Scottish Wildlife Trust sets out a vision for Scotland’s uplands

The Scottish Wildlife Trust has set out a new approach to the way that Scotland’s uplands are managed, including financial incentives to encourage good environmental stewardship and regulations that achieve more sustainable management of deer and upland grouse moors.

The Trusts’ publication ‘Living Landscapes in the Scottish Uplands’ recommends ten key changes that are needed to reverse decline in important habitats and ensure that people continue to enjoy the benefits provided by these areas.

The paper will be launched on Wednesday 6 July at an event held at the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s Woodhall Dean reserve. Speakers include Susan Davies, the Trust’s Director of Conservation; Graeme Dey MSP, Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee; and Tim Baynes, Director of the Scottish Land & Estates Moorland Group.  

Almost half (44%) of Scotland’s land area is classed as upland. This area contains important habitats that are in a state of decline including peatland, heather moorland and native woodland.

Susan Davies, Director of Conservation at the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “With a shift in public attitudes and changes in how we manage our land, we could transform Scotland’s uplands.  Sadly, our uplands are currently under threat on a landscape scale from a wide range of pressures including intensive land management, invasive species and poorly-targeted public subsidies. This is bad for wildlife, bad for communities and bad for Scotland.

“Changing our relationship with the natural environment in the uplands could reverse the decline in wildlife and habitats, and ensure that the uplands can deliver a wider range of benefits, including natural flood risk management, enhanced opportunities for tourism and recreation, and high-quality sustainably produced food.

“We aim to show leadership in this area by addressing these issues on our three upland reserves, Largiebaan, Rahoy Hills and Ben Mor Coigach. Ben Mor Coigach is part of the wider Coigach-Assynt Living Landscape Partnership, a ground-breaking community partnership initiated by the Scottish Wildlife Trust that aims to bring environmental and economic benefits to this iconic part of north west Scotland.”

Anne Gray from Scottish Land and Estates said: “There are many different thoughts on how Scotland’s uplands should look and what they should deliver. The Scottish Wildlife Trust is naturally focussing on environmental outputs and we can certainly agree with their overarching desire for systems in upland areas to take proper account of, and deliver improvements to, the natural environment.  We might not always agree however with their proposals on how to get there. 

We want to see landowners and managers properly rewarded for delivering environmental benefits but that does need to occur alongside delivery of landowners’ aspirations for their land, rather than instead of.  Owners and managers’ decision-making around land use choices is complex and much more nuanced than just being about financial reward.  We look forward to having constructive discussions on this and other issues highlighted in the Trust’s strategy with them going forward.“

Graeme Dey MSP, Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee said: “The worsening impacts and incidents of flooding, the debate around grouse shooting and the management of moorland to accommodate this, the pressing need to plant more trees, and the fact the deer management issue is coming to a head make the timing of this report very apt.

“Living Landscapes in the Scottish Uplands represents a positive contribution to the discussions we need to have around the future role of our uplands and I look forward to working with the Scottish Wildlife Trust and others in a co-operative way to secure real and appropriate progress.’’

Between the 1940s and 2007, more than 20% of heather moorland cover was lost, mainly due to afforestation and conversion to rough grassland. Blanket bog decreased by 21% between the 1940s and 1980s and lowland raised bogs by 44%. While these habitats have begun to recover in recent years, fens, swamps and marshes have continued to decline.

The extent of native woodland in the uplands is relatively small, and the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland suggests that significant losses have occurred over the last four decades. Commercial plantations cover an area ten times the size of the extent of upland woodland.

Ten key recommendations from the Trust’s publication, ‘Living Landscapes in the Scottish Uplands’:

  • Incorporation of Ecosystem Health Indicators (EHIs) and Natural Capital Valuations (NCVs) into all relevant policy instruments.
  • Integrated Land Management plans that secure sectoral cooperation to improve the condition, services and benefits from upland ecosystems.
  • Reform of subsidy regimes for upland sheep and cattle farming to encourage low stocking densities and ‘agro-forestry’ systems.
  • Financial incentives for low-impact forest management in commercial upland plantations.
  • Wildlife-rich networks in areas between protected sites that support natural dynamic processes and succession.
  • Regulation of deer and upland grouse moor management to encourage more sustainable management practices.
  • Re-introduction of lost species such as Eurasian beaver and Eurasian lynx.
  • New statutory guidelines to mitigate the impacts of energy developments 

Read the full Living Landscape in the Scottish Uplands policy here 

Read our one-page Nature in Brief summary here

Preface

The Scottish Wildlife Trust has set out a new approach to the way that Scotland’s uplands are managed, including financial incentives to encourage good environmental stewardship and regulations that achieve …

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