Scottish Biodiversity Strategy: report to Parliament 2017 to 2019

The fifth report detailing progress on the implementation of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, covering the period 2017 to 2019, as required under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004.

1. Introduction

The 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity[1] was published in 2013 to take into account the international Aichi Targets agreed by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010 and the requirements of the European Union Biodiversity Strategy[2] published in 2011. The 2020 Challenge refreshed the previous strategy - Scotland's biodiversity: it's in your hands (2004)[3], and both documents together constitute the 'Scottish Biodiversity Strategy'.

This report begins with an introduction to the background and scope of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy illustrating how it complements the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the EU Biodiversity Strategy, and the UK Biodiversity Framework. This includes a summary of recent findings on the connections between biodiversity and climate change, a short overview of Scotland's changing biodiversity, and a summary of the three Aims and seven Outcomes of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.

Following this, the report assesses progress in meeting the seven outcomes. Each of these assessments begins with a table listing the key steps set out for that outcome, followed by a summary of key activities addressing the outcome during this reporting period 2017 – 2019. Tables of indicators for monitoring progress are provided, and trends are shown where available. Annex 2 provides a complete list and assessment status of all the indicators.

The report concludes with an outline of preparations for developing a new biodiversity framework post-2020.

Further detail on some of the work reported here is provided in the SNH progress report on implementation of specific projects, in Scotland's Biodiversity: A Route Map to 2020[4], published in 2019.

1.1 International framework and obligations

The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy sits within a broad framework encompassing global, EU, UK and Scottish conventions, legislation and policy – see Box 1.

Box 1. The policy framework for biodiversity

The UN Sustainable Development Goals

Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to sign up the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[5] that seek common action to tackle poverty and inequality and promote sustainable development across the globe. Progress with the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy will contribute to many of the 17 SDGs, with two directly related to biodiversity conservation itself.

Goal 14 Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Goal 15 Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

The Convention on Biological Diversity

At the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992 the first global strategy for biodiversity was ratified. At the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties in October 2010, a revised and updated Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, including the Aichi Biodiversity Targets[6], covering 2011-2020 was adopted.

The European Union Biodiversity Strategy

The European Union Biodiversity Strategy[7] published in May 2011 builds on achievements to 2010 but also recognises that more needs to be done. It introduced a new approach to maintaining biodiversity by aiming to reduce high rates of species extinctions by 2020, to restore natural ecosystems in the EU as far as possible, and to contribute more to averting a global problem.

The UK Biodiversity Framework

Since the publication in 2007 of Conserving Biodiversity – the UK approach[8], the context in which the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is implemented in the UK has changed. The UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework[9] identifies the activities needed to galvanise and complement country strategies, in pursuit of the Aichi Targets and coordinated reporting at a UK level.

The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy

Scotland's Biodiversity: it's in your hands[10], 2004 was supplemented in 2013 by the 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity[11] as a response to the new international Aichi Targets. Scotland's Biodiversity: a Route Map to 2020[12] published in 2015, identified large-scale collaborative action required to help deliver the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy outcomes.

1.2 International biodiversity reporting

Scotland was the first sub-national government and the first country in the world to complete and submit a full report on all 20 Aichi targets to the CBD in 2016. Scotland has also contributed to the metrics which underpin this reporting through the development of a new method for compiling and reporting genetic diversity as required under Aichi Target 13. This method has been approved by IUCN and recommended to the CBD as an approved method suitable for use across the world. Details are described in Box 2.

Scotland also reports progress against the European Union and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) targets as part of the UK's official processes. In addition Scotland has developed a series of reports detailing progress against the International biodiversity targets set under the CBD known as the 'Aichi Targets'. These targets were approved by the Convention's Conference of the Parties (COP) in 2010 in the province of Aichi in Japan. This report is one of a number of reporting requirements on biodiversity, as set out in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The relationships between global, European, UK and Scotland reporting on biodiversity.
Figure 1. The relationships between global, European, UK and Scotland reporting on biodiversity.

Box 2. Working internationally

Conservation of genetic diversity

In Scotland and in the UK baseline mechanisms are well-established for assessing and reporting on genetic diversity in species of agricultural importance (e.g. rare livestock breeds, crop wild relatives), and a methodology has been established for ornamental plants. A new Strategy for UK Forest Genetic Resources[13] was launched in 2019, creating a framework for better understanding, protection and use of the genetic diversity in the UK's trees, and this will enable trees to be included in genetic conservation reporting. Scotland also announced the UK's first Gene Conservation Unit at Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve in 2019.

However, with no clear strategy to deal with the genetic diversity of 'other species of socio-economic importance' in Scotland, the UK or indeed elsewhere, a new national approach, that is applicable world-wide has been developed in Scotland, through funding from the SEFARI Gateway[14] (Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes).

A set of criteria for defining terrestrial and freshwater species of socio-economic importance in Scotland has been developed and an initial list of 26 species were selected.[15]

The selection criteria are:

  • National conservation priority wild species.
  • Species of national cultural importance.
  • Species providing key ecosystem services.
  • Species of importance for wild harvesting (food and medicine).
  • Economically important game species.

The development of a scorecard approach allows for the collation of structured expert opinion covering: demographic decline; hybridisation; restrictions on regeneration and turnover of genetic material, and seed bank viability and collection status.

The development of a "genetic scorecard" for other species of socio-economic, commercial and cultural importance particularly marine species, ensures that this methodology will be relevant to the post-2020 CBD targets that focus on genetic diversity.

Scotland also contributes to, and reports on progress against other agreements, initiatives and conventions to safeguard nature conservation across the United Kingdom, Europe and world-wide; such as The Ramsar Convention of Wetlands of International Importance, The Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats and Natura reporting under the Habitats directive and the Birds Directive.

Through conservation measures to safeguard internationally important populations of species of sea birds and habitats such as blanket bog, Scotland also contributes through internationally renowned conservation research.

1.3 Biodiversity and climate change

In 2019 a number of significant reports were published detailing changes in global biodiversity and the need for substantial changes to policy and targets in order to help reduce biodiversity loss and meet the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES Report 2019) found that climate change is a direct driver of biodiversity loss and it is increasingly exacerbating the impacts from the other drivers through:

  • Increased average temperatures;
  • Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events;
  • Changes in the chemistry of the ocean, such as deoxygenation and acidification; and
  • Rises in sea level by 21mm (max.) since 1900; increasing by 3mm per decade since 1970.

The IPCC Climate Change and Land report[16] highlights the significant changes that will be needed in relation to how we grow food and use the land to address climate change. The IPCC Special Report on the Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate[17] highlights the significant impacts that climate change is having on our oceans and cryosphere. These reports highlight the importance of combining action to avert climate change and losses of nature.

Nature Based Solutions play a vital role in helping us achieve our net-zero target by 2045 and will be central in delivering a Green Recovery, post COVID-19. Major programmes of work on peatland restoration, woodland regeneration and coastal resilience are excellent examples of these solutions.

1.4 Scotland's approach to conserving biodiversity

Scotland is very much defined by its nature and landscapes. Our range of habitats on land and sea, which support some 90,000 species[18], are a significant part of what makes Scotland special. They inspire much of our art and literature. They support our health, well-being and economic development. They provide for us the ecosystem services that sustain life and underpin Scotland's economy. The quality of our environment and the products that come from it give Scotland a trading advantage as a small European nation. Activities which depend directly on the natural environment are estimated to realise £17.1 billion a year, or 11% of total Scottish output and support 242,000 jobs, or 14% of all full time jobs in Scotland[19].

The effective conservation and enhancement of biodiversity therefore plays an essential role in meeting the Scottish Government's vision of a smart, sustainable and successful Scotland. It is an integral aspect of Scotland's Economic Strategy[20], the Land Use Strategy 2016-2021[21], the National Planning Framework 3[22] and Scotland's National Marine Plan[23]. Through many international conventions and agreements Scotland also works with other countries to protect and enhance biodiversity.

1.5 Biodiversity Duty Reporting

The Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 placed a duty on "every public body and office holder, in exercising any functions, to further the conservation of biodiversity so far as it is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions". The duty was complemented by a further duty introduced through the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 to report once every three years on compliance with the biodiversity duty.

SNH provides a wide range of Guidance on the Biodiversity Duty[24] to help Scotland's 139 public bodies comply and report. Research commissioned by Scottish Government on the first round of Biodiversity Duty reports, which covered the period 2012 – 2014 found that 61 (44%) of all public bodies produced a report, including 30 out of the 32 local authorities, and that the activities identified in the reports contributed to 12 of the 20 Aichi Targets.

The second round of reporting on the Biodiversity Duty covered the period 2015-2017 with rates of reporting similar to round one for local authorities (30 of 32) and with a small increase in the number of reports submitted by other public bodies from 31 to 36. The next round of reports, covering the period 2018 – 2020 are due on 1st January 2021.

1.6 Scotland's changing biodiversity

Scotland's biodiversity continues to change. In October 2019 the State of Nature Report for Scotland was published by a partnership including many NGOs and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). A number of species are doing well and others are extending their range across and into Scotland as a result of climate change, habitat management and restoration, and a range of positive conservation measures for species. However, long-term data (1970-2016) show that the abundance and distribution of Scotland's species has on average declined over recent decades and most measures indicate this decline has continued in the most recent decade. Overall there has been no reduction in the net loss of nature in Scotland.

  • 24% decline in average species' abundance. The indicator of average species' abundance of 352 terrestrial and freshwater species has fallen by 24% since 1994. There has been very little change in the rate of decline in the last 10 years.
  • 14% decline in average species' distribution. The indicator of average species' distribution, covering 2,970 terrestrial and freshwater species over a broad range of taxonomic groups, has fallen by 14% since 1970, and is 2% lower than in 2005.
  • 32% decline in the Scottish breeding seabird indicator between 1986 and 2017, with stabilisation observed in recent years. On-going analysis draws on more recently collected data. Studies show that many seabird populations were at their peak during the 1980s. A better understanding is required of how current populations relate to levels prior to this peak, and the factors that have driven and continue to drive changes.
  • The abundance indicators for key commercial fish species, both pelagic and demersal, show some signs of recovery from deep historic lows in the Celtic and North Seas.

There are some successes where there has been focused action, for example Greenland barnacle geese[25] are doing well and corn bunting populations in north east Scotland have stabilised after a number of years of decline. Reintroduced populations of species such as red kites and sea eagles are now established and beginning to extend their ranges. Some species of plants associated with woodlands, grassland and heath, such as green shield-moss and lesser butterfly-orchid, have benefited through a better understanding of their distribution and requirements and in some cases improved protection by identifying new sites.

It is clear that many of the impacts of pressures on biodiversity have not abated, with a full listing of those affecting Scotland included in the Scotland's Biodiversity: a Route Map to 2020[26]. The Global Assessment on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services[27] published in May 2019 by the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) identifies and ranks the following direct drivers of biodiversity loss at a global level, whilst recognising the inter-relationships between the different drivers:

  • Land use and management – agricultural expansion and intensification and increased infrastructure and built development can lead to a reduction of diversity, quality and connectivity of landscapes and habitats.
  • Direct exploitation - marine fisheries are the primary and most wide-spread exploitation of the biological resources of the sea. Fisheries have the capacity to cause profound changes in marine ecosystems through their effects on target and non-target species populations and through modification of seabed habitats.
  • Marine management - the use of our seas is increasingly diverse and complex, ranging from long-standing activities such as shipping/transport and coastal infrastructure, to aquaculture and, most recently, the development of renewable energy at sea.
  • Climate change is causing a shift in weather patterns which is affecting nature across Scotland. The seas are warming and sea levels are rising, with acidification becoming evident. It is predicted that increased rainfall and more intense and potentially more frequent extreme weather events will alter conditions, especially in the west. This may change the space in which nature lives more rapidly than nature can adapt. In addition the effects of climate change are increasingly exacerbating the impacts of all the other direct drivers on people and on nature.
  • Pollution from industry, agriculture and road traffic still impact on waterways, uplands, air quality and sensitive habitats across Scotland although air and water pollution have reduced markedly in the last 25 years. There is growing concern over the potential environmental impacts of plastic pollution, especially microplastics in the aquatic and marine environment, although no evidence yet exists of widespread ecological risk.
  • Invasive non-native species which out-compete native species and can bring new pathogens and diseases resulting in depleted native biodiversity. Invasive non-native species can have significant effects on the ecology of native terrestrial, marine and coastal habitats and species.

The story of biodiversity change in Scotland is complex, with success requiring a long-term approach to managing environmental change that maximises the benefits to people while protecting wildlife and restoring habitats.

1.7 Aims and outcomes of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy

Against this background, the 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity sets out three aims to be achieved through seven outcomes. A suite of biodiversity and people engagement indicators are used to describe progress across the Strategy outcomes.

The three aims provide a broad framework which supports the Scottish Government's purpose of creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth:

  • Protect and restore biodiversity on land and sea, and through action to support healthier ecosystems and restore species and habitats.
  • Connect more people with the natural world, for their health and well-being and to involve more of them in decisions about their environment.
  • Maximise the benefits of a diverse natural environment and the range of social and economic goods and services it provides.

To achieve these aims, the Strategy identifies seven outcomes:

Outcome 1: Scotland's ecosystems are restored to good ecological health so that they provide robust ecosystem services and build our natural capital.

Outcome 2: Natural resources contribute to stronger sustainable economic growth in Scotland, and we increase our natural capital to pass on to the next generation.

Outcome 3: Improved health and quality of life for the people of Scotland, through investment in the care of green space, nature and landscapes.

Outcome 4: The special value and international importance of Scotland's nature and geodiversity is assured, wildlife is faring well, and we have a highly effective network of protected places.

Outcome 5: Nature is faring well, and ecosystems are resilient as a result of sustainable land and water management.

Outcome 6: Scotland's marine and coastal environments are clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse meeting the long-term needs of people and nature.

Outcome 7: A framework of indicators that we can use to track progress.

1.8 A Route Map to 2020 - delivery through partnership and collaboration

There is a wide range of activity required to implement the Strategy. A cornerstone of Scotland's approach to biodiversity is partnership working and collaboration between individuals and organisations, and across the public and private sectors.

To provide greater focus and to coordinate large-scale collaborative working Scotland's Biodiversity: a Route Map to 2020[28] was published in 2015. It contains an ambitious programme of activity structured around 12 Priority Projects and Targets, supported by 71 Actions and 8 elements of supporting work. Collectively the work involves a large number of organisations as well as many individual land managers, NGOs and other natural resource stakeholders. Regular progress reports[29] have been published since September 2016 to help ensure that delivery remains on track.

SNH is leading the co-ordination and delivery of the Route Map to 2020 and chairs a co-ordination group and supporting working groups to assist it in this task. A number of delivery agreements with key organisations have also been developed. New governance has been put in place to reflect the importance of the work to deliver and improve biodiversity in Scotland and the links with climate change. A Scottish Biodiversity Programme Board was established in 2019, co-chaired at senior level by Scottish Government and Scottish Natural Heritage, supported by an Advisory Group and a Stakeholders Group.

Local Biodiversity Action Partnerships (LBAPs) were established across Scotland in response to the first UK Biodiversity Action Plan in 1994 and they continue to play a critical role in bringing together local stakeholders including local authorities, environmental NGOs, communities and volunteers. These partnerships operate at a local level to raise awareness, and to organise projects and actions to conserve and enhance biodiversity around national and local priorities. The breadth of their work across Scotland is illustrated in a publication that accompanied a Scottish Parliament event celebrating 20 years of LBAP[30] activity in 2016. However, with increasing pressure on local authority budgets there is a diminishing level of support for the LBAP officers who play a critical role in maintaining effective local biodiversity partnerships.

Many young people care passionately about the environment: in order to harness this enthusiasm and creativity SNH has worked with Young Scot (Scotland's youth information and citizenship charity) and ReRoute – Scotland's Biodiversity Youth Panel which conducted a detailed assessment of the Route Map to 2020 and produced a report[31] identifying young people's aspirations for biodiversity in Scotland, how they can be engaged and what actions are required. A second phase of work with a new Reroute Panel has taken forward this work, including the development of a route map for young people on "20 things you can do to help nature"[32].

The following sections of this report describes progress on each of the SBS outcomes and a sub-set of relevant indicators is used to assist in reporting. Annex 1 shows how each of the outcomes is linked to the international Aichi Targets.



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