Dave Windle

In May 2014, SNH convened an independent panel to interview leading experts over a period of two days to review aspects of protected areas, namely Sites of Special Scientific Interests, Special Protection Areas, Special Areas of Conservation and National Nature Reserves. The panel consisted of Simon Pepper (Chair), Tim Benton, John Thomson, Kirsty Park, Hamish Trench and Paul Selman. Their report is intended to provoke discussion and is now available on SNH's website.

The Summary is reproduced below:-

Protected areas have contributed significantly to the safeguarding of nature. Without them nature would be in a much worse state than it is.

However, overall biodiversity is still declining. Although protected areas for nature are a necessary part of the solution, they are not in themselves a sufficient response to the widening and increasing pressures bearing on the natural environment and its contribution to Scotland's prosperity, health and wellbeing.

Effective conservation requires a balance of effort on several axes: a network of protected areas that functions at the landscape scale; measures for the protection of highly mobile species; and policies ensuring that the rest of the environment is managed sympathetically. The more we know about ecosystems and their needs, the more this holds true. The ongoing loss of biodiversity signals that the amount and balance of effort need to be adjusted.

A number of factors have led to a loss of this balance, with protected areas becoming increasingly isolated - from each other, from wider land use, and from society - distorting and weakening their role in the strategy overall. As natural resource use has intensified, more reliance has been placed on protected areas to carry the burden of nature conservation.

In the process, protected areas have tended to focus more on rarity and perpetuating the status quo than responding to a changing environment and the dynamic character of natural systems. And for their part, other policies have taken an insufficient share of their responsibility to respect the integrity of the natural world on which we all rely.

The Scottish Biodiversity Strategy states that "biodiversity - nature to most people - underpins our lives, our prosperity and the very essence of our world. The wildlife, habitats and other forms of nature with which we share planet earth are valuable in their own right quite apart from the pleasure we take from their existence and the ways in which they support us.

We see this as confirming three strands of rationale for looking after nature - use, delight and duty. In support of this cause in a changing world, we suggest that protected areas should have a new purpose which is more forward looking, people-oriented and adaptive.

To maintain good examples of habitat types as core components of a wider pattern of healthy functioning landscapes that are resilient to change, and meet the needs of people now and in the future.

This purpose, consistent with the internationally agreed Aichi targets for biodiversity, has some demanding implications, both for protected areas (including selection criteria and principles for assessing site condition), and for higher level strategies where future challenges, including those related to climate change and food security, will place a major premium on better integration of policies to meet human needs whilst also supporting the healthy functioning of ecosystems.

A number of initiatives are required:

Perhaps most challenging of all is our proposal for developing a new consensus in response to mounting pressures on the natural environment on which people depend. This will require a better use of existing policies to make land use more sustainable and capable of delivering the full range of ecosystem services into the future. There are challenges here for conventional thinking across the board - no sector can be excused - but we believe open negotiation can deliver better outcomes for the public good than current trajectories.

Finally, all of this requires strong leadership.

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