THE value of the “natural economy” to Scotland’s overall economic output has been defined and detailed for the first time.

A report commissioned by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and undertaken by BiGGAR Economics, a leading independent economic consultancy, shows in 2018 the natural economy contributed £29.1 billion gross value added (GVA) to the Scottish economy – more than a fifth of its total – and employed 290,100 people.

It equates to 11 per cent of all employment across Scotland.

The report argues that the natural economy is an area of comparative advantage for Scotland, which can also be a critical plank of the national recovery and renewal strategy out of the coronavirus crisis backed by universities and research institutes.

READ MORE: Cruise Loch Lomond to explore new waters as lockdown lifts

The natural economy is defined as comprising six sub-sectors that either directly use, rely or contribute to conserving natural resources, which are tourism, food and drink, fishing and aquaculture, agriculture, energy, including renewables, and forestry, logging and manufacture of wood.

Whereas most of the GVA generated by the natural economy is due to energy, employment is more evenly distributed across tourism, agriculture, energy, and food and drink, it found.

Nature-related tourism made the largest contribution with over 87,000 jobs.

Professor Wayne Powell, chief executive and principal at SRUC, said: “This would be an important report at any time, but in showing how we can build on the comparative advantage that Scotland has in the area of natural economy, it is a vital contribution to our economic, social and environmental recovery from the Covid-19 crisis.

“Focusing on the natural economy is a key part of SRUC’s transformation to becoming Scotland’s enterprise university. As this report makes clear, a more integrated approach to developing the sectors that make up the natural economy can and will enhance Scotland’s overall performance, not least by driving up productivity and boosting resilience.

“Such an approach will require a new model of collaboration to deliver the education, research and innovation needs of the natural economy. SRUC stands ready to play our full part in such a collaborative effort, and we look forward to publishing further research for wide debate and discussion about how this exciting vision can be realised.” The Scottish Government’s advisory group on economic recovery noted that: “The industries underpinned by Scotland’s natural capital will have an essential role to play in supporting economic recovery.”