What does the future hold for Scottish Biodiversity?

Scotland’s biodiversity strategy was updated today, through the publication of a report on the government’s plans for tackling the 2020 Challenge for Scottish Biodiversity. This document builds on the earlier Scottish Biodiversity Strategy which was released in 2004 to include how the strategy will address wider EU Biodiversity strategies for 2020 and the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity ‘Aichi targets’. The two documents now complement each other to form the renewed Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, which attempts to highlight where work needs to be done to enhance and protect Scottish Biodiversity.

The original 2004 strategy, entitled ‘Scotland’s Biodiversity: It’s in your hands’, was developed by the government to lay out how Scottish biodiversity will be conserved for the health, wellbeing and enjoyment of people for now and the future. Since then, there have been numerous progress updates. In early public consultations, to which the BES formed a response, the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy: 2020 Challenge initially faced some criticisms for its vague and unclear aims and heavy focus upon economic valuations. Reaction to today’s new report will be seen in the coming days.

The initial aims laid out in the report have been updated following public consultations and they now seek to ‘protect and restore biodiversity on land and sea’, ‘connect people with the natural world’ and ‘maximise the benefits for Scotland of a diverse natural environment and the services it provides’. Whilst seeming to reflect that biodiversity should be protected for its own sake, there are strong hints throughout the report that the overall objective of the strategy is that biodiversity should be protected for the primary purpose to stimulate economic growth and provide economic benefits for Scotland.

The report first explores the need for the strategy to take an ecosystem approach in order to deliver multiple benefits and improve ecosystem health. It sets to develop a number of ecosystem indicators to measure ecosystem health. Additionally, it encourages the involvement of the public in decision-making in order to generate more appropriate plans, and better coordinate policies and government bodies to carry out management. The strategy also aims, by 2020, to conserve at least 18% of land and inland water and 10% of coastal and marine ecosystems. There are also calls to connect protected areas into a national network and expand the marine protected area network. There are clear aims for what the strategy hopes to achieve at land, freshwater and marine levels, from development of a marine plan to extending woodlands and improving river basin planning.

The role of nature in developing the Scottish economy is a strong theme throughout. The strategy considers how natural capital needs to be better valued and more efficiently used in order to sustain future resources and enhance future economic growth. In particular, peatlands are set to receive much attention due to their role in carbon capture.  The Natural Capital Asset Index is also set to be further developed to keep a better track of the state of natural capital and to create regional and terrestrial/marine indices. Along with natural capital, the value of nature for human wellbeing is also highlighted and its protection is seen as essential in order to increase the links and relationships people have with nature.

Opportunities and challenges for science in the new biodiversity strategy

To coincide with the launch of today’s report, registration is now open for a joint BES event with CIEEM and the Scottish Biodiversity Forum which will explore the opportunities and challenges for science in the new strategy. The event will be held in Edinburgh on 19-20 September 2013.

Overall, the 2020 challenge has provided a welcome update to the 2004 strategy. It documents ways in which the government hopes to improve Scottish biodiversity at a range of levels from pure nature conservation to public engagement and economic perspectives. But how can science contribute to this strategy? What do you think about the report and its attention to economic valuation of nature? Post your comments, or join us in September in Edinburgh.