NATURE is in crisis – but despite the challenges ahead, it will have a key role to play in tackling climate change.

Francesca Osowska, Chief Executive of NatureScot, the pioneering public body responsible for Scotland’s natural heritage, believes a ‘nature-rich’ future is vital.

“With COP26 and COP15, a major conference on biodiversity which is happening in China in October, both on the horizon, this is a great opportunity to really stress the links between climate and nature,” she explained.

“The two are intrinsically linked. Nature has a fundamental role to play in taking carbon out of the atmosphere, adapting to climate change and reducing the risks of flood, drought and loss of wildlife.

“We have to treat nature and climate together, or we will not be able to address either.”

Recent research, led by The Nature Conservancy and 15 other institutions, and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that nature-based solutions can provide up to 37% of the emission reductions needed by 2030 to keep global temperature increases under 2°C – 30% more than previously estimated.

Ms Osowska added: “That could be through the creating a carbon sink, or by changing the way we travel. There are large-scale solutions, such as peatland restoration and woodland creation, and there are small-scale ones – we are supporting countless community projects, for example, working to help reverse biodiversity loss and tackle climate change.

“These projects are hugely inspiring – from volunteers tackling invasive species along local rivers to community-led initiatives planting for pollinators –they are making a real difference to help nature and give us all hope for the future.”

One of the biggest success stories is the Biodiversity Challenge Fund (BCF), co-funded by NatureScot and the Scottish Government.

“This was hugely oversubscribed, which was a nice problem to have,” said Ms Osowska, smiling. “Communities have really responded to the challenge, and it is encouraging to see the way nature is becoming part of the narrative.

“The pandemic and lockdown helped to boost people’s appreciation of the nature on their doorsteps – more of us realised nature is not something that only exists out there in the hills, or in remote, far away places, but it is all around us, including in urban settings.” Since 2019, a total of £6.6m has been awarded through the BCF to innovative projects that improve biodiversity and address the impact of climate change by increasing the resilience of at-risk habitats and species.

Initiatives which received funding include the Edinburgh Shore Line Project, a community-centred partnership restoring habitats and creating artificial ones suitable for rocky shore invertebrates on sea defences; Seven Lochs Wetlands Park, which combines habitat creation and enhancement at 18 sites in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire with the development of a skilled team of staff and volunteers able to manage these habitats for the future; and Central Scotland B-Lines – a network of insect pathways within East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Edinburgh and South Lanarkshire.

This project has enhanced and created 47 sites across the local authority areas, providing flower rich habitat for pollinating insects and other wildlife. Local community groups, schools and volunteers are being engaged with the project to encourage ownership of greenspaces and improve wellbeing. NatureScot is keen to develop its relationship with young people, as Ms Osowska explains.

“We are only custodians of the planet, it is our job to hand it on to young people, who are anxious and agitating for change,” she said.

“We worked on a successful outdoor nature project, providing a toolkit aimed at giving teachers the confidence to use outdoor settings as learning environments – and again, we are not talking about remote hills or lengthy field trips, it could be the park just five minutes’ down the road.

“It has been well-received and we are very proud of it. We have had feedback from teachers who report it is connecting with young people who, for whatever reason, do not engage in indoor classrooms.”

NatureScot has also worked with Young Scot on establishing ReRoute, Scotland’s Youth Biodiversity Panel which aims to give young people a voice in issues surrounding nature and the outdoors.

“The young people led a great piece of work and their reports provided us with a set of actions to take forward in ReRoute 2,” said Ms Osowska. “It was fantastic and we learned a lot about how we engage with young people.”

Ahead of COP26 in Glasgow this November, Ms Oswoska says there is “absolutely a sense of optimism.”

“This is going to be a pivotal conference,” she said.

“It presents us with a huge opportunity in Scotland to address the many challenges and pressures nature is facing.      

“Nature is not remote from the human species, we are part of it, and we need to change, restore and revive it.

“That is essential, for the food we eat, the air we breathe and, ultimately, our own long-term survival.”



INVASIVE non-native species are responsible for significant biodiversity loss in Scotland, compounding the impacts of climate change and posing one of the biggest threats to the country’s spectacular native wildlife.

There is significant economic impact too, as NatureScot’s Chief Executive Francesca Osowska explains.

“Invasive non-native species are estimated to cost the Scottish economy over £300 million a year,” she said. “They can also have a negative impact our health and food security.”


The Scottish Invasive Species Initiative (SISI) is a large scale, multi-year and multi-partner project funded by NatureScot and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, in a bid to control giant hogweed, Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, American mink and more.

The 29,500 square kilometre project area (approximately one third of mainland Scotland) makes it the largest control project of its kind in the British Isles.

“The work done by volunteers on this project is impressive – so far, something like 449 volunteer days have been recorded pulling out Himalayan balsam alone, more than 350 volunteers are running a network of 670 mink rafts and traps and total volunteer effort is the equivalent of having 44 full time staff working on the project for one year,” says Ms Osowska.

Since 2018, SISI has been working in partnership with the Men’s Shed Association, initially in Cromarty and now in Stanley and Brechin.


The Sheds have played a pivotal role in supporting the Mink Control Project through building the mink monitoring rafts (floating wooden platforms the project uses to establish the presence of the animals) – a total of almost 450 made in four years. Men’s Shed members have also met with local staff to learn about the conservation project in more detail.

SISI has teamed up with Beauly Balsam Bashers, a partnership set up in 2021 by the Beauly Fishery Board with Lovat Estates and the local community including the Beauly Eco-Group to tackle patches of Himalayan balsam on the riverbank.

Thanks to the work of two lead volunteers the group is now self-sustaining and significant inroads have been made into controlling the majority of the balsam.



A GROUNDBREAKING idea to create a community green space from a derelict golf course in South Lanarkshire has become one of the area’s biggest biodiversity success stories.

“Fernbrae Meadows is fantastic and has been really embraced by the local community,” said NatureScot’s Chief Executive Francesca Osowska.

“In addition to connecting people with nature, the 20-hectare park is playing a crucial role in boosting the biodiversity of the area with natural meadows connected by woodland corridors attracting back native species that had been driven away during the site’s intensive management as a golf course.”


NatureScot, which worked in partnership with South Lanarkshire Council and the local community on the project, is leading the Green Infrastructure Fund, which has allocated more than £15m from the European Regional Development Fund to green infrastructure projects like Fernbrae Meadows, in some of the most deprived areas of Scotland. Including match funding, this means an overall programme of projects worth £40m.

“The park has been designed to help mitigate the impacts of climate change,” adds Ms Osowska.

“Flooding had been a significant issue, particularly with the impacts of climate change, and the work included renaturalisation of a canalised burn to create a wetland, which also reduced flood risk on and off site.”


This article is brought to you in association with NatureScot.