This report examines the potential of nature-based solutions to contribute to Scotland’s net-zero emissions target.

Scotland is facing the twin challenges of a climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. Changing the way we use the land and sea is now essential to both store carbon and help society adapt to climate change. Doing so can also help to improve the state of nature, which is experiencing unprecedented threats. 

Nature-based solutions feature prominently in the global biodiversity agenda. Vegetation growth and healthy soils, as well as sea floor integrity, provide a crucial way of locking away carbon emissions. However, it is the additional multiple benefits unique to nature-based solutions – addressing biodiversity loss, and adaptation to locked-in climate change – that makes them such a crucial part of a net-zero strategy. These are widely regarded as ‘no-regret’ actions to address climate change, but the evidence base to support their direct impact is complex. As such, further work is required to understand their practical application in Scottish circumstances.

This study assesses evidence for the greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation potential of four nature-based solutions in Scotland (agroforestry, hedgerows, un-cultivated riparian buffer zones and the restoration of species-rich grasslands) and how these can help mitigate the impacts of climate change and reduce biodiversity loss. In addition, we provide a synthesis of the strength of evidence for including these as part of net-zero policy objectives and carbon codes.

Regional Land Use Partnerships (RLUPs) are being set up in Scotland to help achieve Scotland’s climate change targets through land use change and a natural capital approach. These partnerships facilitate engagement between local and national government, communities, landowners, land managers, and a range of other relevant stakeholders. Five RLUP pilots will produce a Regional Land Use Framework (RLUF) by 2023 using a natural capital approach which considers key natural assets and the benefits these provide to communities and the regional economy.

This project examines evidence from the UK and Europe for the use of the natural capital approach in successful partnerships, working across multiple sectors and landownership boundaries. It focuses on outcomes for climate change, biodiversity and benefits to local communities. It includes six case studies of partnerships which have incorporated elements of a natural capital approach.


Based on our analysis, a natural capital approach can help:

  • build a balanced overview of the range of ecosystem services and benefits to communities and stakeholders that land and natural assets can provide;
  • understanding of how different services may interact in response to projects and interventions, leading to multiple benefits or negative unintended consequences;
  • contextualise and respond to the different priorities and interests of specific partners and stakeholders, helping pre-empt and manage conflicts of interest;
  • act as a stimulus for local investment; and
  • bring stakeholders together to co-produce plans that can meet multiple objectives.