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Coordinating policy instruments that influence biodiversity, soil, and water in Scotland: rationales, needs and challenges

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Image: Fife, Laure Kufuss

‘Doing well, but could do better’ is one way to summarise one of the main messages coming out of an ESCom (Ecosystem Service Community) workshop looking at the coordinated delivery of policy instruments for biodiversity, soil, and water. The workshop was held on 23rd May 2017, in Edinburgh, to discuss the rationale, needs and challenges facing attempts to implement biodiversity policy instruments in coordination with other environmental goals and policies. The workshop provided an opportunity to discuss where and how policy coordination might be needed, to inform future research about the most appropriate ways to achieve such coordination.

Whilst most participants were positive about the direction of travel, our ‘living graph’ activities (where participants arrange themselves along an axis) suggest that there is still progress to be made in terms of implementing biodiversity policy instruments; and in integrating instruments protecting soil, water and biodiversity in Scotland.  Participants were slightly more positive about the progress on biodiversity than on integration, which makes sense given that integration is a much newer goal for Scotland.

There were many reasons given for being positive about biodiversity policy implementation, such as the existence of strong high-level vision for biodiversity and a suite of instruments available for implementation, both of which are improvements on the past.  However, there are still problems with implementing biodiversity policies, particularly around development planning, and a sense that biodiversity is not viewed as important by other sectors or the public. Some of the policy instruments were perceived to prevent taking a more systemic or adaptive approach to conserving biodiversity. For example, cost-benefit analysis was problematic as it tends to screen out non-market values and doesn’t account for trade-offs and tipping points; whilst seeking to return to ‘reference’ conditions (the environmental state prior to industrialisation) may not provide society with the full range of ecosystem services that we desire.

Likewise, there are recent international and national policies that promote integration, but a gap remains between rhetoric and reality. It is difficult to tackle multiple issues at once, and often it is easier to focus on a single priority, such as carbon sequestration, even though this may inadvertently reduce the focus on tackling other issues and delivering other benefits.  Integration requires working on multiple scales: a consistent and coherent framework at the national level is necessary, but learning and sharing ideas about how to do it on the ground, working with local people in democratic processes, is also essential.

Overall there seemed to be common perspectives around how to win people’s ‘hearts and minds’. For example: the concept of natural capital could be one useful way to change individual thinking about the importance of nature, but has yet to change the way individuals, society and businesses behave.  There were also discussions about how to set objectives and measure success, and who should be involved in these processes. However, unlike biodiversity, the discussions around integration were clear about the importance of understanding whether integration is needed and reaching societal consensus on what trade-offs to make. Finally, understanding land management rights and responsibilities seems to be fundamental to managing biodiversity and integrating delivery of multiple benefits from soil, water and biodiversity.

We presented two interlinked research projects from the ongoing Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme (2016-21). Whilst they slightly differed in scope, focus and method, the projects both identified the growth of ‘hybrid approaches’, combining regulations, incentives and/or advice, and the lack of clear and substantive guidance on how to achieve multiple benefits using these instruments.  The final discussion reiterated the importance of understanding what we want integration to achieve, and the inherently political nature of the choices that are required; as well as further discussion about whether to focus on management activity or ecological outcomes. 

Overall, the workshop confirmed that there is interest in improving the implementation of biodiversity instruments and overcoming challenges to integration. It also showed that there is optimism about what can be achieved in the future. Further research is planned in 2018-19 to look at how existing challenges could be overcome, in order to feed into future policy design in the next few years, particularly arising from post-BREXIT reviews of environmental and agri-environmental instruments.

The workshop report and slides from the workshop can be found here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are the views of the author(s), and not an official position of the institute or funder.



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Printed from /blogs/coordinating-policy-instruments-influence-biodiversity-soil-and-water-scotland-rationales on 24/02/24 01:22:41 PM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.