Biodiversity duty report 2018 to 2020

Report detailing how the Scottish Government furthered the conservation of biodiversity when exercising its functions, during the period 2018 to 2020 inclusive.

2. Natural Resources Division

Natural Resources Division (NRD) is part of the Scottish Government's Directorate for Environment and Forestry (ENFOR) and has a national policy focus across a broad range of subjects. During the reporting period 2018-2020, the division was made up of two units:

Biodiversity and Land Quality, with responsibility for policy on areas including:

  • The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and Biodiversity Programme
  • International biodiversity policy and engagement
  • Terrestrial protected nature sites
  • Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS)
  • Promoting access to the countryside, landscape and geodiversity
  • Peatlands and soils
  • Agri-environment delivery for biodiversity
  • Public body biodiversity duty and reporting
  • Contaminated land
  • Environmental liability
  • Noise and statutory nuisance

Wildlife and Flood Management, with responsibility for policy on areas including:

  • Wildlife management
  • Species reintroductions
  • Grouse moor management
  • Wildlife crime
  • Native wildlife species control and protection
  • Species licensing
  • Snaring and trapping regulations
  • Flood risk management, resilience and flood warnings
  • Reservoirs
  • Coastal erosion and coastal change
  • Blue green cities/surface water.

Much of NRD's role in managing, caring for and improving Scotland's natural heritage is carried out by Scotland's nature agency NatureScot (formerly known as Scottish Natural Heritage). NatureScot produce and publish their own biodiversity duty report and so their work will not be covered in detail here.

International obligations

The UK is a signatory of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and Scotland contributes to the UK report as well as reporting separately on how we meet the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets which were agreed at COP10 in 2010. Reporting has been undertaken on a regular basis by NatureScot, so is not covered here. The annual report for 2019, and the final report to end 2020, are under preparation by NatureScot in 2020 for agreement by Scottish Government ahead of publication in 2021. This precedes the negotiations for a post-2020 global biodiversity framework due to take place at COP15 in 2020 (delayed due to the global Covid19 pandemic) - which will set out the global strategy and targets for 2030 and beyond in a new global biodiversity framework (GBF).

2.1 Actions To Protect Biodiversity And Connect People With Nature

Biodiversity work in Scotland to date had largely been in the context of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy (SBS), which consists of our 2004 Strategy, 'Scotland's Biodiversity: It's in Your Hands' and our '2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity', published in 2013.

Biodiversity Programme and Strategy

To further support our ambitions for biodiversity, the Scottish Biodiversity Programme was established in May 2019. Led by the Scottish Government and governed by a Programme Board which is co-chaired with NatureScot, the Programme has a remit to improve cross-government and wider stakeholder engagement, accountability and governance for the SBS, providing oversight for biodiversity on behalf of Scottish Ministers. Activity is arranged across 7 projects:

  • Build on and learn from existing policy and delivery mechanisms under the 2020 Challenge for Scotland's Biodiversity, the Route Map to 2020 and a range of relevant delivery projects led by the public, private and third sector.
  • Increase Scotland's engagement and profile on biodiversity internationally, including to inform preparation for UN CBD's COP15 meeting, and to engage with the CBD global subnational constituency (non-state governments, city and local authorities) in order to increase recognition of their role in shaping and delivering the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF).
  • Develop a new policy framework and strategy for biodiversity in Scotland which reflects the new post-2020 GBF and its targets, fits with Scottish Ministers' wider policies on the environment, sustainable development, climate change and a green recovery; with a suitable monitoring framework to measure and report on progress.
  • Report on international targets and on progress in delivering the biodiversity strategy and route map, and identify and address gaps in the evidence base to inform the development of the future policy framework and strategy and any associated delivery plans.
  • Develop communications to help galvanise public interest in and appreciation of biodiversity and nature; and raise the profile of biodiversity with stakeholders to help ensure an inclusive and participatory approach to delivering the future strategic framework.
  • Mainstream biodiversity across government policy and relevant public sector partners in partnership, wherever possible, with policies and plans to address climate change.
  • Influence increased biodiversity outcomes under current funding arrangements, provide evidence to help maintain or secure increased funding and engage with others to develop new and innovative funding streams to support biodiversity related activities and projects.

Recognising the impact of Covid-related delays to international negotiations on a new GBF and the risk that uncertainty around future direction could pose, we published a high level Statement of Intent on biodiversity on 14 December 2020. The Statement of Intent signals our ambitions for biodiversity in Scotland, our international action, and announces that the post-2020 biodiversity strategy will be an entirely new strategy; confirms continuity, and enhancement where possible, of delivery under our existing biodiversity strategy until it is replaced; and signals some of our priorities, including announcing that:

  • we would endorse the Leaders' Pledge for Nature, launched at the UN General Assembly in September
  • we will extend the area protected for nature in Scotland to at least 30% of our land area by 2030 and commission advice on whether we could go even further, as we already have in the marine environment, with 37% of Scotland's seas within Marine Protected Areas
  • our work on National Planning Framework 4 will develop new proposals to secure positive effects for biodiversity through development
  • we will highlight the need to help create new, locally driven projects to improve ecological connectivity across Scotland – such as Cairngorms Connect.

Biodiversity Challenge Fund

In February 2019, the Scottish Government launched the Biodiversity Challenge Fund (BCF), a new competitive fund encouraging applications for innovative projects to improve biodiversity and address the impacts of climate change. The priorities for the fund aligned with the five direct drivers of biodiversity loss identified by IPBES:

  • Land and sea-use change
  • Direct exploitation of organisms
  • Climate change and its impacts
  • Pollution
  • Invasive non-native species (INNS).

21 projects were funded through the initial round in 2019. A second round was launched in December 2019 with an additional focus on nature-based solutions, with a further 16 projects funded in July 2020. A third round of funding was launched in December 2020.

A list of all funded projects is available on the NatureScot website.

International Work

In 2020 the Scottish Government hosted a series of online international consultations to address biodiversity loss through the 'Edinburgh Process', which mobilised a global network of biodiversity-focused partners in Sub-National Governments, Cities and Local Authorities. The process involved three strands of work:

  • producing the 'Edinburgh Declaration', a statement which sets out the commitments of the Scottish Government and international partners to work for nature over the coming decade;
  • reporting on the global consultation for the new post-2020 GBF and drafting a renewed Plan of Action for sub-national bodies to ensure implementation of actions that will deliver the framework; and
  • building a coalition of supportive State Parties to the UN CBD, calling for the CBD to directly include sub-national governments within the post-2020 framework.

The resulting Edinburgh Declaration highlights our deep concern about the loss of biodiversity and a changing climate, and our shared ambition to take urgent action across the 'whole of government' and the 'whole of society' to help biodiversity to recover, for the benefit of the planet and of people.

Protected Area Restoration

During 2018-2020, the Scottish Government continued to work in partnership with stakeholders including Scottish Mines Restoration Trust, East Ayrshire Council and RSPB Scotland, to oversee restoration of the Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands Special Protection Area in East Ayrshire. The protected features of this site had been left badly damaged following the collapse of Scottish Coal in 2013. The Scottish Government provided £2 Million per year towards the cost of restoration in 2018, 2019 and 2020, as part of a £10 Million commitment over five years. The restoration work was on schedule to be completed by the end of March 2021.

Species Management

The Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change, and Land Reform had announced on 24 November 2016 that the beaver populations in Knapdale in Argyll and in the Tay and Earn catchments can remain in Scotland and be allowed to expand their populations naturally. Beavers are appropriately managed where there is a conflict with other interests and land use, such as flooding of agriculture but as of May 2019 beavers in Scotland have been granted protection under the law as a European Protected Species.

In 2016, SNH (now NatureScot) undertook a review to assess the effectiveness of current deer management arrangements in protecting the public interest, with specific attention on the impact on the natural heritage. A report from the Scottish Parliament's Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee into the review highlighted the need for action across the deer sector to develop a more sustainable approach to deer management in Scotland. Following this review, the Scottish Government set up an independent expert group in October 2017 to look at deer management issues and a separate panel to look at lowland deer management. The report, published on 16 January 2020, makes 99 recommendations to improve the management of wild deer across Scotland and can be read at:

In 2019, the mountain hare's conservation status in the UK was downgraded from "favourable" to "unfavourable-inadequate" – the term "inadequate" referring to a lack of data. In recognition of this change in conservation status, the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Act 2020 strengthened the protections for mountain hares. The new protections, which come into force in early 2021, remove the open season for mountain hare, so that any control of their numbers must be done under licence, for permitted purposes, such as preventing serious agricultural damage, protecting timber and preventing the spread of disease.

The Scottish Government has [indirectly] supported activity by SNH (NatureScot) related to management of white-tailed sea eagles and red squirrels. Details of actions related to these activities can be found at Sea Eagle Management Scheme and Saving Scotland's Red Squirrels.

Grouse Moor Management

Following widespread concern about the disappearance of satellite-tagged golden eagles, the Scottish Government commissioned a report from SNH (NatureScot) on the circumstances of these disappearances. The report was published in May 2017 and showed that around one-third of tagged golden eagles had disappeared in suspicious circumstances many of which were on or near grouse moors. As part of a package of responses the Scottish Government established the Grouse Moor Management Group in November 2017 to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management practices.

The Grouse Moor Management Group's report (the 'Werritty Review') was published on 19 December 2019. It recommended licensing of grouse shooting businesses, but only if they fail to improve ecological conditions after 5 years. It also made recommendations on other aspects of grouse moor management including muirburn, medicated grit and mountain hares. Mairi Gougeon, the then Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, responded to the recommendations in a statement to Parliament on 26 November 2020. The full Scottish Government response to the recommendations can be found at This included commitments to bring forward legislation, following public consultation, in the next Parliament to introduce licensing regimes for driven grouse shooting and muirburn, and to ban muirburn on peatlands, except in rare cases as part of an approved habitat restoration programme.

As one of the five main drivers of biodiversity loss, the Scottish Government takes the control of invasive non-native species (INNS) seriously and we worked with a range of partners across the reporting period, to minimise their negative impacts. Our Programme for Government 2020-2021 announced that we would extend targeted investment to help combat the drivers of biodiversity loss highlighted by IPBES, with a further £3 million of funding provided for biodiversity, including through the Biodiversity Challenge Fund (BCF).

Round one of the Biodiversity Challenge Fund (BCF) funded projects aimed at controlling INNS across Scotland;

  • The 'Invasive non-native species (INNS) control in North West Scotland' project has tackled plant species at National Trust Scotland properties at Balmacara, Corrieshalloch, Torridon and Inverewe;
  • The Tweed Invasives Project was awarded £100,000 to control a range of plants, including giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed and American skunk cabbage, along 300 miles of the River Tweed and its Scottish tributaries during 2019 and 2020; and trialled the biological control of Himalayan balsam using different strains of a rust fungus from the plant's native range. Other projects funded under the BCF that tackled INNS include the St Andrews Green Corridors project, the Little France Park project in Edinburgh, and the Seven Lochs and Cumbernauld SpRiNT project in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire.

Round two of the BCF in 2020 provided funding to tackle invasive rhododendron, Japanese knotweed and American skunk cabbage around Inversnaid on the east shore of Loch Lomond.

In 2018, the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative, a 5-year partnership project led by NatureScot, began. This is tackling INNS alongside rivers and other watercourses across 29,500km2 ofnorthern Scotland. The project has focused on the removal and treatment of Himalayan balsam, giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed, American skunk cabbage and white butterbur in addition to the control of American mink.

The Scottish Government continued to work closely with England and the other Devolved Administrations in relation to putting in place measures to tackle INNS, through;

  • providing funding towards the costs of maintaining the Great Britain Non-native Species Secretariat website, and supporting the work of APHA - one of our key partners on the Scottish Government chaired Non-native species Action Group.
  • participating in INNS Pathways Action Plan working groups on angling, boating and zoos which initiated a range of actions aimed at controlling INNS such as 'Check, Clean, Dry' and 'Be Plant Wise' campaigns to help stop the spread of INNS. In March 2020 a year long poster campaign was launched at Inverness Airport to raise awareness of Gyrodactylus salaris, a parasitic worm of freshwater fish, among anglers arriving from abroad.

In preparation for the UK's exit from the EU, against Scotland's wishes, a significant amount of work had to be undertaken to create and amend INNS legislation to ensure that the retained Regulation (EU) 1143/2014 remained operable within Scotland. This work included the creation of the Invasive Non-native Species (EU Exit) (Amendment etc.) Regulations 2020 which amend the retained EU Regulation and which came into force on 31 December 2020.

2.2 Mainstreaming Biodiversity

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of taking biodiversity into account across all policy areas. In the reporting period we continued to engage with key priority policy areas, across Planning, Climate Change, Agriculture and Rural Environment, and the ENFOR Directorate, to identify areas of commonality and find opportunities for cross-working, with particular focus on addressing the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. When the Biodiversity Programme was established in 2019, one of the key projects identified was focused on mainstreaming biodiversity more effectively across the Scottish Government.

This resulted in the 'Edinburgh Declaration' commitment for mainstreaming biodiversity across public and private sectors.

2.3 Nature-Based Solutions, Climate Change And Biodiversity

How has your organisation integrated biodiversity into nature based solutions to the climate emergency and other socio-economic outcomes?

Nature-based solutions which address both climate change and biodiversity loss are increasingly important part of the Scottish Government's work.

Restoring peatlands is one of the most effective ways of locking in carbon and peatlands also provide a special and unique habitat for wildlife in Scotland. In February 2020 the Scottish Government announced an investment in peatland restoration of more than £250 million over the next 10 years.

Our Programme for Government 2020-2021 also announced an increased woodland creation target of 18,000 ha/yr by 2024-2025 together with £150 million of funding support through forest grants (£100m), increased state nursery production (£20m) and expansion of Scotland's national forests (£30m).

What steps has your organisation taken to incorporate biodiversity outcomes into partnership initiatives, wider strategies or initiatives of relevance to climate change?

In focusing our mainstreaming actions across this reporting period we have provided co-ordinated advice to ministers on issues addressing the climate and biodiversity crises.

We also provided input in to the updated Climate Change Plan 2020, and worked with colleagues to ensure the climate change linkage within the Edinburgh Declaration (2020).

Looking ahead, what do you think will be the main climate change related challenges for biodiversity over the next three years?

We ask a lot of our land, and the demands we make of it are growing. The climate and nature emergencies that are the most urgent challenge of our generation cannot be addressed without changes to the way we use, manage and live on our land.

We have set ambitious targets to reach net-zero by 2045, and the government's independent advisers on Climate Change, the UK Committee on Climate Change, have highlighted Scotland's land assets as one of the main reasons we are in a position to achieve net-zero five years earlier than the UK as a whole. In their report 'Net Zero: the UK's contribution to stopping global warming' they cite: "the excellent opportunities to remove CO₂ from the atmosphere through afforestation and carbon capture and storage in Scotland".

In realising these opportunities, we must identify opportunities for nature-based solutions as they can be pivotal in mitigating and adapting to climate change whilst restoring nature. We must also look at new approaches to financing this work to ensure we can maximise its potential such as optimising the impact of both public and private investment.

If we are to achieve a just transition to a sustainable future that addresses the climate and biodiversity crises, it is essential that we understand where the costs and benefits from the way we own and use our land lie. As set out in the Climate Change Plan update published December 2020, our landscape will look very different in the future, with significantly more afforestation and peatland restoration. We will need to produce our food in the most efficient and environmentally friendly way possible, and we will have to restore and enhance important habitats.

Peatland restoration and increased woodland creation both play an urgent role in this regard and we have committed to putting in place a long-term programmes across these areas. We are also committed to develop a new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, which will align to the new GBF, and will set out actions for the next decade to ensure nature protection, and restoration, as well as habitat connectivity at landscape scale. Implementation of actions will need to involve the whole of society in order to make the transformational changes needed to provide high quality areas for nature that are resilient, and can adapt to climate change.

2.4 Public Engagement And Workforce Development

Public Engagement

In 2019, NRD worked with SEFARI and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to co-fund and promote an exhibition called 'Food Forever', highlighting positive examples of sustainable crops and food production. The exhibition was displayed in Scottish Government buildings and in a number of external locations.

Workforce skills and training

Training for officials is provided largely through 'on the job' training and engagement with delivery agencies.

2.5 Research And Monitoring

Describe any research activities that your organisation has undertaken to help develop understanding and awareness of biodiversity

NRD works with NatureScot (SNH) and the Scottish Government Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services (RESAS) divisionto understand gaps in knowledge, summarise complex reports, and to translate complex information for policy-makers and ministers. One example is in the development of a single Biodiversity Indicator, for use in the Scottish Government's National Performance Framework – this was based on research commissioned by RESAS in 2018 and required liaison across marine and terrestrial biodiversity teams in SG and NatureScot in order to collate a large amount of complex data, into a simplified metric. This indicator was finally published after the period, in 2021.

What follow-up actions or monitoring have you undertaken to assess the impacts of the actions you have taken? How have you measured this? If you do not carry out any monitoring activities, please explain why.

Monitoring activities are undertaken by NatureScot on behalf of SG.

2.6 Biodiversity Highlights And Challenges

Describe your organisation's main achievements for biodiversity over the reporting period and what you are most proud of (this can include processes, plans, projects, partnerships, events and actions).

Key achievements, which are covered in more detail in the preceding sections, include:

  • Leading the Edinburgh Process & developing the Edinburgh Declaration – important internationally to ensure the involvement of all levels of government in implementing positive actions for biodiversity.
  • The launch of the Biodiversity Challenge Fund (BCF)
  • Establishing the Biodiversity Programme Board in 2018
  • Continued working with NatureScot and wider agencies, for example on the Pollinator strategy.

Looking ahead, what do you think will be the main challenges over the next three years?

EU Exit was not Scotland's choice, and the Scottish Government made a commitment that following the UK's exit on 1 January 2021 there would be no weakening of protection for our natural environment, including protected sites which were part of the pan-European Natura network. Legal protection for Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) remains enshrined in domestic law through the Habitats Regulations. However, EU Exit has led to uncertainties over some funding sources for biodiversity projects, including loss of access to the EU LIFE programme which provided match funding for large scale, multi-year biodiversity and wider environmental projects.

Significant work will be required to fully develop proposals for expanding the percentage of Scotland's land protected for nature to 30 per cent by 2030.

The EU Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 1143/2014) on the prevention and management of the introduction and spread of invasive alien species has also been retained in domestic legislation and modified so that it continues to function effectively in Scotland. The loss of access to the EU LIFE programme funding remains a concern, particularly in relation to maintaining biosecurity against invasive predators on Scotland's seabird islands.

The lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic in spring 2020 resulted in the cessation of fieldwork for the control of INNS, with work resuming under Phase 1 of the Covid-19 route map. However, in light of the 'stay at home' regulations, engaging the public in voluntary work to manage INNS was suspended by many projects.



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