Scotland’s natural landscape is, of course, one of its greatest assets. It also has a major role to play in the fight against climate change. Moves such as peatland restoration, woodland creation and blue carbon can all make a major contribution.

Introducing nature-based solutions will, however, require skills and people. The sector already makes a major contribution to the economy, accounting for at least 195,000 jobs – 7.5 per cent of the workforce – in 2019. But there is now scope for that to grow further.

Scotland’s nature agency, NatureScot, has just published a new action plan aimed at developing the skills and opportunities needed to secure both the planned transition to net zero by 2045 and the green recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Key parts of the plan include encouraging young people into nature-based careers and also working with partners to examine and address barriers to minority communities gaining employment in the sector.

NatureScot itself is making a contribution through its own £1 million youth employment programme supporting over 40 modern apprenticeships and student and graduate placements.

Growth in nature-based employment has already been phenomenal. It expanded at five times the rate of the overall jobs sector between 2015 and 2019, accounting for a third of all the growth over that period.

Nature-based opportunities also go far beyond traditional jobs in rural areas.  As we tackle the climate emergency, careers will emerge in areas such as nature-based urban infrastructure and green finance.

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“One of the things in our action plan is that we want to engage young people and their parents and carers to understand how you get into these jobs. That’s a key priority,” says Claudia Rowse, NatureScot’s Deputy Director of Sustainable Growth.

“We will work with Skills Development Scotland and others who are giving out careers advice at a very early stage. Engagement often happens at secondary school. People want to know if they will have secure jobs and if they will be well paid.”

A lot of people still perceive rural employment as being centred on land use and have a negative perception of it, she adds. “They see it as involving tough outdoor jobs in bad weather with low pay and seasonality, and these are issues that we need to address. But in the future, there will also be highly skilled roles needing people who, for example, can analyse data from satellites, or who are hydrologists or civil engineers.”

Collaboration with education providers and with Scottish Government initiatives such as the Green Jobs Workforce Academy and the new Green Jobs Skills Hub is key, Ms Rowse says.

Even the traditional agricultural sector - often seen as the centre of the nature-based economy - is undergoing profound change. “The skills that have developed in this area over the last 50 years are not going to be the kind of skills we need in the next 50.

“We’re trying to raise awareness of the need for farming with nature. It will be about using digital data to understand the need for biodiversity and about new methods of efficient farming - areas that will need upskilling.

“We are going to have a very competitive jobs market, so we need to make the sector attractive for people to come into.”

One advantage is that young people in particular are passionate about climate change and doing their part to combat it. There are also jobs in the nature-based sector available for them right across the country and at all levels. We need to follow up on this, both for them and for the people who are informing or educating them, in order to help them make choices. Some of that cohort doesn’t yet understand it or its potential.

“Job opportunities are going to grow a lot more over the next 10 years to meet Scotland’s net zero targets. We need to join up the enthusiasm, passion and interest that young people have for the subject with the actual jobs and skills.”

Areas that will need to be tackled in future to address climate change and biodiversity loss and where people will be needed to fill jobs include peatland restoration, which is seen as a vital part of the jigsaw.

Another is coastal erosion. “This currently threatens £1.2 billion of infrastructure, with our towns, cities, homes and railways all threatened by rising sea levels,” explains Ms Rowse.

“If we manage our sand dunes and other coastal habitats, we will be able to address these more efficiently and more cost effectively than we would through hard engineering.

“We need people like geomorphologists, hydrologists and ecologists as well as those who work on the fencing, procurement, planting and project management. There are a huge range of opportunities.

“There’s also the whole issue of climate literacy. We are trying to work with higher and further education and professional institutes as well as with people in sectors such as architecture, engineering and the construction industry to find out how they are going to incorporate new skills.”

A just transition also has to incorporate all aspects of society, she says, including those from minority communities. “There’s also a very strong gender imbalance - the sector is very male.

“We want to work with specialist groups who understand how to target audiences and address these issues. Agricultural training has quite a strong macho image and we need to think about how we work to address that.”

Francesca Osowska, NatureScot’s Chief Executive, also believes that encouraging people to build jobs and careers in the sector is an important step in tackling the climate emergency.

“We know that nature-based solutions can contribute around 30 per cent towards reducing Scotland’s emissions, but that currently we don’t have sufficient skills in place in order to fully realise this potential”, she says. “Our initial priority focuses on providing skills pathways for people to enter the sector. We want to inspire and engage young people with the growing number of roles and skills available.”

www.nature.scot