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.

5. Outcome 3: Biodiversity, health and quality of life

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

Key steps

  • Provide opportunities for everyone to experience and enjoy nature regularly, with a particular focus on disadvantaged groups
  • Support local authorities and communities to improve local environments and enhance biodiversity using greenspace and green networks, allowing nature to flourish and enhancing the quality of life for people who live there
  • Build on good practice being developed by the NHS and others to encourage greenspace, green exercise and social prescribing initiatives that will improve health and well-being through connecting people with nature
  • Increase access to nature within and close to schools and support teachers in developing the role of outdoor learning across the Curriculum for Excellence
  • Encourage public organisations and businesses to review their responsibilities and actions for biodiversity

Green and blue infrastructure contribute to a range of social, economic and environmental objectives and are increasingly seen as an essential part of place-making. Outdoor activity entailing physical activity and contact with nature has been shown to have a positive impact on our physical and mental health and well-being. Local greenspaces are important resources for regular outdoor learning, while the care and management of nature can help to build the skills and capacity of individuals and communities.

5.1 Greenspace and green networks

The Central Scotland Green Network Trust (CSGNT) continues to develop momentum and is currently developing a new Delivery Plan which will provide a much stronger direction for the initiative to ensure it meets the Central Scotland Green Network (CSGN) Vision for 2050. The Plan builds on the costing work and work strands covering seven areas of activity: recreational greenspace, functional green infrastructure, vacant and derelict land, community growing, habitats, active travel and a pan-CSGN strand covering policy, communications and engagement.Working with partners, SNH led on the Habitat Network workstream of the current CSGNT Delivery Plan and has produced a draft Opportunity Map showing priority areas for action to reconnect fragmented habitat networks across the CSGN area. The Opportunity Map is to be launched later in 2020.

Since 2011, an annual CSGN development fund[74] supported by Scottish Government, Scottish Forestry, Transport Scotland and SNH has provided funding to a large number of projects across all relevant local authorities for woodland creation, habitat enhancement, greenspace improvement, active travel provision and community development projects, although the scale of this work is now reducing.

5.2 Green Infrastructure

SNH is the lead partner for the Green Infrastructure Strategic Intervention (GISI)[75], part of the Scottish ERDF 2014-2020 programme. The GISI funds green infrastructure in deprived areas of urban Scotland which improves habitats and biodiversity, transforms derelict land, addresses flood risk and creates new community spaces. A total of £15 million of ERDF has been committed through two challenge funds - the Green Infrastructure Fund[76] and the Green Infrastructure Community Engagement Fund[77]. The total investment (ERDF and match funding) will amount to around £40 million. Fourteen capital projects will be delivered creating multifunctional greenspace in some of our most deprived areas, alongside eleven smaller community engagement projects which focus on working with local communities to help them make the most of their local greenspaces.

The GISI's first phase of projects will be completed in 2020. These include sites in Glasgow and Aberdeen. Seven new projects, in Glasgow, Bishopbriggs and Dunfermline, will start in 2020 and will finish by June 2022.

Studies in Scotland have shown that green infrastructure can provide habitats for a range of wildlife including invertebrates and amphibians, as well as giving people the chance to experience nature.[78],[79]

5.3 Paths and recreation

There are increasing opportunities for people to experience and enjoy nature in Scotland with an expanding National Walking and Cycling Network (NWCN)[80]. This work builds on existing path and trail networks such as Scotland's Great Trails[81], the National Cycle Network[82] and canal towpaths[83], and is a partnership between SNH, Sustrans and Scottish Canals. Between April 2018 and March 2019 £3.5 million of investment was provided to improve 132 km of paths[84].

The on-going investment in the NWCN is closing key gaps, upgrading connecting routes, linking to public transport and promoting shared use of paths. Active travel and recreation will be easier and more accessible as a result, which is good for our health and well-being and helps to connect people with nature. Better routes also attract more visitors and tourism, which is good for local businesses and the wider economy.

Scottish Natural Heritage has also been working with the Scottish Government Rural Payments and Inspections Division (RPID) to support land managers to create and improve more than 100 miles of paths across Scotland. This £8.5 million of investment[85] covers 138 projects providing opportunities for walkers, wheelchair users, cyclists, horse riders and buggy users. The new and improved paths will connect towns and villages and provide a great variety of ways to explore the outdoors in coastal areas, along riverbanks, to viewpoints and around farmland.

5.4 Developing Scotland's Natural Health Service

Working with a range of partners from both the health and environment sector, SNH has led on the development of an ambitious our natural health service programme[86] to complement and help support the existing National Health Service. The programme seeks a step change in the use of the outdoors within the health sector, and includes interventions around green infrastructure, local green health partnerships and NHS greenspace, that could achieve a population-level change in activity in the outdoors across Scotland.

Four Green Health Partnerships[87] in North Ayrshire, Dundee, Highland, and Lanarkshire have now been established to test this approach in practice. Each is led locally by health boards and local authorities. They are focusing on public health priorities around place, mental health and physical activity and involve cross sector working and a whole system approach to tackling health inequalities. Early work has focused in mapping/facilitation and support for local green health interventions / opportunities as part of existing physical activity, mental health, social prescribing and lifestyle pathways and programmes. A range of communication projects inspiring the public to get their daily dose of nature have also been produced.

TheNHS greenspace demonstration project[88] continues to work with area health boards to develop the potential of the NHS outdoor estate to deliver better outcomes for health, nature and climate. The first phase of work resulted in greenspace improvements across a range of new and existing hospital and health centre sites in mainland Scotland. Overall, nearly 90 hectares of greenspace have been created or improved in this first phase including 46 hectares of woodland brought back into sustainable management; 11,000 trees planted; 4 therapeutic gardens created; 1.4 hectares of wildflower meadow created and 20km of new or upgraded paths and active travel routes. A further phase of work is looking to activate the use of the NHS estate through the development and promotion of activity programmes including health walks, community garden projects and environmental conservation work. Embedded staff from TCV and Cyrenians are supporting this work at Ayr and Ailsa, Gartnavel, New Craigs, and Royal Edinburgh.

5.5 Outdoor learning

Curriculum for Excellence and the Learning for Sustainability agenda have embedded environmental awareness and understanding alongside outdoor learning within mainstream education so that all Scottish pupils can now expect to enjoy learning outdoors and experiencing more of Scotland's nature and landscapes. Consequently, teachers are developing new skills and confidence to take learning outdoors across all areas of the curriculum.

Many public and third sector organisations provide funding, advice, practical support and training for outdoor learning; an Outdoor Learning Directory[89] has been developed by a partnership of public bodies to help facilitate access to these resources. Facilitated by Inspiring Scotland, an Outdoor Play and Learning[90] coalition has been created with over 100 partners, including member of the public, and representatives from the third sector and academic bodies.

The Route map target for outdoor learning has been delivered through the Learning in local greenspace[91] partnership project. This SNH-led project is providing practical support to schools serving 20% of Scotland's most disadvantaged communities by helping them to access and use local greenspaces within walking distance, and to embed their use throughout the school and across the curriculum. 115 schools in 12 local authority areas have signed up to the project and are working with SNH and various partner organisations with support from the SNH-managed Outdoor Learning in Nature Challenge Fund.

A number of helpful resources have been made available online[92] to support learning in local greenspaces, for example Beyond your boundary: easy steps to learning in local greenspace, and the GTCS accredited award-winning Teaching in Nature[93] programme continues to provide a structured approach to professional development in Outdoor Learning for teachers and other educators.

5.6 Volunteering

The range of volunteering opportunities has generally been maintained, with SNH and Scottish Government funding used to support key volunteering in bodies such as The Conservation Volunteers, Volunteering Matters and the John Muir Trust. Voluntary organisations such as RSPB and NTS continue to run their own volunteer programme while SBS Route Map projects on invasive species and species conservation draw heavily on volunteer effort. These experiences are available across Scotland, offering a chance for people to get close to nature, contribute to its care and learn new skills. There are also many social benefits to be gained through friendship, shared achievement and individual challenge; all help to build resilient communities and restore nature. Volunteer Scotland[94] provides a portal for people to explore many volunteering opportunities, including nature conservation.

5.7 Assessing progress towards this outcome

The relevant indicators developed for reporting on the 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity are presented in Table 2. All these indicators have been updated during this reporting period with the exception of E2 - Greenspace, for which the original indicator has been archived and a new indicator is under development with Ordnance Survey.

Table 2. Indicators relevant to monitoring progress on Outcome 3 – Biodiversity, Health and Quality of Life





Trend since 2010


Attitudes to biodiversity[95]





OS - spatial greenspace[97]






Visits to the outdoors[98]




Involvement in biodiversity conservation[99]




Membership of biodiversity NGOs[100]

Membership of environmental organisations[101]





5.8 Attitudes to biodiversity

In 2019, 71% of adults living in Scotland expressed some interest or concern about biodiversity or feel it has some personal relevance to them41. These proportions have shown some variation over time, but some of the lowest levels of engagement have been recorded in the most recent research, particularly since 2012. Perhaps critically, only 19% of the population now feel biodiversity is very relevant to their lives.

5.9 Greenspace

The original greenspace indicator developed in 2007 was archived following publication of Scotland's Greenspace Map. Subsequently with the development of the Ordnance Survey Greenspace dataset in 2017, a new spatial indicator is under development using this new dataset. The indicator is intended to measure the number of people living within 500m of publicly accessible greenspace in every urban data zone in Scotland. In 2018, data from the Scottish Household Survey indicated that 65% of adults considered that they have accessible greenspace within a 5 minute walk of their home, this remains unchanged since 2016.

5.10 Visits to the outdoors

In previous reports to Parliament, data have been used that measure the percentage of adults visiting the outdoors at least once in the previous 12 months. The data now used instead identify those adults in Scotland who visit the outdoors at least once per week. Table 3 below shows recent changes in adults visiting the outdoors, with a significant increase since 2013 in weekly participation in outdoor recreation.

Table 3. Adults visiting the outdoors – 2013, 2015 and 2018

Measure Adults visiting the outdoors





Once per week




Not at all




In 2013/14 'lack of time' and 'poor health' were the main reasons given by respondents who rarely or never participated in outdoor recreation. Those more likely to mention 'lack of time' included younger people (aged under 55), people working full-time and those with children in their household. Those more likely to mention 'poor health' included older people (aged 55 and over), people in the DE social grade and those who were retired or not working.

The last ten years or so have seen an increase in the proportion of shorter duration visits and visits taken close to home, suggesting that more people are finding opportunities to enjoy the nature on their doorstep. While this is a significant and positive trend, the data also suggest that more effort is still needed to increase use of the outdoors by people from disadvantaged communities. There are opportunities to encourage a wider diversity of communities in Scotland to engage with nature, which we keep constantly under review.

5.11 Involvement in biodiversity conservation

The Scottish Household Survey includes a question on volunteering, the results show that the proportion of adults in Scotland doing any sort of volunteering has remained stable over the last few years (27% in 2014 and 26% in 2018), as has the proportion of adults involved in environmental volunteering. In 2014 and 2018, 6% of all volunteers said they had done some environmental volunteering in the previous year[102].

5.12 Membership of biodiversity NGOs

In 2013 an additional question was added to the Scottish Nature Omnibus survey (managed by SNH), which asks respondents if they were a member of any organisation that helps to look after wildlife or the natural environment. As shown in the reports published by SNH[103], 11% of adults were members of an environmental organisation in 2019, which remains similar to the figure for 2013 (10%).



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