What is a nature-based solution?

The Scottish National Party made a pledge to support and fund nature-based solutions as a means to tackle the biodiversity crisis. And as focus grows on the environment ahead of COP26 in Glasgow more and more people will use the term nature-based solutions.

However, there is also confusion about what this term means and it is important that we adopt a common definition in Scotland. The Trust’s Nature-based Solutions Policy Adviser Rebekah Strong explains what a nature-based solution is. 

Nature has been helping us solve problems since the dawn of time. Think of how wetlands filter water and improve access to clean water for local communities. It is only recently that we have started to use the term nature-based solution and fully appreciate the potential of nature to help us mitigate and adapt to climate change, reverse biodiversity loss and improve our wellbeing. But what exactly are nature-based solutions?  

Bogbean growing in pool on peatland at dawn © Mark Hamblin/2020VISION
© Mark Hamblin, 2020VISION

Defining nature-based solutions


The Trust is calling on the Scottish Government to formally adopt the IUCN’s definition of nature-based solutions and use it within their policy documents.  

The most widely accepted definition comes from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which states: 

Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural and modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human wellbeing and biodiversity benefits. 

The Trust is calling on the Scottish Government to formally adopt this definition and use it within their policy documents.  

Let’s break down the IUCN’s definition to better focus on what a nature-based solution is: 

…actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural and modified ecosystems… 

First and foremost, nature-based solutions support and promote nature. Nature-based solutions involves improving and effectively managing the functioning of natural systems and building new spaces for nature.  

…that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively… 

Healthy natural systems provide us with a service which can improve our resilience to challenges like climate change, health and societal inequality.  

…providing human wellbeing and biodiversity benefits. 

An increase in nature around us is well known to improve both our physical and mental health, giving us space for leisure and recreation, as well as reducing pollution. Nature-based solutions also increase the space for species to thrive, supporting more vibrant, resilient and biodiverse natural communities, demonstrating multiple benefits.  

In effect, a nature-based solution harnesses the benefits of nature to address societal problems, like climate change, by restoring, protecting and improving an ecosystem and maximising biological richness. The restoration of native oyster beds around Scotland is an example of a nature-based solution providing the following benefits:  

Native oyster bed restoration

Another example of a nature-based solution is woodland restoration to protect communities from flooding, soil erosion and landslides, sequester and store carbon, and enhance biodiversity.   

Five core principles for nature-based solutions

Concerns remain regarding the lack of methods to quantify the value of nature-based solutions and the potential for the term to be used incorrectly to justify detrimental practices. However, this should not stop us recognising the wide-ranging benefits of ecosystem restoration as a way to tackle societal problems. 

The Trust advocates five core principles to ensure nature-based solutions are most effective. These evidence-based principles should lie at the heart of nature-based solutions to ensure they have a long-term benefit for people and nature:  

  1. Nature-based solutions should be additional to rapid decarbonisation across all sectors.
  2. Nature-based solutions must be place-appropriate, involving local people and considering local conditions.   
  3. Nature-based solutions must be just, reducing inequality and improving access and benefits from nature for all.
  4. Nature-based solutions must reconnect isolated habitats allowing wildlife movement and improving resilience to change.
  5. Nature-based solution projects should be used to improve and share knowledge and allow for maximisation of benefits.


Cumbernauld Glen © Katrina Martin
Cumbernauld Glen © Katrina Martin

Following these core principles can ensure successful delivery of projects for nature-based solutions. One example of such a project is Cumbernauld Living Landscape, a collaborative project led by the Trust.  

Cumbernauld Living Landscape is improving the town’s green spaces for both people and wildlife by enhancing habitats and increasing access to these spaces. The local community are developing a greater connection to nature, improving their health and wellbeing and instilling a sense of ownership. The restoration of green spaces is improving biodiversity, reducing flooding, storing carbon and improving air quality.  

The multiple benefits that nature-based solutions provide is key to their efficacy. They offer value for money, provide green jobs and offer solutions at different scales. Nature-based solutions will benefit us regardless of the impacts of a changing climate, supporting human wellbeing and sustainable economic development and we must take advantage of this for a green recovery.

A way forward

Governments need to fully recognise, support and fund more nature-based solutions, have joined up policy and empower local governments, community groups and individuals to develop connected projects. The opportunities from nature-based solutions are becoming more evident to private investment too, as companies wish to make green business choices.  

Pressure from the ground up is also important as people put forward and champion nature-based solutions in their communities and working and private lives.  

It is important to remember that nature-based solutions are not a panacea to tackle the current health, climate and biodiversity emergencies. We need to use nature-based solutions as a tool alongside decarbonisation of the economy and a systemic shift towards placing nature at the core of decision-making.  

As the UK prepares for COP26 in November, if Scotland is to demonstrate a world leading approach to tackling the climate and biodiversity emergencies, we must showcase and champion nature-based solutions.  

Rebekah Strong

Nature-based Solutions Policy Adviser


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The Scottish National Party made a pledge to support and fund nature-based solutions as a means to tackle the biodiversity crisis. And as focus grows on the environment ahead of …

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