Scotland’s biodiversity: people, data and monitoring
Worldwide biodiversity is in decline. It is crucial that it is conserved and restored to ensure that the world’s natural capital is still available for human use in the long term as well as for its intrinsic value. The UK and Scotland have committed to global agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity in response. Whilst Scotland is no longer part of the European Union, the legal frameworks surrounding the Birds Directive and Habitats Directive have been incorporated into law and stand alongside other legislation. These commitments have been brought together and operationalised as the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.
To deliver on the targets of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy there is a necessity to have accurate and current information on the status and trends of species in Scotland. This encompasses the basic question of what biodiversity Scotland has and which components Scotland has global responsibility for. It also requires an understanding of what is driving changes in biodiversity so that policies can be targeted appropriately to reduce pressures. This understanding must apply at a range of scales; a national focus is necessary to get an overall picture of trends, but more detailed work is also necessary to understand the specific issues associated with the conservation of habitats and species.
- How can we enhance our inventory of the richness and diversity of species on land in Scotland using a combination of existing datasets, citizen science and new technologies?
- How can we develop our understanding of the special and distinctive marine and terrestrial nature of Scotland? Which assemblages/species merit a specific strategic approach, and why?
- What form of reporting infrastructure would best support marine and terrestrial State of Nature reporting in Scotland, and how could this be operated? How can reporting be designed so that it leads to proportionate and targeted action? What indicators are essential to support this?
This project aims to help protect Scotland’s share of global biodiversity by optimising people’s skills, data, and technologies to ensure effective recording and monitoring techniques and data flows.
Creating a Biodiversity Inventory of Scotland
Scotland has a rich variety of species, habitats, and landscapes. However, creating a comprehensive and balanced inventory of Scotland's biodiversity has been hindered by several issues. Currently, our knowledge and data on UK biodiversity mainly focus on culturally important species like birds, mammals, and higher plants, while information on species that provide crucial ecosystem services is limited. Similarly, accessible habitats and biodiversity hotspots are relatively well explored, while biodiversity in remote or inaccessible areas is not well known.
To overcome these challenges, we are collaborating with the National Biodiversity Network to understand the current state of knowledge, identify knowledge gaps, and find solutions. Without a comprehensive inventory, the distinctiveness of Scottish biodiversity can only be evaluated based on culturally important species and a few well-studied groups. This lack of data also hinders national and international comparisons. However, the use of new environmental DNA techniques is rapidly changing this situation, making it possible to study soil biodiversity communities. We are collecting existing data and generating new data to compare important functional groups and focus on soil biodiversity groups in unexplored habitats, which are expected to support unique species.
There is a long tradition of volunteer-based biological recording in the UK and the use of citizen science data is increasingly used to underpin and support policy and management decisions. We are also developing and trialling novel ways of improving the reporting of species trends and their relationships with habitats, so reporting can be designed to increase proportionate and targeted action. This includes improving our understanding of terrestrial species indicator trends by taking a habitat focussed approach; exploring forms of reporting infrastructure that could enhance reporting; and setting up a biological recording infrastructure group to work closely with NatureScot and other stakeholders to improve data flows in biological recording. We review and report on methods and approaches that have been used to survey mountain hares and scientific manuscripts on the soil biodiversity associated with all 282 Munro mountains in Scotland.
Novel Methods for Monitoring Biodiversity Trends
We are testing, validating, and extending a set of farmer/crofter-led monitoring protocols that have been developed by NatureScot. These monitoring protocols have been designed to enable self-assessment of on-farm biodiversity resulting from management interventions designed to enhance biodiversity and agroecosystem services. The resulting scores feedback into a new outcomes-based payment system. We are mapping the existing scorecard metrics to key ecosystem services and identifying gaps in the matrix that require additional measures; assessing the quality of data collected by farmers through the scorecard system, and quantifying the relation between scores and biodiversity-driven agroecosystem services by comparing scorecard data against the extensive long-term datasets on agroecosystem function; and evaluating the scalability of the metrics from farm to landscape concerning natural capital and providing simple, generic metrics and indicators of ecosystem goods and services that can be rolled out 2025. This activity links to Achieving Multi-Purpose Nature-Based Solutions project where biodiversity monitoring approaches will be applied to assess multiple benefits of National Flood Management.