NatureScot (Scottish Gaelic: Buidheann Nàdair na h-Alba), which was formerly known as Scottish Natural Heritage, is the public body responsible for Scotland’s natural heritage, especially its natural, genetic and scenic diversity. It advises the Scottish Government and acts as a government agent in the delivery of conservation designations, i.e. national nature reserves, local nature reserves, national parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas and the national scenic areas. The protected areas in Scotland account for 20% of the total area, SSSIs alone 13%. NatureScot receives annual funding from the Government in the form of Grant in Aid to deliver Government priorities for the natural heritage.
NatureScot is the Scottish Government’s adviser on all aspects of nature, wildlife management and landscape across Scotland, and also helps the Scottish Government meet its responsibilities under European environmental laws, particularly in relation to the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. The agency currently employs in the region of 700 people, but much of NatureScot’s work is carried out in partnership with others including local authorities, Government bodies, voluntary environmental bodies, community groups, farmers and land managers. The body has offices in most parts of Scotland including the main islands. NatureScot works closely with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the equivalent bodies for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to ensure a consistent approach to nature conservation throughout the United Kingdom and towards fulfilling its international obligations.
The agency was formed in 1992 as Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). In November 2019 it was announced that SNH would be re-branded as NatureScot, however its legal persona and statutory functions would remain unchanged. The change took effect on 24 August 2020.
The general aims of NatureScot as established in the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991 are to:
- Secure the conservation and enhancement of Scotland’s natural heritage;
- Foster understanding and facilitate the enjoyment of Scotland’s natural heritage;
For the purposes of the Act, Scotland’s natural heritage is defined as the flora and fauna of Scotland, its geological and physiographical features and its natural beauty and amenity. Specific responsibilities of NatureScot include:
- Providing advice to the Scottish government on the development and implementation of policies relevant to the natural heritage of Scotland;
- Disseminating information and advice relating to the natural heritage of Scotland to the public;
- Carrying out and commissioning research relating to the natural heritage of Scotland;
- Establishing, maintaining and managing designated areas of conservation in Scotland;
NatureScot has responsibility for the delivery of conservation designations in Scotland, i.e. national nature reserves, local nature reserves, long distance routes, national parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas and the national scenic areas. The conservation designations overlap considerably with many protected areas covered by multiple designations.