Sustainable management and protection of soils is a priority for Scotland. Soils are a valuable but vulnerable natural asset and underpin environmental, economic, and social functions. The importance of soils is mirrored in the wide range of regulations, policy and guidance that have evolved over time.

This report updates the previous ClimateXChange Soil Governance in Scotland report (McKee 2018) to reflect changes in policy and legislation for the conservation and management of soil in Scotland, with extensions to consider soil carbon and biodiversity.

Key findings

  • Since 2018, 29 soil related policies have been updated or introduced across a range of legislative areas, including: agriculture; climate change; forestry; planning; diseases and pest control; plant health and genetically modified organisms.
  • Soil biodiversity is included in legislation either as a part of biodiversity as a whole or as a part of soil health.
  • Soil carbon is explicitly considered in relation to peat, most predominantly in Scotland’s National Peatland Plan. Soil carbon may also be considered within general climate change legislation, although is not explicitly mentioned.
  • There is no single policy for soil conservation and management.
  • No updates to policy regarding policy effectiveness have been made since the 2018 report, resulting in a continued a gap in soil monitoring for policy effectiveness.
  • Specific gaps can be identified in relation to
    • the role of protection and restoration of peat in climate change mitigation legislation, building on current inclusion in land use plans and legislation, and the Climate Change Plan;
    • the recognition of soil biodiversity as a part of biodiversity legislation; and
    • the explicit inclusion of wider soil carbon into land management and agricultural legislation.

The Scottish Government established the Climate Challenge Fund (CCF) in 2008 to help local communities in the transition to a low-carbon society. The fund supports community-led projects which lead to reductions in carbon emissions, and which are designed to leave a sustainable legacy of low-carbon behaviour.

It works in areas such as energy efficiency, sustainable and active travel, reducing and recycling waste, and food growing. As of mid-2020, over 1,150 projects across all Scotland’s 32 local authorities had been awarded CCF grants, with total funding since 2008 exceeding £111 million.

This report considers the evidence for the fund’s impact on the ground, the effectiveness of actions, and how we can monitor success in the future. Emerging findings were captured during the research in a series of interim policy notes, also published here.

The research centres on in-depth case studies of five CCF projects which the team followed for 18 months. The report uses the case study evidence to understand and capture the processes of change supported by the CCF. From this, it draws out lessons on how to facilitate and monitor such impact going forward.

Welcoming the report at the CCF Annual Gathering 2020, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham MSP, said:

I thank the research team for all their efforts on the study which, as they presented in one of the break-out sessions at last year’s Gathering, centred on in-depth case studies of five CCF projects.

Its findings and recommendations will help to identify the specific role that community climate action can play in Scotland’s transition to a net zero society and, crucially, in ensuring that we take everyone with us on that journey.


  • The CCF’s community focus allows it to play a unique role in Scotland’s transition to a low-carbon society. This research identifies that CCF projects contribute to Scotland’s transition to a low-carbon society at the community level in two ways:
    • by directly helping people to explore and adopt low-carbon behaviours; and
    • by building community capacity to embed a legacy of continued bottom-up change that can also support larger-scale policy interventions.
  • The CCF’s unique contributions are not adequately captured through the lens of carbon emissions. This echoes findings from earlier reviews of the CCF.
  • Current carbon-focused CCF monitoring and reporting processes present several limitations.
  • The CCF programme faces similar issues to other community empowerment policies. As such, its design could usefully reflect the barriers and opportunities faced by community projects in general.


Moving Beyond Carbon Emissions

  1. The CCF programme should seek to address all the elements of Climate Change Engagement.

Better Capturing and Reporting CCF Success

  1. We suggest reporting along the lines of the proposed Climate Change Engagement framework.
  2. Reporting processes need to be realistic.
  3. It is important to separate supporting and assessment functions in the reporting process.

Making the Most of the CCF’s Community Focus

  1. CCF projects could be given more guidance and support to identify and respond to their communities’ specific characteristics.
  2. The CCF funding approach should reflect diverse community capacities.
  3. The CCF could empower projects to be adaptive over the course of the funding period.



This report was commissioned to analyse the indicators available to monitor Scotland’s soil health. Soil health is essential: the benefits range from food production to filtering water, reducing flood risk and regulating climate.

The second Scottish Climate Change Adaptation Programme (SCCAP) identifies soil health as a priority research area, following concerns over a perceived lack of data or gaps in understanding Scotland’s soils. This study summarises previous work on Scottish soils, explores existing datasets, and identifies metrics to support the monitoring of soil health and the vulnerability of Scottish soils to climate change.

 Key findings
  • Scotland has a significant, world-leading soil knowledge base and a broad data resource portfolio. However, the existing evidence base does not contain tools identified as appropriate for monitoring change in Scottish soils.
  • Thirteen indicators with potential to measure soil vulnerability to climate change in all soil types were identified.
  • A total of 41 existing datasets that contain baseline and/or resurvey data for Scottish soils have been identified. Resampling of some of these long-term national datasets has potential to support further development of the 13 identified indicators (Table A10).
  • A critical knowledge gap exists regarding the dependencies of the 13 identified indicators (i.e. factors they are reliant on), their interactions and hence whether a reduced core set of indicators could be identified at a future stage. This is compounded with critical gaps in our understanding of the interactions between soil properties. This knowledge gap has a major impact on soil biological diversity and therefore functioning of the soil system.
  • No single indicator measures the full range of relevant properties encompassing all soils or climatic conditions.


We derive a wide range of benefits from how we use the land; it underpins our economic prosperity, supports the provision of essential supplies of food and clean water. Its sustainable management is essential to how we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to a changing climate. 

‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ schemes have been developed in a broad range of areas that seek to support good environmental management. Common to all the schemes is that they take a voluntary approach to offering financial incentives to land-managers for actions that maintain or enhance services that are not routinely bought and sold or provided through regulation.

The characteristics of different ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ schemes vary considerably. For the purposes of meeting climate change needs, ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ has substantial potential but with several key issues:

  • The degree to which participation by actors, particularly providers can be facilitated.
  • The type of scheme (inputs or outcomes based), the structural arrangement for the relationships between actors and how well it fits with the objectives.
  • How well the scheme balances the need for supply of other ecosystem services (and biodiversity).


Peatlands cover nearly a quarter of Scotland and contain over half of the total Scottish soil carbon. However, more than 90% of the lowland raised bogs (and over half of the blanket bog) have been altered to such an extent that they are now degraded, causing substantial Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions.

This report looks at the costs and benefits of peatland restoration activities in Scotland to get a sense of the cost effectiveness of different techniques, primarily targeting work carried out since 2010.

Scottish Government has set ambitious peatland restoration and rewetting targets in the Climate Change Plan. This project provides information about which techniques work in certain circumstances to achieve the initial goal of sustainable rewetting of peatlands.