Biodiversity: draft planning guidance

Sets out expectations for implementing and delivering National Planning Framework (NPF) 4 policies which support the cross-cutting NPF4 outcome 'improving biodiversity'.

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1.1. This guidance sets out the Scottish Ministers’ expectations for implementing NPF4 policies which support the cross-cutting NPF4 outcome ‘improving biodiversity’. This guidance has been prepared with advice provided by CIEEM, the RTPI, Heads of Planning Scotland, the Improvement Service and NatureScot.

Tackling the Twin global climate and nature crises

1.2. The Environment Strategy for Scotland sets out the Scottish Government’s vision for tackling the twin global climate and nature crises. Recent global assessments by expert bodies on biodiversity and climate change have highlighted the scale and urgency of these challenges. The actions we take to address each are fundamental to our wellbeing and survival.

1.3. Biodiversity in Scotland is in crisis due not only to the effects of climate change, but also changes in land use, over-exploitation, invasive non-native species and habitat fragmentation. The State of Nature Report (2023) highlights ‘inappropriate development’ as an exacerbating factor contributing to declining biodiversity in Scotland. We urgently need to accelerate and up-scale efforts to increase nature recovery in Scotland, and the planning system has a critical contribution to make towards achieving this.

1.4. Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy sets targets for halting biodiversity loss by 2030 and restoring and regenerating biodiversity by 2045. The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy is accompanied and supported by a Delivery Plan which sets out ambitious actions to help deliver important projects such as the delivery and growth of nature networks and the commitment to protect at least 30% of our land and sea for nature by 2030 (30x30). The forthcoming Natural Environment Bill will put in place key legislative changes to restore and protect nature. Securing positive effects for biodiversity, creating and strengthening nature networks and investing in nature-based solutions are some of the key steps needed to respond to the global nature crisis.

1.5. In order to achieve a healthy, thriving natural environment we need to take immediate bold action. Planning has a key role in helping to deliver the Scottish Government’s wider policy and delivery programmes. This may mean working differently to how we have before and will require concerted action from all parties.

National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4)

1.6. Our Fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4), published and adopted on 13 February 2023, is a long term plan looking to 2045. NPF4 guides spatial development, sets out national planning policies and designates national developments. It is part of the development plan so influences planning decisions across Scotland. As a statement of national policy, NPF4 will also directly inform decisions under other consenting regimes.

1.7. Securing positive effects for biodiversity is one of six statutory outcomes for our National Planning Framework introduced by the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019. Improving biodiversity is a cross-cutting theme which runs throughout NPF4.

1.8. NPF4 rebalances the planning system so that climate change and nature recovery are the primary guiding principles for all plans and decisions. NPF4 strategy and policies support development that helps to secure positive effects for biodiversity. NPF4 policy 1 prioritises the climate and nature crises in all decisions. It sets out to encourage, promote and facilitate development that addresses the global climate emergency and nature crisis;

Policy 1: “when considering all development proposals, significant weight will be given to the global climate and nature crises”.

1.9. NPF4 Policy 3 in particular plays a critical role in ensuring that development will secure positive effects for biodiversity. Relevant NPF4 policies, including policy 3 specifically, are discussed further in section 4 below.

Key Terms


1.10. The terms ‘enhance’ and ‘enhancement’ are widely used in NPF4. In order for biodiversity to be ‘enhanced’ it will need to be demonstrated that it will be in an overall better state than before intervention, and that this will be sustained in the future. Development proposals should clearly set out the type and scale of enhancement they will deliver. Specifically for local development, NatureScot’s Developing With Nature guidance provides advice on information that applicants could include within a planning application in order to provide confidence that enhancement will be achieved.

Nature-based solutions

1.11. The NPF4 glossary defines nature-based solutions as ‘actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human wellbeing and biodiversity benefits.’ For example, incorporating good quality green infrastructure such as green spaces, green roofs, living walls and rain gardens into development proposals can provide multiple benefits for adaptation to climate change, biodiversity and people. NatureScot have published detailed information on nature-based solutions which both planning authorities and developers may find helpful.

Nature Networks

1.12. The planning system has a key role to play in facilitating the creation of nature networks, helping to build and strengthen networks and the connections between them.

1.13. The NPF4 glossary defines Nature Networks as; “A joined-up system of places important for wild plants and animals, on land and in water. It allows plants, animals, seeds, nutrients and water to move from place to place and enables the natural world to adapt to change, providing plants and animals with places to live, feed and breed. Effectively functioning nature networks will connect existing nature rich areas through habitat corridors, habitat ‘stepping stones’, or habitat restoration areas. Scotland’s Nature Networks will enable opportunities for achieving ecological connectivity that meet local priorities for biodiversity and nature; whilst building and strengthening an evolving regional and national connectivity. Opportunities for implementation may be identified through, e.g. LDPs and/or Local Biodiversity Action Plans and/or other existing or new mechanisms such as those developed under the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Delivery Plan, to achieve connectivity within and across urban, peri-urban and rural landscapes.”

1.14. Nature networks link areas which are currently important for biodiversity in urban, peri-urban and rural settings to allow nature the space to adapt to Scotland’s changing climate. Different local areas will have differing ecological needs and priorities according to the landscapes they need to manage. NPF4 National Development 7: Central Scotland Green Network is one of Europe’s largest and most ambitious green infrastructure projects. It focuses on those areas where greening and development can be mutually supportive, helping to improve equity of access to quality green and blue space, and supporting communities where improving wellbeing and resilience is most needed, including to help people adapt to future climate risks.

1.15. Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy highlights the need to improve ecological connectivity across Scotland. Nature Networks are spaces for nature that are resilient to our changing climate. They are delivered through local partnerships that contribute to local priorities for nature, support biodiversity-rich areas including our National Parks and protected areas, and bring positive benefits for both nature and our communities. A co-designed Nature Network framework has been developed with stakeholders, to help inform implementation. The Scottish Government is also exploring how best to support Local Authorities and their partners in delivering Nature Networks by developing an online toolbox such as opportunity mapping tools to help local authorities identify nature restoration action areas. Further guidance is also being developed by NatureScot.

1.16. A fuller glossary is included at the end of this document.



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