6. Assessment of the current version of the SBS & Delivery Plan
6.1 This chapter presents appraisal findings and recommendations in relation to the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy (SBS) to 2045 and its Delivery Plan (DP) for the period 2023 to 2028. The chapter is structured to present:
- An outline of the Strategy & Delivery Plan and component parts.
- An appraisal of the Strategy & Delivery Plan under the nine SEA topics identified through scoping.
- Consideration of cumulative effects; and
- The overall conclusions at this stage and recommendations for the next stage of plan-making.
6.2 The assessment identifies and evaluates 'likely significant effects' on the baseline, drawing on the sustainability objectives identified through scoping (see Table 3.3) as a methodological framework.
6.3 Every effort is made to predict effects accurately; however, this is inherently challenging given the strategic nature of the Strategy under consideration and understanding of the baseline (now and in the future under a 'no plan' scenario) that is inevitably limited. Given uncertainties there is a need to make assumptions, e.g., in relation to Strategy implementation and aspects of the baseline that might be impacted. Assumptions are made cautiously and explained within the text (with the aim of striking a balance between comprehensiveness and conciseness). In many instances, given reasonable assumptions, it is not possible to predict 'significant effects', but it is possible to comment on merits (or otherwise) of the Strategy in more general terms.
6.4 Finally, it is important to note that effects are predicted taking account of the criteria presented within Schedule 2 of the Environmental Assessment (Scotland) Act 2005. So, for example, account is taken of the probability, duration, frequency, and reversibility of effects as far as possible. Cumulative effects are also considered, i.e., the potential for the Strategy & Deliver Plan to impact an aspect of the baseline when implemented alongside other plans, programmes, and projects. These effect 'characteristics' are described within the assessment as appropriate.
Strategy and Delivery Plan outline and component parts
6.5 Recognising the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, the SBS has been introduced by Scottish Government to halt biodiversity loss and accelerate nature recovery. The Strategy aims for Scotland to be Nature Positive by 2030 (having halted biodiversity loss by this point in time) and to have restored and regenerated biodiversity across the country by 2045. The SBS will sit alongside Scotland's Climate Change Plan and contribute to Scotland's commitment to Net Zero.
6.6 The Strategy is supported by the first Delivery Plan, which covers the period 2023 to 2028 and builds upon the vision and outcomes articulated by the Strategy. The Strategy and Delivery Plan form part of a Strategic Delivery Framework aimed at providing the enabling conditions for success. In addition to the SBS and Delivery Plan, as part of this framework, Scottish Government will also introduce a Natural Environment Bill to put in place statutory targets for nature conservation, an Investment Plan setting out the cost of identified actions and investment drivers, and a monitoring and reporting framework to measure the effectiveness of actions.
6.7 By visioning the desired outcomes and determinants of success, the Strategy has identified priority actions for the period up to 2030 which will assist Scotland in becoming Nature Positive. These actions are explored in more detail and built upon through the Delivery Plan. Together the documents present 33 priority actions across six broad objectives. The first five objectives are identified in the SBS and broadly tackle direct drivers; they are:
- Accelerate restoration and regeneration.
- Safeguard land and sea.
- Support nature-friendly farming, fishing, and forestry.
- Recover and protect vulnerable and important species and habitats.
- Invest in nature.
6.8 The Delivery Plan adds an additional sixth objective to 'act on the indirect drivers of change for biodiversity' and breaks down the 33 priority actions into some 145 detailed actions, many of which are committed to in the period up to 2028.
Biodiversity, flora and fauna
6.9 The SBS clearly defines biodiversity and its global importance and sets out the evidence for Scotland's biodiversity crisis. All six SBS objectives and their underpinning actions are geared towards halting biodiversity loss and accelerating restoration to improve biodiversity across Scotland by 2045.
6.10 The unfavourable condition of almost a quarter of Scotland's protected sites is a significant factor to address in developing biodiversity, as identified through scoping. The SBS clearly defines priority actions to 'expand protected areas to 30% [of land surface] and improve connectivity and condition' and 'recover and protect vulnerable and important species'. This includes key actions to ensure that every local authority has a defined nature network of locally driven projects that improve ecological connectivity, and that development proposals contribute to the enhancement of biodiversity, by restoring degraded habitats and strengthening nature networks. The Delivery Plan provides detailed measures for the next five years that will contribute to this, including: implementing a monitoring regime to ensure that protected area sites are effective at delivering objectives and informing appropriate management, increasing the number of sites in Scotland's Marine Protected Area (MPA) network with specific fisheries management measures, targeted recovery actions for species at risk, and a programme to enable protected woodlands to be bought into favourable condition. Whilst in many respects a number of these are already anticipated to take place, a continuance of these approaches during the plan period will bring a range of benefits.
6.11 Continued habitat loss is likely to be countered by the intention to implement statutory nature restoration targets, which will support a framework for realising the opportunities for enhancing habitats, species and ecological networks. This will be supported by proposals to restore six large scale landscape restoration areas with significant woodland components, which will bring a range of direct benefits for biodiversity. The Delivery Plan highlights that this includes developing a strategic approach for restoring Scotland's Atlantic Rainforest within the next five years. Given the habitat's international significance, and the opportunities available for the reestablishment and expansion of native woodlands on the west coast (supporting associated species such as bryophytes and lichens), this will being significant positive effects.
6.12 In addition to supporting biodiversity directly, these initiatives are also likely to have indirect effects through helping to reduce the impact of recreation and tourism at key biodiversity sites, including by widening opportunities for nature-based recreation. Further actions to invest in nature, better connect and engage with communities, and embed biodiversity and nature considerations in the education system provide long-term opportunities to support the protection and enhancement of key areas of biodiversity value, including by enhancing the understanding and awareness of their interest and factors affecting their integrity. As part of the objective to accelerate restoration and regeneration, measures are also identified to enhance water and air quality and undertake water management measures to enhance biodiversity and reduce the negative impacts of pollution on habitats and species.
6.13 Without further protection, Scotland's marine and terrestrial environments are likely to be impacted by both natural and human activities, making it important to safeguard these ecosystems, alongside positive management to deliver clean, healthy, safe, productive, and biologically diverse environments that meet the long term needs of people and nature. A clear intention of the proposals are to address the impacts of human activities is defined by the objective for nature-friendly farming, fishing, and forestry. The SBS recognises the need to manage these sectors more sustainably, and the Delivery Plan identifies key actions to increase uptake of high diversity, nature-rich, high soil-carbon, low intensity farming methods, implement further fisheries measures in vulnerable marine ecosystems, and ensure that timber production supports increased biodiversity habitat connectivity.
6.14 Considering the above, the combined effects of the SBS and Delivery Plan are considered likely to deliver a wide range of significant positive effects in relation to this SEA topic.
6.15 The SBS & Delivery Plan recognises climate change and biodiversity loss as twin crises, in which a decline in biodiversity continues to exacerbate the climate crisis and a changing climate accelerates the rate of biodiversity loss. It also recognises the central role that biodiversity plays in addressing and adapting to the impact of climate change, identifying that when functioning well, ocean and land ecosystems remove around 50% of human-made carbon dioxide emissions each year.
6.16 Scoping has identified that interventions should include nature-based solutions, for which the SBS responds with positive action. Of note, the actions in the Delivery Plan include those to extend and restore large woodland habitats, restore peatlands, and improve the sustainability performance of agriculture, fisheries, and forestry. In particular, the Delivery Plan identifies that the forestry sector should be designed and managed in ways that sustain diverse timber production and carbon sequestration. Furthermore, actions seek to ensure annual woodland creation targets are met which will see around 18,000 hectares of new woodland created each year. With a core objective to expand protected habitats and actions in place to introduce statutory nature restoration plans and implement a programme of ecosystem restoration, the contribution of biodiversity to mitigating the impacts of climate change is likely to increase. Of indirect benefit, biodiversity can ultimately help climate change adaptation, including through the prevention and mitigation flooding, and with the SBS targeting the creation of widespread nature networks, actions are likely to contribute to flood resilience with nature-based solutions.
6.17 The proposals also have a focus on actions that improve resilience in coastal and marine systems, including through reducing key pressures and safeguarding and extending space for coastal habitat change. With the various actions which seek to improve the conservation of marine wildlife, the proposals will help increase the resilience of marine ecosystems to the impacts of climate change. This includes the development of Coastal Change Adaptation Plans, which seek to promote naturally functionally coastal landforms using an embedded sea level rise predictive adaptive management approach, as well as measures to reduce marine litter.
6.18 Given these considerations, significant long-term positive effects are concluded as likely in relation to climatic factors.
6.19 The presence of declared Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) in some parts of Scotland highlights that poor air quality can both result from and contribute to the deterioration of ecosystems. This link is recognised through the SBS & Delivery Plan which outlines specific measures that will both directly and indirectly benefit air quality. Key actions identify intentions to directly enhance air quality and link with the actions outlined by the Cleaner Air for Scotland 2 Strategy. Actions identified to extend and improve the quality and function of woodlands, restore peatlands, and move to low emission farming methods are also likely to directly and indirectly benefit air quality in the long-term.
6.20 With polluting vehicles being a significant contributor to poor air quality, it is recognised that nature networks can also provide opportunities for active travel uptake, which ultimately reduces the impact of vehicular movement. In this respect the Delivery Plan includes an action to ensure that by 2030, every new transport and active travel infrastructure project should incorporate elements of blue and green infrastructure. In addition to supporting air quality through promoting modal shift, the delivery of green and blue infrastructure enhancements will have positive effects on air quality through facilitating increased absorption and dissipation of nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and other pollutants.
6.21 The key consideration for this topic relates to nature's contribution to the regulation of air quality. With the SBS and Delivery Plan ultimately seeking to expand nature networks, priority and protected habitats, designations, and green and blue infrastructure, such contributions are set to increase. On this basis, the SBS & Delivery Plan has the potential to deliver minor long-term positive effects for air quality.
6.22 Water quality and biodiversity are intrinsically linked. This recognises that habitats and species comprise a key ecosystem service role in regulating water quality and supporting the provisioning of water supply, whilst a healthy water environment supports increased biodiversity.
6.23 It is recognised that the condition of Scotland's water environment varies across the country, and overall, only 66% of waterbodies are in good condition. The SBS and Delivery Plan outlines measures that will both directly and indirectly benefit water quality. Key actions identified under the objective to accelerate restoration and regeneration include those to enhance water quality and undertake water management measures and address water scarcity. This includes the action to implement a programme of measures that restore catchments, rivers, and floodplains to achieve 81% of waterbodies at 'good' or 'better' condition by 2027 and ensure River Basin Management Plans implement further actions to achieve 'good' status in over 90% of waterbodies by 2030. Projects and programmes that complement existing regulatory processes, such as The One Health Breakthrough Partnership on pharmaceuticals and the water industry's Chemical Investigation Programme, are also provided support to address emerging or novel contaminants in the water environment. Additional actions seek to review abstraction rates and improve flow management to reduce the impacts of water scarcity, further invest in improvements to wastewater services (including upgrading 40 wastewater treatment works and 24 intermittent sewage discharges), control diffuse pollution and reduce inputs of nutrients to freshwaters and embed a vision for surface water management that incorporates nature-based solutions (including blue infrastructure).
6.24 Furthermore, there are targeted actions to reduce and/ or prevent the introduction and spread of invasive non-native species (including an action to reduce the rate of establishment of known or potential invasive non-native species by at least 50% by 2030 compared to 2020 levels) and a significant number of measures are outlined to target improvements to marine habitats and improve fisheries management. Notably this includes measures to reduce marine litter (including by implementing the Marine Litter Strategy through a six-year action plan), increase the number of sites in Scotland's Marine Protected Area network, deliver additional protections for spawning and juvenile congregation areas, improve monitoring, develop a Scottish Seabird Conservation Strategy and recover Scotland's wild Atlantic salmon and migratory fish populations, develop Fisheries Management Plans, consult on implementing an inshore sustainable fishing cap, and introduce fisheries closures to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems in offshore waters.
6.25 Indirect benefits are also likely to be derived from measures to extend habitats and protected areas (both land and sea), and further invest in nature and natural capital, including continued investment in green and blue infrastructure.
6.26 Given the range of positive actions to support water quality and supply outlined above, significant positive effects are considered likely in relation to this SEA topic.
6.27 Climate change and land management practices continue to impact on soil resources and soil quality in Scotland. The SBS promotes measures that ultimately seek to improve soil health as part of habitat restoration and regeneration. The stated aim to increase the percentage of land that is protected for its biodiversity values and actions to significantly restore and extend woodland habitats and designate at least one new national park will provide long-term protection for soil quality in these areas.
6.28 The objective for nature-friendly farming, fishing, and forestry contains actions that will ultimately regenerate and restore soil health and improve agriculture and forestry practices to minimise their impacts on soil quality. Of note are actions to expand and connect upland, crofting, and lowland farmland habitats so that a minimum of 30% of the landscape in which a farm or croft site lies is managed as nature rich habitats, as well as actions to minimise the impacts of pesticides, embed evidence-based soil health indicators in whole farm plans and forest management plans, improve available information and rural support requirements for controlling soil compaction and assessing soil erosion risks and implementing mitigation, and improve the monitoring of soil quality. Furthermore, the actions of the Delivery Plan seek to ensure soil health is considered in planning decisions by supporting development proposals that protect and enhance soil quality and minimise soil sealing.
6.29 Given these points, the SBS & Delivery Plan will lead to significant long-term positive effects in relation to the soil topic.
6.30 Scotland's historic environment is rich in variety and extent and includes designated and non-designated assets and their settings. It is further recognised that there is potentially a wealth of further resources below ground, with known areas of high archaeological potential. The objectives and actions of the SBS do not directly target cultural heritage but indirect benefits can still be drawn from the broad ranging actions to preserve, enhance, and extend natural habitats that contribute to heritage settings and character. For example the introduction of nature-positive management strategies in towns and cities, actions which require the implementation of nature networks in every Local Authority area, and the introduction of statutory nature restoration targets could help enhance the setting of the historic environment and support local distinctiveness.
6.31 It should be noted though that habitat restoration and new habitat creation may have negative impacts (direct and indirect) on the significance of heritage assets including their settings. For example, peatland restoration can have impacts on archaeology. In addition, localised ecologies, which reflect historic industry and character, should be considered for protection where possible, such as around historic mining areas. This includes plants that have adapted to changes in soil mineral levels or localised thermal differences. Care needs to be taken with the location, species and sizes of any new planting to avoid negative impacts, e.g. to archaeological sites or the setting of a listed building, or to minimise these and maximise opportunities for enhancement. Planting and other types of habitat restoration and re-creation will need to be informed by appropriate research and historic environment/landscape character assessments. For this reason, appropriate methods for enhancements should therefore be devised with input from historic environment specialists from the outset.
6.32 On this basis whilst minor indirect positive effects are considered as most likely in relation to cultural heritage, there are a number of uncertainties relating to the topic with regards to the effect of habitat restoration and new habitat creation on the historic environment.
Landscape and geodiversity
6.33 Habitats form landscape features that are intrinsic to landscape value and character. With clear SBS intentions and actions to improve and extend habitats across Scotland, it is likely that indirect landscape benefits will result from many of the proposals over the long term. Of note, the Delivery Plan outlines an intention to restore six large-scale landscapes with significant woodland components by 2030 and designate at least one new National Park by 2026. The actions seek to ensure National Parks and National Nature Reserves are exemplars in better delivery of biodiversity outcomes and nature-based solutions and that a range of new National Nature Reserves are identified and designated by 2028. Further actions also seek to expand and connect upland, crofting, and lowland farmland habitats so that a minimum of 30% of the landscape in which a farm or croft lies is managed as nature rich habitats. This will be supported by improved guidance for upland restoration to regenerate peatlands, increase native woodland cover, manage grazing, protect certain target species and priority habitats, and increase habitat heterogeneity. Additionally, many of the identified actions target improving and extending woodlands and forests (key landscape components) including enhanced protections for Ancient Woodland, a strategic approach for restoring Scotland's Atlantic Rainforest and implementing a Wee Forest Vision and Delivery Plan. The actions are ultimately expected to equate to wider protections for diverse and distinct landscapes and countryside. Landscape character also has the potential to benefit from actions to improve the sustainability performance of agricultural practices, improve soil quality, revise the Muirburn Code, and manage grazing and deer populations.
6.34 Additional measures that will introduce statutory nature restoration targets, require public bodies prepare and implement nature-positive amenity grassland management strategies and develop nature networks, extend and improve green and blue infrastructure networks, and implement a programme of measures that restore catchments, rivers, and floodplains will also provide further landscape protection. Notably the strategy seeks to work with all Local Authorities to implement nature networks in every area and better connect important places for nature, including by embedding these networks within local planning policy and by providing a nature networks mapping tool and training for its use. In this respect the SBS & Delivery Plan has the potential to bring landscape and townscape benefits in both urban and rural areas.
6.35 Coastal landscapes are also expected to benefit from the Delivery Plan actions to promote naturally functioning coastal landforms and habitats and coastal accommodation space as well as actions to address the cumulative impacts of wildlife tourism in key locations.
6.36 Furthermore, the SBS highlights as a core objective the need to generate more investment to support nature recovery, including through the National Strategy for Economic Transformation programme and the Nature Restoration Fund and by developing a Biodiversity Investment Plan. On this basis, ongoing investment in activities which support landscape enhancements has the potential to be secured over the longer term.
6.37 Whilst in many respects the proposals set out by the SBS & Delivery Plan will support significant landscape enhancements, it should be recognised that biodiversity enhancements need to be appropriately designed to reinforce the special qualities of a landscape. The design of biodiversity enhancements will therefore need to be sensitive to the surrounding landscape, and exercises in habitat restoration and creation should be carefully selected to complement existing character and setting. Given the close relationship between landscape character and the fabric and setting of the historic environment, the elements highlighted above under 'cultural heritage' theme should be considered in the design of biodiversity enhancement schemes.
6.38 Considering these points, in many respects significant long-term positive effects are concluded as likely in relation to the landscape topic. However, there remain some uncertainties relating to the topic with regards to the effect of habitat restoration and new habitat creation on landscape character.
6.39 The SBS and Delivery Plan contain measures likely to benefit natural resources. Notably, the objective to support nature-friendly farming, fishing, and forestry seeks to reduce pressures on, and enhance the sustainable use of natural resources. The actions seek to support a model of food production that improves soil health and reduces carbon emissions and support responsible, and sustainable fisheries management. Furthermore, there are targeted measures to improve the quality and extent of woodland habitats, improve the integration of trees within other land uses, and reduce the impacts of grazing, invasive species, climate change, and pests and pathogens. The Delivery Plan outlines multiple actions that seek to improve and extend green and blue infrastructure networks, including Scotland's forests and woodlands, that will reduce the pressures of human impacts in some areas, and enhance sustainable access to natural resources.
6.40 Additionally, the objective to invest in nature prioritises actions to establish a values-led, high-integrity market for responsible private investment in natural capital, supported by a national project pipeline for nature-based solutions. The Delivery Plan identifies the action to develop a Biodiversity Investment Plan for Scotland, to directly address funding gaps and maintain and increase investment through the Nature Restoration Fund. Continued investment in natural capital will ultimately benefit natural resources, and support the restoration of healthy, functioning ecosystems. On this basis, minor long-term positive effects are considered likely in relation to this SEA topic.
Population and human health
6.41 The SBS recognises ecosystems, natural capital and biodiversity as integral parts of thriving communities and a sustainable economy. Numerous Delivery Plan actions are targeted as better involving local communities and businesses in nature conservation and restoration and securing long-term investment and a project pipeline for nature-based solutions. These actions are likely to support quality of life, positive health outcomes and new economic opportunities.
6.42 This will be supported by the range of Delivery Plan actions which seek to better connect people and nature. These include embedding access to nature and nature-based learning as part of the national curriculum, improving information/ knowledge sharing, developing communication and engagement programmes, encouraging more community ownership of local and national nature reserves and increasing opportunities for private investment (including investable nature recovery projects and targeted activities to restore Scotland's coasts and seas). These actions will facilitate improved engagement with nature from all age groups (reinforcing this relationship for future generations) and solidify the role of communities as key stakeholders in nature conservation and restoration activities. It will also support mechanisms for greater investment in nature, to the benefit of human health and economic vitality.
6.43 These aspects will be reinforced by the multiple objectives and actions which seek to extend and enhance habitats, protected areas, valued landscapes, amenity greenspace and green and blue infrastructure. This will support the quality of life and health and wellbeing of communities through enhancing access to nature, particularly where such actions address local deficits in greenspace needs.
6.44 The Delivery Plan actions seek to support the provisions of the Agriculture Bill by encouraging those supported by agricultural funds to deliver nature-based solutions and biodiversity actions. Whilst this will require careful design of agricultural and tenancy mechanisms, this will help encourage regenerative farming whilst facilitating the diversification of activities which offer additional income streams and economic opportunities.
6.45 Considering these points, the measures outlined by the SBS & Delivery Plan are considered likely to support a range of positive quality of life and health outcomes, and a range of socio-economic benefits. In this respect, the proposals are likely to being significant medium and long-term positive effects in relation to this SEA topic.
6.46 Intra-plan cumulative effects are anticipated to be positive in nature, with targeted actions to restore and regenerate biodiversity benefiting wider topics such as landscape, human health, natural resources, soil health, water and air quality, and climate resilience, as outlined above. Inter-plan positive cumulative effects are also anticipated as the SBS, and framework it sits within, complements the objectives and actions of Scotland's Environmental Strategy, Climate Change Plan, and National Strategy for Economic Transformation, as well Scotland's Blue Economy Vision, Vision for Agriculture, 2070 Vision for Forestry, and land reform bill. No negative cumulative effects are anticipated in implementation of the SBS.
6.47 The assessment of the SBS & Delivery Plan highlights that there are no likely significant negative effects arising as a result of the proposals. In addition there are, broadly, no conflicts between the objectives of the SBS and the SEA objectives. This is reflected by the conclusions of significant or minor positive effects against all SEA topics.
6.48 In this respect the assessment has highlighted that there are a range of actions outlined by the Delivery Plan that will support the protection and enhancement of the environment across Scotland, whilst also benefitting the quality of life and health and wellbeing of its communities. This includes relating to the objectives to address the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change, crises which ultimately affect natural resources, air, water, and soil quality, landscapes, and human health.
6.49 The assessment has however highlighted some uncertainties with regards to the effect of habitat restoration and new habitat creation on the fabric and setting of the historic environment and landscape character.
6.50 To help ensure that the environmental value of the proposals are maximised, and the uncertainties identified through the assessment are addressed, a number of recommendations can be made for the implementation of the SBS & Delivery Plan.
6.51 These are as follows:
- Mechanisms should be implemented to ensure that the location, species and scale of planting avoids negative impacts to historic environment assets, e.g. to archaeological sites or the setting of a listed building, or to minimise these and maximise opportunities for enhancement.
- Habitat restoration and re-creation should be informed by appropriate research and historic environment/landscape character assessments. In this respect appropriate methods for enhancements should be devised with input from historic environment and landscape specialists from the outset.
- Biodiversity enhancements should be appropriately designed to reinforce the special qualities of a landscape. The design of biodiversity enhancements should therefore be sensitive to the surrounding landscape, and exercises in habitat restoration and creation should be carefully selected to complement existing character and setting.
6.52 In addition, relating to the uncertainties and opportunities identified by the assessment, monitoring will be a key means of evaluating the environmental performance of the SBS & Delivery Plan and monitoring compliance through its implementation.
6.53 Monitoring proposals are presented in the next chapter.
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