The above principles of the Ecosystem Approach are evident (light green) or significant (dark green) within this case study

Strategic Environmental Assessment of the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP)

What is this case study about?

The Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) is a programme of economic, environmental and social measures, utilising hundreds of millions of pounds of European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development funding plus domestic Scottish Government funding. The programme is designed to support rural Scotland from 2014 – 2020. Individuals and groups may seek funding from the SRDP to help deliver the Government's strategic objectives in rural Scotland (more information available here).

As part of the development of the SRDP a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is required. The overall aims of the SEA are to ensure that:

  • Likely significant effects on the environment of implementing the RDP are identified, described, evaluated and taken into account before the plan is adopted; and that
  • Reasonable alternatives, taking into account the objectives and geographical scope of the plan, are evaluated for their likely significant effects and inform the nature and content of the proposed RDP.

Collingwood Environmental Planning (CEP) with Agra CEAS were commissioned to undertake an evaluation of the emerging SRDP and the SEA. This case study considers the SEA.

What is its contextual setting?

The SRDP is a large, strategic level programme of numerous policies and funding streams to support rural priorities. It has significant scope for both positive and negative environmental effects. The SRDP is also subject to a number of comprehensive internal and external consultations, reviews and revisions. The SEA is intended to support the design and development of the SRDP to minimise any potentially negative environmental effects and to maximise potential positive effects. The scale of funding means that the SRDP is subject to a high level of interest and oversight.

How has the Ecosystem Approach been used?

The Scottish Government requested proposals to undertake the SEA, CEP suggested that it would be effective to include ecosystem services within the SEA assessment framework. This was partly based on the encouragement given by the Scottish Government to applying an Ecosystems Approach to land use planning. Therefore it was felt appropriate to develop a tailor-made methodology for the SEA of the SRDP that incorporates elements of ecosystem services into the assessment framework. Most of the other aspects of the Ecosystem Approach are inherent in the SEA and the SRDP and only the inclusion of ecosystem services is felt to differ from a traditional approach.

The nature of the schemes and policies supported by the SRDP suggested that an ecosystem services perspective could provide added value to understanding the impacts, dependencies and resilience of much of the rural economy on the ecosystem services provided by the environment. This sort of approach was felt to be consistent with the priorities for rural development. It was therefore proposed that an assessment framework for the SEA that included ecosystem services be developed in full consultation with key stakeholders, including the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Scotland. The proposal was accepted and the initial consultation on the development of the framework and the inclusion of ecosystem services was done by holding a Scoping Meeting with key stakeholders. This involved a discussion of what were the: major environmental issues and priority ecosystem services, how could the SRDP potentially negative effect these and what were the opportunities to increase the provision of these ecosystem services.

What has happened?

On the back of the process above a Scoping Report was presented for further consultation, this document set out the approach and the major environmental issues including those relating to ecosystem services. Feedback received from a wide range of stakeholders was good and the inclusion of ecosystem services, priority environmental topics was agreed. As a result ecosystem services were included across the baseline section of the SEA, within the objectives that form the main assessment framework and within the consideration of cumulative effects.

What is the added value of using the Ecosystem Approach?

Ecosystem services were viewed as a more effective way of thinking about the Scottish environment and the likely effects of the SRDP. In effect the intention was to describe the benefits Scotland receives from its environment and to find opportunities for the SRDP to increase these benefits, consistent with the Scottish Government’s commitment to the Ecosystems Approach and rural development.

Ecosystem services also crosses many of the topics that an SEA is required to consider, this more integrated approach was felt to be a good way of consider the cumulative effects of the SRDP policies and programmes.

What are the key barriers to progress/mainstreaming?

The number and scale of environmental effects that cascade from the SRDP provide a challenge in terms of understanding the total likely environmental effects, the changes to ecosystem service provision and relating this to the baseline. The response has been to focus on priority policies, ecosystem services and topics and to considering in less detail those effects that are less significant.

What are the lessons learnt?

  • Stakeholders, specifically those who responded to the Scoping Report, appreciate, and even expect, the consideration of ecosystem services.
  • The Scottish Government has made it clear that it supports the use of ecosystem services and this made the inclusion of the concept into the SEA easier and more effective.
  • Causal chain analysis has been found to be an effective way of relating environmental effects from strategic programmes to impacts on ecosystem services. Although this must be supported by a consideration of the baseline conditions and inter-relationships.
  • It is appropriate to focus on and assess priority ecosystem services, for example soil carbon sequestration, flood regulation and cultural ecosystem services, this avoids some of the over complications that are endemic to many ecosystem services based assessments.
  • Ecosystem services has been integrated into the SEA methodology, it is neither a separate bolt-on nor the fundamental structure of the SEA. This has been effective and has shown that ecosystem services can be included within SEA without increasing the level of required resources or seeking high levels of data and quantification.

What next?

The Environment Report setting out the likely environmental effects, possible mitigation options and potential for opportunities will be finalised and published for consultation. This will include consideration of reasonable alternatives.

After consultation the Scottish Government will decide the final SRDP options and seek to finalise the required policies supported by an understanding of the likely environment effects and provision of ecosystem services as set out in the SEA.

Case study author: Jonathan Baker