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Achieving multi-purpose nature-based solutions


Transformational change is needed now to mitigate climate and biodiversity emergencies and to adapt to current and future water-related environmental pressures. Nature-Based Solutions (NBS) have been promoted to help address these emergencies and support Scotland’s Green Recovery. NBS are defined as “solutions to societal challenges that are inspired and supported by nature”. NBS are central to global debates about sustainable natural resource management. They have been identified as one solution to many water-related environmental pressures and are being considered more by many policy, industry, and practice sectors. However, the widespread rollout of NBS is slow to address the pressing emergencies and mitigate water-related pressure. Scientific evidence and guidance are needed to support implementation through the Scottish Government’s ‘Green Recovery.’

Coupled with this, greater focus must be given so that these solutions can provide many more ecosystem services and there are potential ways to maximise these benefits further in managed landscapes. We must also assess the conditions of some of our core land units and look at ways to protect these systems. Also, consideration of the wider benefits, how to value these and promote these to catchment planners, industry, and practice is required. However, getting beyond small-scale pilots and isolated best practices rarely occurs; we need to explore how to work at scales and across sectors to deliver NBS that make a significant contribution to meeting society’s needs.


  • Water scarcity and drought - what are the risks and vulnerabilities within Scotland, and how do we build resilience?
  • Flood risk management - how can we continue to reduce the risk and impact of flooding, build resilience and maximise the benefits of nature-based solutions?
  • Water governance – how can we innovate, adapt and improve the governance and management of water?


This project aims to:

  • Develop a multi-scale empirical understanding of the impact of NBS based on hydrological, hydro-geomorphic, biogeochemical, and ecological observations.
  • Assess the water-related ecosystem services of a selection of NBS approaches on our landscapes and suggest ways in which the benefits can be enhanced.
  • Assess the state of river corridors and their role in combating climate change, via ecosystem services impact indicator groups.
  • Understand how to achieve transformative change via NBS that delivers multiple benefits and works across multiple sectors and scales.


Creating a multi-scale empirical evidence database 

There is a need to gather empirical evidence in catchments to understand key hydrological and hydrochemical processes and where NBS has been implemented to determine their effectiveness and improve modelling tools. This evidence needs to be collected over a long enough period to detect hydrological change rather than natural variability and contain some background knowledge. We are collecting empirical evidence on how our catchment and rivers function over multiple scales and the effectiveness of NBS approaches for mitigating environmental pressures. This involves developing and further enhancing monitoring networks at research sites where NBS measures have, or will, be introduced. Monitoring includes collecting hydrological time series datasets, geomorphological surveys, and spatial water quality sampling. Data is being collated, quality assured, archived, and shared as open access resources. The evidence database and cases are being used to support modelling and assessment work in Emerging Water Futures, Healthy Soils for a Green Recovery, CentrePeat and Climate Change Impacts on Natural Capital projects.


The role of land and run-off pathway NBS approaches in environmental change resilience

The use of NBS can help manage the impacts of agricultural practices and climate change on water resources. However, there are research gaps that need to be addressed for the widespread adoption of NBS approaches. These include understanding how individual measures impact flood peaks, maximizing the benefits of NBS approaches without affecting existing land management practices and providing guidance and tools to implement such measures. We are assessing the effectiveness of land and runoff pathway management NBS at different scales and exploring ways to enhance ecosystem services. We are also quantifying the value of the wider benefits that can be achieved from a selected group of NBS. Biodiversity monitoring approaches applied to assess multiple benefits link to the Scotland’s biodiversity: People, Data and Monitoring project, NBS for drought management links to drought modelling in the Emerging Water Futures project, a developed NBS GIS tool links to Climate change impacts on Natural Capital project. 


The role of river corridors and management approaches in environmental change resilience

Some water issues can be managed on land around headwaters, while others cascade through increasing river systems leading to altered processes and adaptation needs in river corridors. This project is holistically assessing transitional riparian zones as dynamic ecohydrological units that deliver services across river basin management planning, biodiversity and climate change outcomes and identifying conflicts demanding specific management.

We do this via three progressive activities: 

  • Functional classifications of national river corridors (based on spatial data resources).
  • Validating functional group approaches for three large case study rivers by new data collection (carbon storage, water table, riparian condition assessment, spatial water quality) combining surveyed pressures-responses with desk-based classifications. 
  • Assessments of three river restoration cases. 

We expect to achieve: 

  • New evidence and framework to evaluate the state of Scotland’s river corridors. 
  • Functional knowledge of riparian zones/floodplains to improve the delivery of water and soil ecosystem services beyond the current water framework directive approach. 
  • Understanding how river corridor restoration techniques improve climate resilience and adaptation.
  • Stakeholder awareness and recommendations on mechanisms and targeting for improving river climate resilience.

We are making riparian soil indicator data and assessment frameworks available to Healthy Soils for a Green Recovery and Integrated Socio-environmental Modelling of Policy Scenarios projects.


Enabling sustainability by upscaling & mainstreaming

NBS are notoriously hard to implement at scale, but evidence suggests that these sorts of solutions must be at larger scales and across multiple sectors if they are to deliver meaningful change in the ecosystem services that benefit society. There is a need to connect physical science understandings with social sciences methodologies and insights to enable upscaling and mainstreaming of NBS. We respond to the challenge of getting beyond small-scale pilots and isolated best practices and understand how to achieve transformative change via NBS that deliver multiple benefits, and works across multiple sectors and scales, by appraising relevant changes in data, resources, planning and governing practices.

Our approach focuses on real-life experiences and expectations of upscaling and mainstreaming. In doing so, we respond to stakeholder concerns about the need for NBS that deliver multiple benefits without being overly dominated by single problems and services; critically appraise evidence needs; and contrast NBS in both rural and urban settings to understand shared and divergent implications for governance arrangements. The outputs are practical insights about key target actors, approaches and evidence needed to make a difference in the choice, and design of different types of NBS cases. These cases are prioritised joinly with the Galvanising Change via Natural Capital project. 

Project Partners

James Hutton Institute
Scotland’s Rural College


2022 / 2023
2022 / 2023

Developing a multi-scale empirical evidence database

Work on this objective is ongoing with data collection and archiving occurring the core field sites throughout the year.

Exploring the role of land and run-off pathway NBS approaches in environmental change resilience

There are currently three examples of outputs: 1) A report of key findings from the Logie Burn restoration site has been produced. Nine years of monitoring gives a near long term case study of a restoration project in a straightened, low energy stream. The monitoring showed that the reach appears to still be adjusting morphologically to the prevailing sediment supply and flow regimes as well as inputs of large wood. 2) Experimental plans and measure designs are nearing completion and background monitoring is taking place that will investigate edge-of-field measures specifically focusing on 'Magic Margins' and treatment train concepts on a lowland demonstration farm (Balruddery Farm) and leaky barriers in the upland (e.g., Glensaugh). 3) Engagement tools such as the Natural Flood Management (NFM) network Scotland are being widely accessed in Scotland and internationally and membership continues to grow.

Exploring the role of river corridors and management approaches in environmental change resilience

A report has been generated following a workshop using a Drivers-Pressures-State-Impact-Response approach to explore three groups of climate resilience functions for river corridors, namely: increasing and maintaining organic carbon stores, regulating water temperatures and buffering against low river flows. This informs on spatial characterisation and new condition assessment data for the following years. Yearly reporting on the annual Beltie sampling is complete and the annual topographic survey has been completed. The Beltie burn continues to be a national example of best practice into river restoration and is being examined in the project also for water temperature, flow and nutrient cycling.

 Enabling sustainability by upscaling and mainstreaming 

Output has included supporting the Riverwoods process and carrying out stakeholder and institutional analysis. An early output to the work is a policy note of terminology notably investigating the terms of restoration and NBS. This work highlighted some key differences between terms and has been picked up at a European level. 

Project Impact

We have had the opportunity to engage with some important initiatives to ensure project outcomes and finding feed into policy and practice. For example, we have a close working relationship with the Riverwoods initiative and contribute development measures within the River Dee by being part of restoration project steering groups. During this year we have been invited onto working groups and strategies, for example, we are contributing to the SEPA/Nature Scot led 'Water Metrics' working group as well as to Scotland's Beaver Strategy. We continue to disseminate our findings not only in scientific journals/technical reports but also via e.g., blogs, podcasts, and social media channels. For example, we have worked with Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) to produce podcasts and factsheets on riparian measures for farmers. The NFM network has undergone some minor changes this year and was promoted at the February 2023 Scottish Flood Risk Management conference. As a result, membership has increased significantly with nearly 50 new members, and there have been several new user-generated articles submitted in recent months. 

We have started to create a project webpage, although it is still under development.

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