlands, grasslands, rivers and lakes, upland and lowland heaths and scrub, rocky habitats, estuaries and lagoons, and dunes and many marine features - will have improved in condition and increased in extent. Across catchments, there will be greater connectivity between heath, woodlands, marsh and grassland habitats to sustain large-scale nature restoration.
By taking this rounded approach covering the core strands of biodiversity, we will be using the best available information to help us halt and then reverse biodiversity loss.
5.2 How will we monitor?
Data gathering and analysis can be expensive. In Scotland, we rely heavily on citizen scientists for much of our data. Citizen science gives us access to larger sets of data than could be funded otherwise. It also emphasises that nature is owned by citizens: it is not the preserve of the Government or of professional scientists. We will continue to rely on citizen science for much of our species data. We currently present several sets of species data and the multi-taxon Marine and Terrestrial Species Indicators (MTSI), all of which are based on citizen science.
Advances in technology have increased our power to monitor biodiversity. In Scotland, we are already monitoring species using eDNA (environmental DNA - genetic material from shed skin or excrement obtained directly from environmental samples such as soil, sediment, or water, and thus reducing disturbance to wildlife). Aerial imagery from satellites, aircraft and drones is also used in habitat monitoring and in mapping people's ability to access green and blue spaces. Assessments of ecosystems should include both quantity and quality (low impacts from the drivers identified by IPBES and high levels of connectivity). We are working with partners to develop ecosystems monitoring and reporting that will meet Scotland's needs domestically and as a global citizen.
We also use surveys and other social science tools to assess people's attitudes to nature and the benefits they gain from it. These are brought together with other sources of information in Scotland's Natural Capital Asset Index, a composite index which tracks changes in the capacity of Scotland's terrestrial ecosystems to provide benefits to people. Surveys should also be used to assess citizens' engagement with biodiversity: only when people are taking an active role can we be confident of success.
5.3 Evidence-based good practice and monitoring is essential
Evidence-based conservation is at the heart of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. We need to monitor biodiversity at a local and a Scotland-wide level if we are to ensure our actions are effective in delivering our Vision and Outcomes. Both the methods used to monitor and the results of that monitoring must be transparent and publicly available.
Monitoring enables us to track progress, to demonstrate performance against targets, and informs regular review of our approach in response to changes, be they environmental (e.g. climate change), technological (e.g. improved techniques) or socio-economic (e.g. green finance).
Overall, none of the targets set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) CoP in Aichi, Japan in 2010 was met at a global level and most countries missed more targets than they achieved (Scotland met 9/20). CBD parties are now keen to develop targets that are both challenging and 'SMART.' The EU's proposed Nature Restoration Law will also contain 'ambitious and binding targets' and the EU may provide both standardised methodologies and reporting templates in order to simplify reporting processes.
Scotland aims to deliver strongly on its international obligations and was one of the first countries to align with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. We have also committed to maintain a broad alignment with the EU's environmental standards. There are therefore advantages to alignment of our monitoring framework with these global frameworks, including:
- Targets, metrics and indicators which are subject to high standards of scrutiny and peer review
- The methods behind them are transparent
- Efficiency – development and administration of a full suite of dedicated Scottish indicators could be costly and no more effective than using existing indicators freeing resource to influence globally
- Comparing performance with other nations allows us to share what has worked and also to learn from others to improve continuously
Although Scotland's biodiversity is highly degraded, there is also evidence that we can reverse the declines and reverse biodiversity loss. We have a renewed understanding of the need to prioritise actions to restore and regenerate biodiversity across government and wider society.
This Strategy and the supporting Framework for biodiversity in Scotland provides a path to deliver our Vision and Outcomes for 2045.
We all benefit from – depend on – biodiversity to stay alive and we all contribute to biodiversity loss through our actions and choices – so the Nature Emergency really is everybody's problem. At the same time, however, that means it's in our hands to make the choices which will reverse biodiversity loss in Scotland by 2045.
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