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.

7. Outcome 5: Land and freshwater

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

Key steps

  • Promote an ecosystem approach to land management that fosters sustainable use of natural resources and puts biodiversity at the heart of land-use planning and decision-making
  • Ensure that measures taken forward under CAP encourage land managers to develop and retain the diversity of wildlife habitats and landscape features
  • Support "High Nature Value" farming and forestry
  • Put in place the management necessary to bring Scotland's protected areas into favourable condition and improve the ecological status of water bodies
  • Ensure that biodiversity and ecosystem objectives are fully integrated into flood risk management plans and restore wetland habitats and woodlands to provide sustainable flood management
  • Restore and extend natural habitats as a means of building reserves of carbon and to help mitigate climate change
  • Provide clear advice to land and water managers on best practice

The Land Use Strategy 2016 – 2021 (LUS)[122] was published in March 2016 and builds on the successful Regional Land Use Pilots led by local authorities in the Scottish Borders and Aberdeenshire. The adoption of an "ecosystem approach" is one of the cornerstones of the LUS. The Scottish Rural Development programme 2014 - 2020[123] was formally approved by the European Commission on 26 May 2015. The programme is now in its final year. There have been 5 Agricultural Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) application rounds (2015 – 2019). The scheme is not open for new application in 2020 but eligible expiring AECS contracts will be extended instead.

7.1 Agri-environment programme - AECS

A total of £198 million has been committed since 2015 to over 2,900 AECS contracts for a range of activities that help to maintain and enhance biodiversity, climate, water, organic and protected site national priorities. However, the 2019 application round was a smaller application round, which presents a risk of reduced uptake of agri-environment activity on farms and therefore potentially reduced progress towards Scotland's environmental targets.

Around 250 applications have been approved committing £3M covering peatland restoration under AECS. Capital works involve specific items under Lowland Bog Management, Moorland Management and Management of Buffer Areas for Fens and Lowland Bogs (this does not cover some additional capital spend and management). The number of applications with targeted restoration activity has remained steady through the 2015 – 2018 period. In addition, there are many more applications that support management of peatland both upland and lowland bogs through other AECS measures connected with these habitats. For example £2.5M has been committed to lowland bog and wetland management. In addition to funding through AECs, the Peatland Action Fund is a restoration fund managed by Scottish Natural Heritage focusing on capital works that support peatland restoration.

Provision of advisory services covering SRDP and targeted for land managers and farmers has been in place through an £18.2 million package for 'one to one' advice and a 'one to many' service. The one to one advisory service has trained circa 100 advisors (they have now received multiple elements of training) and 2,400 individual pieces of advice have been provided or are underway through Integrated Land Management Plans, Specialist advice, Carbon Audits and Mentoring, some of which will contain elements of biodiversity advice. The 'one to many' advisory service has delivered to over 24,117 beneficiaries so far through various events including workshops and seminars, focus and discussion groups, and site visits and demonstrations, some of which were aimed specifically at environmental outcomes.

7.2 Agri-environment programme – Ecological focus areas

Ecological Focus Areas are areas of land upon which carrying out particular agricultural practices can be beneficial for the climate and the environment; these have been successfully implemented and include increased protection for hedgerows and watercourses under cross compliance. Approval was also secured from the European Commission to implement a "nutrient efficiency reporting measure" on grasslands farms. Some monitoring of AECS and Greening measures has been carried out for SNH in 2019/2020, although analysis of the results has yet to be completed.

7.3 Research and demonstration of best practice

A programme of research and demonstration activities has being undertaken at the existing research farms of James Hutton Institute (JHI) and Scotland's Rural College (SRUC). Work is ongoing examining ecosystem services at the SRUC farms at Kirkton and Auchtertyre, and biodiversity monitoring activities are being undertaken at JHI farms co-ordinated by the Centre for Sustainable Cropping. A successful LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming) demonstration event was held at Balruddery Research Farm in June 2016 jointly organised by JHI and SRUC.

7.4 Freshwater and diffuse pollution

In the water environment[124], the regulatory framework is facilitating environmental improvements for a number of sectors, although certain toxic substances from diffuse sources need to be addressed. Diffuse pollution and the physical condition of water bodies remain as key management challenges and this is reflected in the second cycle of river basin management plans. Partnership working at a catchment-scale to address these pressures will be a key factor in meeting these targets and also realising the potential benefits for biodiversity.

SEPA's most recent (2018) condition assessment for rivers and lochs[125] shows that there is variation in the condition of freshwaters across Scotland. For Scotland as a whole, 65.7% of our surface and groundwater water bodies are at good or better status (as defined in the Water Framework Directive). This is a slight increase from 2017 (64.9%) while 57.1% of water bodies (rivers, canals and lochs) meet the required EU standard of being of 'Good' or 'High' status. In some regions, such as the Western and Northern Isles, Argyll and North Highland water bodies are in much better condition than the national average.

7.5 Assessing progress towards this outcome

A number of indicators relevant to this outcome have been previously described in sections 2 to 4, and these are not repeated here.

The Breeding Farmland Birds trend note[126], published in 2013 provides some further information on species that are found predominantly on farmed land. It revealed that, seed-eating birds showed stable or increasing long-term trends but four out of five wader species showed significant declines. Species such as the corn bunting have benefited from targeted management under SRDP. The decline in farmland waders, such as lapwing and curlew, is an ongoing concern. Several studies have looked at ways to improve breeding success for waders. So far, the practices required to improve wader breeding success (e.g. grazing management, habitat improvement) have not been tested at a sufficiently large scale to affect national trends. There is however significant ongoing activity supported under SRDP such as local wader initiatives and the RSPB led Working for Waders Project. These and other work will require more time and sustaining effort to see measurable effects.

Additional indicators that help to describe the farmed environment and the changes that have occurred are presented in Table 7, though only one has been updated during this reporting period.

Table 7. Indicators relevant to monitoring progress in Outcome 5 – Land and Freshwater






River water quality indicator[127]




Land & sea of natural heritage importance[128]




7.6 River quality

The proportion of river length classed as unpolluted rose from 83.3% in 2013 to 84% in 2015 and has been maintained at this level in 2018. It should be noted that the standards for measuring water quality were modified in 2013 and the impacts of this are described in the river water quality indicator[129].

7.7 Land and sea of natural heritage importance

By 2012, the total area of land under some form of positive management[130] was 5,180,600ha (66% of the total land used for agriculture). The increase in the area of land under agri-environmental management agreements was predominantly due to a larger area of Scotland being managed under the SRDP rather than the growth in the area of protected sites (including Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Natura sites and NNRs). In the marine environment 22% of Scotland's seas are within the MPA network, within which there is a responsibility for public authorities through their decision making to ensure they are not placed at significant risk. The National Marine Plan also gives policy protection to Priority Marine Features across Scotland's seas, to ensure there is not a significant impact to their national status. There are 27 MPAs that have specific fisheries measures in place and further measures are currently being developed for others and outside the MPA network.



Back to top