Scotland's Biodiversity: It's in Your Hands - A strategy for the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in Scotland

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Scotland's Biodiversity: It's in Your Hands
A strategy for the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in Scotland

Header phot courtesy of SNH

The basis for a biodiversity strategy

In this section we consider what it is we are trying to achieve, the kind of issues that we need to address and the kinds of action that need to be taken if we are to succeed. This serves as a rationale for the strategy objectives set out in section 4.

3.1 Why does the loss continue?

As we have seen in the previous section, some of our biodiversity has been lost, and this loss is continuing, albeit at a lower rate. The causes and threats are many and are explored in detail in the supporting documents for this strategy.

Many of the threats are now being much better managed, but we still have some way to go. A key issue is the intensity of resource use. Intensive and unsustainable resource use lies at the heart of much biodiversity loss in both terrestrial and marine environments, but these have also been important factors in our economic development. Sustainable development, and sustainable resource use, recognises the need to balance social, economic and environmental interests to ensure that the drive for economic growth does not compromise the welfare and quality of life of current and future generations. The continuing loss of biodiversity suggests that we have not yet achieved this balance.

This is partly because we lack the decision-making procedures to achieve this balance. It is partly because we do not value biodiversity as much as we value some forms of economic development. It is partly because we simply do not understand, or communicate effectively, many of the values of biodiversity, or the complex links between them. And it is partly because we often do not recognise the opportunities to enhance biodiversity, and in so doing to improve the quality of our lives and increase economic opportunities.

Black GrouseCourtesy of RSPB

Black Grouse
Courtesy of RSPB

3.2 What are we trying to achieve?

Our overall aim is to conserve biodiversity for the health, enjoyment and wellbeing of the people of Scotland now and in the future. But what does this mean in practice?

Conserve what we have

We should seek to conserve what we have. We should do whatever we can to halt the decline and where possible reverse losses in biodiversity. We need to protect the best and enhance the rest. In so doing, we will generate wider environmental, social and economic benefits.

Sustain healthy ecosystems

But we also need to address wider environmental issues. Most wildlife is dependent upon a complex environment. Conserving biodiversity is often unsuccessful if we concentrate on limited patches. We need to look at the bigger picture: reconnect nature; extend and link up habitats; reduce barriers; and understand the dependencies and needs of different species. We need to think in terms of landscapes and ecosystems, not just in terms of species and habitats.

Woodland sites provide important wildlife corridorsCourtesy of SWT

Woodland sites provide important wildlife corridors
Courtesy of SWT

Usually, though not always, this means creating a mosaic of linked and varied habitats to form larger, more stable habitat units, richer in biodiversity - not just in the countryside, but also in urban areas, and with links between the two. And we need to ensure that our actions at this level sustain and support those species and habitats which we value, and which are important for the maintenance of healthy and productive ecosystems - from the osprey, bumble bee and Scottish primrose to the complex web of organisms which contribute to productive soils and fisheries, to clean air and pure water.

Biodiversity is all about networks and connections: the web of life; ecosystems. A piecemeal approach to biodiversity conservation and enhancement won't work.

Dor beetle, Birks of Aberfeldy, PerthshireCourtesy of SNH

Dor beetle, Birks of Aberfeldy, Perthshire
Courtesy of SNH

Engage more people

The underlying reason for biodiversity conservation is to ensure that our generation and future generations reap the benefits of rich biodiversity and healthy ecosystems in terms of productive natural resources, economic opportunity, spiritual inspiration, and cultural enrichment. Engaging more people in biodiversity conservation represents both an end in itself and a means to an end. It will enrich our lives and those of future generations. Everyone should benefit.

Promote sustainable development

Scotland is committed to sustainable development. This means that we must take account of social, economic and environmental issues in all our development decisions, and ensure that we do not squander resources which may benefit future generations - including biodiversity.

Although we now have measures in place designed to promote sustainable development, many of our decision making mechanisms fail to give sufficient weight to its various dimensions. This is not surprising - social and environmental benefits are typically much harder to define than financial benefits. We must redress the balance and develop new approaches which take account of a wide range of current and possible future values.

3.3 How can we achieve it?

3.3.1 Bring biodiversity into the mainstream

Biodiversity conservation is often seen as a specialist issue; something for the environmentalists. It needs to be brought into mainstream decision making. Not enough of us consider it to be our own responsibility - or opportunity - and this dramatically reduces the potential for biodiversity conservation and enhancement.

Cattle grazing above Aoradh, Loch Gruinart RSPB Reserve, Islay

Cattle grazing above Aoradh, Loch Gruinart RSPB Reserve, Islay

Very little of our land or water is currently managed to benefit biodiversity. While 20% of Scotland is covered by one type of environmental designation or another 2, most of these sites are still managed primarily for commercial purposes, albeit with certain constraints designed to prevent serious loss of biodiversity. As a result, large parts of these designated areas, and much of the wider environment is subject to little if any management specifically directed towards conserving biodiversity. In many cases this is not an issue: much land and water use is perfectly compatible with, and in some cases enhances biodiversity. But elsewhere there is direct conflict between biodiversity interests and commercial interests.

In rural areas, the agri-environment schemes are a step in the right direction, but environment-friendly land and water management, fisheries management, and business activity should be the norm not the exception. Conditions relating to the safeguarding and enhancement of biodiversity should be routine for any form of public subsidy or grant. The cross compliance arrangements introduced as part of the Common Agricultural Policy Reform package are an important step in this direction.

However, this is not just an issue for rural businesses. All businesses affect biodiversity either directly through their management practices, or indirectly through their use of resources as raw materials or their generation of waste. While energy efficiency and waste management have risen up the business agenda, biodiversity is still a marginal consideration. So there are opportunities to make biodiversity a mainstream business issue - and local and national government, public and non-government agencies all have a role to play in promoting this, especially amongst smaller companies.

3.3.2 Targeted action for species and habitats

Some species are at risk, and urgent action is required for their conservation. The UK Biodiversity Action Plan and the Local Biodiversity Action Plan network provide a framework for prioritised and targeted action for species and habitats. This process is strengthened by, and strengthens, the on-going management of designated sites where our most vulnerable biodiversity occurs and needs the strongest protection.

We should build on the opportunities associated with site designation, and ensure that management for biodiversity conservation extends outside the boundaries of designated sites, through initiatives such as Important Plant Areas and Local Sites. We should work to ensure that designation enhances value and increases responsibility. We need to identify ways in which biodiversity can bring short term as well as long term benefits. We need to get wider support for the appropriate management of designated sites; and to promote support for actions under Local Biodiversity Action Plans. We need to get those responsible in national and local government, including community councils, to examine their plans and actions, and see how they can help.

If sites are special, then people should be proud to keep them special. We should ensure that designation enhances value and increases responsibility.

Local Sites

Local Sites are of great value to people living in Scotland's towns, cities and countryside, providing opportunities for lifelong learning, access, health and the economy, as well as helping to achieve biodiversity objectives.

There are over 3,000 Local Sites in Scotland designated by local authorities. These non-statutory sites (sometimes called Wildlife Sites or Sites of Interest to Nature Conservation) complement Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and help to underpin national and international government conservation objectives. Local Site systems aim to identify all land of high nature conservation value in a local authority area and foster action at a regional and local level.

These sites have a crucial role in realising Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) targets, and are increasingly being incorporated into Local Biodiversity Action Plans (LBAPs) across Scotland, as the survey process helps to identify and target priority habitats and species which need active management. Improvements to the sites can be secured through partnerships between local authorities, land owners, Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and government agencies, working together to deliver site management plans. Local Sites are recognised in local land use planning policies giving them an enhanced level of protection when local authorities consider proposals for new developments.

Roslin Glen, MidlothianCourtesy of SWT

Roslin Glen, Midlothian
Courtesy of SWT

We should also be wary of invasive non-native species which can threaten native species and habitats. The need to improve legislation to manage the movement and use of non native species is currently being assessed, but it is undeniable that greater awareness and knowledge of non-native species is necessary.

3.3.3 Better managed landscapes and ecosystems

Managing landscapes and ecosystems may sound daunting, but we already do it. Current patterns of land-use are largely defined by the EU Common Agricultural Policy, the Scottish Forestry Strategy, the Rural Development Plan and the raft of incentives and constraints associated with them. The pattern of exploitation and the current state of our fishery resources is greatly influenced by the EU Common Fisheries Policy.

Most of these policies now emphasise sustainable development and the need to balance incentives for production with those for environmental conservation and enhancement. The common fisheries policy specifically recognises the need for an 'ecosystem' approach to fisheries management. We have to ensure that these important ideas are implemented in practice.

Muirburn, Glen Gairn, GrampianCourtesy of J MacPherson/SNH

Muirburn, Glen Gairn, Grampian
Courtesy ofJ MacPherson/SNH

We need to ensure that the broad set of incentives and constraints associated with European and national policy result in biodiversity conservation throughout rural and marine environments.

National and local government are directly responsible for large areas of land and water - parks, roadside verges, local nature reserves, school grounds and sports fields, national forests, coastal waters. Looking after these resources, and finding ways to enhance biodiversity as a routine part of management is a duty under the anticipated Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. Actions may include sensitive planting and mowing regimes, minimal use of chemicals, and habitat creation where appropriate. There are opportunities to link new and existing habitat through improved planning, design, co-ordination and management of all open spaces, and at all levels. The benefits can be manifold: lower management costs in some instances, enhanced biodiversity, greater enjoyment and appreciation of nature.

The planning system also has a key role to play. National planning guidance and advice 3, sets development planning within the context of good environmental stewardship and sustainable development. However, the potential for conflict between short term commercial interests and long term or less easily measured biodiversity benefits is real. We need better decision making protocols, and in the case of environmental assessment, we need to ensure that any trade-offs between biodiversity and more immediately commercial interests are thoroughly examined and understood, including an appropriate assessment of risk.

We also need to think more carefully about the chain of effects our actions can cause. When we develop best practice, or undertake environmental assessment, we should not just consider direct and immediate impacts; we should consider possible knock-on effects on other organisms - both positive and negative - and the cumulative effects our actions - together and individually - will have.

Strategic environmental assessment is an important tool which should help address many of these issues. The challenge here will be to ensure that the process is adequately informed and that biodiversity values are fully understood by decision makers and taken into account.

Nigg Bay, Cromarty FirthCourtesy of Mark Hickens/RSPB

Nigg Bay, Cromarty Firth
Courtesy of Mark Hickens/RSPB

3.3.4 Ensuring integration and coordination

One fundamental problem with the existing pattern of biodiversity management is that much of it is piecemeal. This relates partly to widely differing priorities - within the Local Biodiversity Action Plan network; between different non-government organisations; between agencies and government departments; between environmental and commercial interests. It relates to the limited attention to biodiversity in planning, design and best practice - and indeed in all decision making. It relates to a lack of integration between a myriad of policies and interests.

We are moving in the right direction. There are now many initiatives which attempt to address these problems, and promote increasingly 'joined-up' thinking: the local firths partnerships which serve as forums for the exchange of ideas and perspectives; the catchment management plans under the Water Framework Directive; the Rural Development Plan; the Scottish Forestry Strategy; the Forward Strategy for Scottish Agriculture, and the forthcoming strategy for Scotland's Coast and Inshore Waters (2004) - these and others are all important and essential. We need to build on and strengthen these approaches, particularly in terms of decision making processes; and we need to develop similar approaches for land use in urban and rural areas, and marine resource use. And we must ensure that biodiversity considerations, and in particular Local Biodiversity Action Plans, are integrated into these processes, and indeed into all decision making processes which ultimately affect the environment.

But whatever mechanisms or institutions we develop to promote integration, the extent to which these are effective will depend upon the awareness and capacity of all those involved - whether they be the officers of national agencies or local government, farmers, fishermen or businessmen.

3.3.5 Encouraging awareness and engagement

We need to ensure that individuals, public servants and private enterprise are aware of the potential for biodiversity conservation in relation to their own actions, and capable of making a positive contribution. Better planning and more appropriate incentives from government must be matched by a capacity to initiate and respond at a practical level.

Almost everyone already has, or could have, a positive or negative impact on biodiversity - via their political choices, their jobs and economic activities and their daily actions. There is a huge opportunity for all us to become more aware and more responsible; to enhance biodiversity generally through the cumulative effects of thousands of positive actions, small and large; and in so doing to enhance the quality of our lives and the opportunities for the future.

Perhaps the greatest challenge is to make everyone realise that they have an impact on biodiversity and can play a part in its conservation. We need to put people at the heart of our strategy.

Observation platform, Wood of Cree RSPB ReserveCourtesy of RSPB

Observation platform, Wood of Cree RSPB Reserve
Courtesy of RSPB

Many people are already engaged with voluntary conservation and environmental organisations. This is a huge resource which can be built on to enhance biodiversity all around us. But we need to promote even greater awareness of the full range of values of biodiversity to help people understand and enjoy the natural environment. This will lead to even more voluntary action, better debates, more informed choices and decisions, and higher levels of compliance with relevant regulations. It will underpin the sustainable use of key species and natural resources more generally. It will serve as a stimulus to business to be more innovative in attitudes and actions relating to biodiversity and to develop best practice initiatives.

Greater engagement of people with biodiversity will also lead to more healthy, productive and enjoyable outdoor experiences, reduced stress, and an increased sense of responsibility across the board. In particular, childhood experiences are a powerful influence on how people react to the environment in adulthood, so providing opportunities for children, especially those from deprived areas and backgrounds, to interact freely with biodiversity in a safe environment is vital.

Do a little - change a lot

Our individual actions may seem insignificant and unimportant when set against the great environmental issues of our time, and many people feel unable to help. This is wrong. The issues we face today are precisely the result of millions of small actions. What we buy, what we eat, our use of fuel, the way we deal with waste, how we manage our gardens, how we engage with decision makers - all of these actions ultimately have an effect on biodiversity and the physical environment. We should not shrug off our personal responsibility, simply because progress will depend upon many of us acting responsibly together. Rather the reverse.

Flotsam and jetsam, sea-borne litter on the tideline, Islay Courtesy of RSPB

Flotsam and jetsam, sea-borne litter on the tideline, Islay
Courtesy of RSPB

3.3.6 Improving our biodiversity knowledge

Increased awareness and opportunities to engage with biodiversity will generate few benefits if understanding is limited and good accessible advice lacking.

There is a long established tradition in the UK of observing and recording the natural world. It is estimated that some 2,000 statutory and voluntary organisations and societies and over 60,000 individuals currently hold biodiversity information for the UK. We need to use this information more effectively, and the National Biodiversity Network is a welcome development in this regard. There has also been a major effort to rationalise and co-ordinate information gathering under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and the Scottish Biodiversity Research Forum, and these efforts will continue.

However, by definition biodiversity is complex, and there will always be significant gaps in our knowledge. The challenge is to identify the most critical gaps in our knowledge, and to then undertake appropriate research and survey in the most efficient and effective manner. To this end, the Scottish Biodiversity Forum has developed a research strategy, and this will need to be updated as part of the strategy review process. There is also an opportunity to foster increased participation of resource users and social scientists in developing research objectives, programmes and projects, and to engage users as much as possible in the research and survey itself.

Green Shield Moss Moniack Gorge, InvernessCourtesy of SNH

Green Shield Moss Moniack Gorge, Inverness
Courtesy of SNH

We have an opportunity to supplement the essential baseline with much more information, and in the process engage a far wider range of people. Initiatives such as Garden Watch, and internet-based reporting offer a challenging new area for education, engagement and monitoring. We can draw on the knowledge, skills and resources of fishermen and fish farmers, land managers and outdoor workers in general. We can exploit the interest and enthusiasm of special interest groups - divers, sailors, walkers. We can facilitate learning and recording by school children and students.

But raw data is not enough. We need to improve access to appropriate and stimulating advice on how to enhance biodiversity. Much information is already available through the UK Biodiversity Action Plan web site, but we need to go further and develop a single gateway to practical advice and best practice. This would also help to reveal the gaps in our existing practical knowledge and contribute to the prioritisation, promotion and rationalisation of research.

We also need to continue to produce targeted guidance materials for all those whose activities have a significant impact on biodiversity and we need to ensure that guidance is truly relevant and practical. Partnership initiatives to produce such materials represent a major opportunity for sharing knowledge; reducing conflict; and generating consistent advice and incentives.

We also need to ensure that specialist advisors are readily available to inform major decisions. At local level, the Local Biodiversity Action planning officers have a key role to play, alongside sustainable development officers and ecologists, where they are employed, all supported by Scottish Natural Heritage, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and other national organisations. Local government and government departments will need to examine their procedures for accessing appropriate advice in relation to the strategy objectives.

Lichen on hazel tree, Barnluasgan Wood Courtesy of SNH

Lichen on hazel tree, Barnluasgan Wood
Courtesy of SNH