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Balancing multiple goals in natural resource management

Hills near Braemar. Photo Credit: Kerry Waylen.

Our natural resources benefit society in many ways. Therefore, to achieve economic, social and environmental sustainability, management of natural resources must connect and consider multiple goals and issues.  However, many existing policies for managing the environment are focused on achieving specific issues, such as protecting endangered species or reducing water pollution.  These policies are delivered by a variety of 'instruments' - regulations, incentives and guidance - and it is unclear if and how these instruments interact.

In this project we focused on the challenge of understanding how existing policy instruments shape the management of natural resources, focusing especially on those instruments designed to influence biodiversity, soil and water. Countries such as Scotland have a complex policy and institutional landscape and it is important to understand how this affects the delivery of multiple benefits, before we consider if and how to introduce new instruments or adjustments.

Our initial phase of work (2016-7) used secondary data to make an indepth analysis of selected policy instruments in Scotland, in order to understand and explain their interactions and consequences. Later stages in 2017 supplemented this with feedback and discussion from stakeholders connected with the development and delivery of these instruments. This work is informed by academic concepts in environmental governance and policy analysis, on topics such as coordination, integration and institutional interplay.

Our second phase of work (2019-2022) focused on exploring if and how partnerships negotiate multiple objectives, initially focusing on catchment partnerships that aim to achieve multiple goals and later appraising the implications for other types of environmental partnerships. Building on our earlier work, we have a particular focus on exploring the role and consequences of private sector actors participate within these partnerships.

This project was funded by the Scottish Government RESAS Strategic Research Programme 2016-21, as part of its RD1.4.2.  The second phase of work (2019+) was carried out in collaboration with RD1.2.4.  For more information about this ongoing research contact Kirsty Blackstock ( or Kerry Waylen (

Outputs from this research

  • In January 2023, our paper Agency and Constraint in Environmental Policy Coherence was accepted for publication in the Journal of Political Ecology, in a special issue 'Political ecology of professional practice: plurality and possibilitites in environmental governance'.
  • In January 2022, insights from this work and parellel SRP projects were used to write this book chapter "Integrating soil, water and biodiversity policies: a case study from Scotland". In the book Degradation of Soil and Water Resources: Regional Strategies for Assessing and Addressing a Lingering Global Issue.
  • In July 2021, Kerry Waylen presented on an emergent issue from our findings 'Agency and Constraint: The role of individuals in policy coherence for joined-up water governance', drawing on all five year's of work in this project and also some insights from the MAGIC project at the 5th International Conference on Public Policy (ICPP5) within the panel on 'Integrative water governance across scales, levels and sectors'. Click here to view the slides.
  • In May 2021 we produced a briefing and slides summarising the main findings from our work on catchment partnerships, and highlighting the implications of these findings for partnerships, policy, for those enabling partnerships to happen, and for researchers.
  • In March 2021, Kirsty Blackstock presented some of our findings from this work at the Twenty65 Annual Conference, within its 'Social Science of Water Network Event'. Kirsty's presentation focussed on the role, benefits and evolution of private-public catchment partnerships, and the role of the private sector in these partnerships. Click here to view the slides.
  • Also in March 2021 we curated a virtual exhibition on Water Governance, as part of the World Water Day events organised by Hydro Nation. The exhibition, which can be viewed here until March 2022, showcases some of the work conducted as part of this project, as well as work by colleagues at other research institutes. As part of this event, we produced a video about some of the findings of our work on catchment partnerships; the video focuses on the role of individuals, and in particular of partnership coordinators, in making catchment partnerships work. Click here to view all the virtual exhibitions that were curated as part of World Water Day.
  • In March 2021 we completed the main report on our work on catchment partnerships, where we present the main findings of our study of four cases: the Dee Catchment Partnership (in Scotland), the Hampshire Avon Catchment Partnership (in England), Poole Harbour Catchment Initiative (in England), and the Spey Catchment Initiative (in Scotland). In the report we discuss the partnership goals, how these align with policy objectives and to what extent they are being achieved; the characteristics of partnerships that explain these achievement; and how achievements are constrained or enabled by multi level or polycentric governance dimensions of the EU Water Framework Directive and Floods Directive. Click here to download the report. These findings were discussed in relation to experiences of other types of partnerships, as part of an Ecosystems and Land Use Stakeholders Engagemeng Group (ELSEG) meeting.
  • In January 2021 Kirsty Blackstock presented the findings of our research on catchment partnerships at the online Ecosystems and Land Use Stakeholders Engagement Group (ELSEG) meeting. The slides from this presentation can be viewed here. This was followed by a workshop in which participants in the meeting discussed our findings in relation to their experiences of partnership working. A summary of this discussion can be found here.
  • In September 2020 Kirsty Blackstock and Kerry Waylen participated in the Third Biennial Conference of the Political Ecology Network (POLLEN). Kerry presented on ‘Environmental partnerships: accumulating or resisting environmental bureaucracy’. Based on our research on four catchment partnerships in the UK, she reflected on how partnerships may transcend and are shaped by existing bureaucracies. Her presentation slides can be downloaded by clicking here. Kirsty presented on ‘Agency and Constraint: the role of individuals in delivering policy coherence’. Drawing on data from our research on EU policies, as well as on catchment partnerships in England and Scotland, and policy instruments in Scotland, she reflected on how individuals are constrained and motivated to act as ‘policy entrepreneurs’, making policy coherence happen. The slides from this presentation can be downloaded here.
  • In May 2020 a paper describing how policy instruments tend to be hybrid (a combination of more than one type of policy lever) or interdependent (relying on another policy instrument to deliver their objective) was published in Land Use Policy. The paper notes that academic distinctions between different types of policy instrument are rarely found in practice, and calls for more attention to how policy instruments are implemented in order to inform future environmental land use governance (such as forthcoming Rural Land Use Partnerships in Scotland).
  • During 2019-20, researchers are researching how catchment management partnerships are delivering multiple environmental benefits, as partnership working is an important means of balancing multiple goals and delivering public goods. Although partnership working is voluntary, these partnerships are often shaped and funded by statutory policy processes. Results should be available in Autumn 2020. This work is being conducted with WP1.2.
  • Researchers continue to work with the Macaulay Development Trust Fellow on Natural Capital Accounting, Paola Ovando Pol, to consider how natural capital concepts and methods can support the delivery of multiple benefits by land-based businesses.
  • In March 2019 Kirsty Blackstock gave a presentation on “Scotland’s Multiple Land-Uses: Objectives, Benefits and Trade-offs“ during the inaugural Scottish Parliament Citizen’s Jury on Land Management – see presentation was informed by our research on delivering multiple environmental benefits using existing Scottish policies and steering strategies such as Land Use Strategy. It also resulted in a blog post reflecting on the experience of translating research for a diverse public audience.
  • In February 2019 Alba Juárez-Bourke presented the findings of this research reflecting on the role of policy instruments for transformative change in environmental management at the conference Leverage Points for Sustainability Transformation at Leuphana University in Lüneburg. Click here to download the presentation slides.
  • In November 2018 we completed a review of sixteen private-sector led mechanisms that could be used by land-based businesses to restore or protect natural assets in Scotland. Using insights from academic, policy and business literatures, we assessed mechanisms to increase investments in natural assets; to use management to protect or restore natural assets; and how information mechanisms can reward those investing in or managing in ways that protect or restor natural assets. As the review shows, there are many potential mechanisms but few have been implemented in the Scottish land-based sector; and there are challenges to be overcome. The focus on private-sector led mechanisms complements the previous research on Scottish Government policy instruments. This corresponds to Deliverable D3 of this project. Click here to download the report. We are now discussing these findings with stakeholders, including planning a workshop at the next ELSEG meeting in January 2019, in order to select a case study for further research on mechanisms in practice during 2019-21.
  • In May 2018 we completed an analysis of ten policy instruments designed to safeguard or improve the condition of natural assets in Scotland. The aim of this research was to understand if and how policy instruments interact, and to identify opportunities for aligning policy instruments through coordination or integration. These opportunities offer the potential to better deliver multiple benefits, and to make policy delivery more effective and efficient. We conducted a desk-based analysis of the instruments, followed by 17 interviews with those who have designed or implemented them. Click here to download the report. A summary of the findings can be found here. The main messages have been disseminated using a SEFARI case study as well as a presentation at Scotland's biennial Land Use and Environment Conference XII: Rewarding the Delivery of Public Goods in November 2018. Click here to see the slides. This corresponds to Deliverable D2 of this project.
  • Draft results analysis of ten policy instruments designed to safeguard or improve the condition of natural assets in Scotland was presented to participants at a Soil Engagement Group on 16th April 2018. The participants consisted of Scottish Government policy makers, agency staff and academics working on soil health. A useful discussion considered the potential for tailoring to local context, understanding why gaps exist, and confirming the extent of within Government coordination that occurs but may not be visible to external parties. This feedback helped with revisions to the final report. Click here to view the presentation slides.
  • This research contributed to a T-lab pre-conference workshop as part of the 2017 Transformations Conference held in Dundee, 29th August - 1st September. Twenty people from different sectors linked to environmental management (e.g. NGO, third sector, academia) developed a vision for a transformed culture of decision-making and, drawing from lived experience of efforts to initiate such transformations, identified barriers, enablers and thoughts on way forward. The final workshop report can be found here.
  • In May 2017 we held a workshop at Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation, bringing together cross-sectoral stakeholders in order to discuss the rationale, needs, and challenges for implementing and coordinating policies on biodiversity, soil, and water in Scotland. Click here, here, and here to view our presentation slides; and here is the workshop report. This report corresponds with deliverable D1 of this project.
Project Information
Project Type: 
Active Project
SEFARI – Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research InstitutesSEFARI is the collective of six Scottish world-leading Research Institutes working across the spectrum of environment, land, food, agriculture and communities – all topics which affect how we live our lives, in Scotland and beyond.


Areas of Interest

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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.