Exploring Scotland's nature networks and why they are essential as we look toward a green recovery.

Nature Networks – Key to supporting our green recovery

There is often an urge to think of nature as occurring in a fixed place- the green space here, or the animal habitats over there. We see these spaces as isolated from each other and from us, something ‘outside’ ourselves we must work to save. When we view nature in this way, it loses importance against a checklist of other priorities and suffers as a result.

In many places in Scotland nature has been altered, degraded or fragmented but an interconnected natural network remains, a collection of places from wild mountains and coasts to the spaces that sit between and amongst our buildings, roads and farmed landscapes, integrated with our communities. This system of interrelated spaces and activity could be described as Scotland’s Nature Network. Nature Networks support wildlife and are places connected to each other through a mix of natural and managed habitats including rivers, woodlands or hedgerows. Everything from nature friendly gardens, green roofs on buildings and our urban parklands through to our vast peatland and bog habitats form part of the network. Nature Networks demonstrate the interconnections of our natural world and contribute to a vision of the future where the relationship between the human and natural world is not separate, but cohesive, balanced. And it is a vision that is currently under threat from biodiversity loss and global warming.

path by canalside with trees and some grasses. house rooves visible in background

At its most basic level, a Nature Network is a series of restored and protected habitats that help ecosystems to thrive. A rich and diverse Nature Network allows plants and wildlife to disperse and move freely between them. These thriving ecosystems provide services such as improved water quality, a reduced risk of flood and soil erosion, and carbon storage through tree growth and healthy peatlands. These benefits of healthy ecosystems for climate, nature, and health and wellbeing are well documented. Nature Networks aren’t usually about the creation of new spaces so much as about restoring nature and making existing natural spaces bigger, better, more joined up and more robust.

But a Nature Network is not simply about the space for healthy habitats and thriving ecosystems, it’s a way of working together across sectors for the benefit of all. In functioning Nature Networks, government, industry, land-managers, non-profits and communities work together to include nature in their plans. Within the Scottish Nature Network are opportunities to restore and enhance nature for the benefit of wildlife and society and to help coordinate and direct the delivery of nature-based solutions such as tree planting, peatland restoration and natural flood management schemes to the places that most need it. By doing so, a Scottish Nature Network can help address the challenges we face and create truly ‘green’ employment and investment both to meet the short-term needs of economic recovery and deliver long-term climate, nature and societal outcomes.

native woodland trees

The Scottish Government has said they want a green, inclusive recovery that has wellbeing at its heart. As the debate focuses on what that looks like in practice, a Scottish Nature Network could provide many of the solutions. RSPB Scotland’s ask to Scottish Government is twofold, first to make good on previous commitments to a Scottish Nature Network by directly investing in the Nature Network through green recovery stimulus packages and second, for Scottish Government to provide national development status to the Scottish Nature Network in the upcoming National Planning Framework 4. Combined, these actions will help secure the opportunities to improve nature connectivity to maximise delivery of nature-based solutions and benefits for people and wildlife and foster improved access to nature for all.

By changing the way we plan, include and think about places, we can better balance nature’s needs with our own. A Scottish Nature Network can lead us to identify and agree to conservation and restoration priorities at national and regional levels, and support collaboration between sectors and stakeholders to protect and enhance nature for the benefit of ecosystems, climate and us.

The video below looks at one such example of a nature network, along the Water of Leith in Edinburgh. Its existence as such is in no small part thanks for the efforts of the Water of Leith Conservation Trust who have since the late 80s worked hard on the restoration and preservation of this green ribbon that runs right through the city centre.