You are here

Seeking multiple benefits from natural carbon stores in the uplands

Seeking multiple benefits from natural carbon stores in the uplands

  • Biodiversity
  • 2022-2027
Sustainable Development icon: responsible consumption and production
Sustainable Development icon: climate action
Sustainable Development icon: life on land


Addressing the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and the climate emergency and helping Scotland as a nation reach Net-Zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 are major challenges for upland land managers. The Scottish Government are committed to restoring 250,000 hectares of peatland by 2032 and planting 12,000-15,000 hectares of trees annually, which will be key to meeting Net Zero by 2045. Although a large amount of data has been collected on carbon stores and fluxes on deep peats and, to a lesser extent, in woodlands, there is relatively little information on carbon stores within upland grassland and heathland habitats on shallow peats and podzolic soils. There is also limited evidence on how the management of these habitats affects carbon stores and biodiversity, and wider societal benefits.

Nearly 60% of Scottish agricultural land is currently managed as rough grazing (3.6 million hectares of a total agricultural holdings area of 6.2 million hectares). These extensively managed habitats cover a large proportion of Scotland’s uplands, and their management significantly impacts a wide variety of ecosystem services, including food production, and environmental and wider societal benefits. Ongoing land-use changes in the uplands, such as reduced livestock numbers, rewilding, peatland restoration and the expansion of mountain woodland, are likely to influence the carbon stored, biodiversity value, and other environmental benefits derived from different habitats. Managing land to meet Net-Zero Government targets has the potential to generate trade-offs or synergies with other environmental and societal priorities. Exploring the interactions between carbon sequestration and storage, biodiversity conservation and flood mitigation to identify where the synergies and trade-offs lie is, therefore, essential to inform future land management policy.

The Scottish uplands support many rare and declining species and are considered High Nature Value (HNV) farmland due to the extensive management practices that typify these low-input, low-output systems. These livestock systems have huge potential to provide a wide range of societal benefits, including the sequestration and storage of carbon in semi-natural upland habitats such as blanket bogs and mountain woodland. In addition, specialised upland species are particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. A key question is: how can we manage these habitats' impacts on their biodiversity, and their ability to provide a range of other ecosystem services, such as carbon storage, flood mitigation, and recreational value?


  • How can we maximise biodiversity and societal benefits from natural carbon capture, for example through ecosystems supporting rich or scarce species assemblages, and providing benefits to people through disaster mitigation, harvesting or wellbeing?


This project explores how we can maximise biodiversity benefits from natural carbon capture in upland areas while also obtaining wider societal benefits through flood mitigation.


Carbon storage potential and flood mitigation maps

We are ground-truthing existing maps of carbon storage potential and flood mitigation using on-the-ground surveys and environmental sensors to monitor rainfall and water flow and expanding the spatial coverage of these maps to include all predominant habitats on Kirkton and Auchtertyre farms. These included blanket mire, wet heath, acid grassland, bracken-dominated vegetation, rush mire and calcareous grassland. We are deriving spatial maps to cover the remaining upland areas and the dominant lowland habitats, thus providing total coverage of the farms.


Biodiversity monitoring 

We are supplementing existing biodiversity datasets, through the collection of new biodiversity data and metrics to expand spatial coverage to cover all predominant habitats present on the farm and implementing innovative approaches to monitor biodiversity. including camera traps, and full-spectrum acoustic recorders. Camera trap images are being processed using a combination of manual identification and state-of-the-art automated software. The acoustic recorders are being used to characterise the ultrasonic and audible “soundscapes and quantify the occurrence and relative activity of key indicators species using a combination of novel automated techniques and manual sound identification.


Comparing Biodiversity Metrics with Trial Scorecards

We are trialling scorecards developed under NatureScot’s project Piloting an Outcomes Based Approach (POBAS) in Scotland and the NatureScot Civtech Challenge Habitat Quality application to determine how effective proposed scorecards are as indicators of wider biodiversity. NatureScot has developed two scorecards that target two habitat types that are present at Kirkton and Auchtertyre Farms. The bog scorecard provides positive and negative plant indicators enabling rapid scoring of bog quality. The grassland and habitat mosaics scorecard obtains its score from integrating information on indicator plants (both positive and negative), alongside assessments of the vegetation structure. We are exploring how accurately they reflect habitat quality, the appropriateness of the plant-based indicators as a proxy for wider biodiversity and the impact of management on habitat quality as defined by the scorecards. The CivTech Challenge App will convert Nature-Scot's scorecards to a user-friendly digital format facilitating farmers to self-assess habitat quality and providing data directly to NatureScot. This App is being trialled to determine ease of use, alignment with scores derived from scorecards and comparison with other biodiversity metrics.


Ecosystem service maps for the main habitat types 

We are using metrics for carbon storage, flood mitigation potential and biodiversity to create/refine ecosystem service maps for the main habitat types in Kirkton and Auchtertyre farms. The extraction of these data will be spatially targeted across habitats to encompass the range of values present at the farms.


Predictive models of carbon storage, and biodiversity conservation potential

We are utilising data from Kirkton and Auchtertyre farms to create spatial models of carbon storage, biodiversity conservation potential and flood mitigation for part of the upper River Tay catchment. This project innovatively integrates carbon storage and flood mitigation metrics with a wide array of biodiversity metrics, ranging from metrics that focus on key taxa to metrics that target species of conservation concern. Our analysis focuses on how these different metrics relate to each other and allows the identification of synergies and trade-offs between these three key ecosystem services. We identify habitats and management practices that optimise the delivery of multiple ecosystem services and those that deliver more specific ecosystem services. Exploring the relationships between these different, yet integrated, societal benefits allow us to develop a framework to inform land management in the Scottish uplands to contribute to tackling the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and the climate emergency.