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Biodiversity monitoring project
The impact of agri-environment funding on Scotland's biodiversity will be monitored through a new project.
The three-year project will use remote sensing and field surveys to monitor changes to biodiversity, helping to assess how effectively the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP) protects and enhances our natural heritage.
The launch coincides with the publication of the first national High Nature Value Farming and Forestry report, which shows that at least 40 per cent of both farmland and forestry areas in Scotland are managed in ways that provide high biodiversity value.
Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said:
"Scotland's natural landscape and diverse animal and plant species are what make it spectacular. Scottish Natural Heritage's 2010 'Valuing our Environment' report showed that sustainable management of our natural environment also underpins our economy, supporting around 242,000 jobs in a range of sectors, from agriculture, fishing and forestry to food production, renewable energy and tourism.
"Since the launch of the Scotland Rural Development Programme in 2008 the Scottish Government has awarded over £174 million of agri-environment funding to help land managers protect and enhance nature on their land.
"The project launched today will evaluate the impact of that funding on Scotland's biodiversity, looking in particular at how it conserves key species and habitats and contributes to our economy.
"And today's High Nature Value report, based on work by the Scottish Agricultural College, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland, shows Scotland leading the way on producing High Nature Value indicators and demonstrates that many Scottish farming and forestry systems already support a rich diversity of plants, animals and habitats.
"If we are to continue to reap rewards from our natural environment and achieve even more in future, we must understand the impact of the money we spend. I look forward to learning the results of this innovative project as it progresses."
Ron Macdonald, Head of Policy and Advice at Scottish Natural Heritage, said:
"Farming and crofting contribute greatly to the diversity of Scotland's natural heritage, and the SRDP plays an important part in protecting our biodiversity, so this project is crucial to evaluate what's working and what can be improved.
"The High Nature Value report also gives us a picture of the more remote uplands of Scotland which, despite being hampered by a harsh climate and the nature of the soil, has a great variety of wildlife and impressive landscapes. For the first time, the report describes the characteristics of High Nature Value farmland throughout Scotland. This information will help the Scottish Government design policies to support this kind of farming effectively."
The SRDP is a programme of economic, environmental and social measures designed to support the Scottish Government's strategic objectives in rural Scotland to 2013.
To comply with EC regulations the Scottish Government must monitor the environmental impact of the SRDP and in particular agri-environment funding. Ecological and GIS consultancy Environment Systems will lead the project, working with Thomson Ecology and Team Projects. The project will focus on two SRDP funding mechanisms - Rural Priorities and Land Managers Options.
The High Nature Value Farming and Forestry report was commissioned by the Scottish Government, and also responds to EC regulations. It provides a baseline assessment of High Nature Value Farming and Forestry against which progress of the SRDP can be monitored.