Scotland’s national nature agency has reached a major milestone, marking 25 years as the caretaker of the country’s landscapes and wildlife.
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), or Dualchas Nàdair na h-Alba in Gaelic, was officially launched in 1992 by MP Sir Hector Munro and founder chairman Magnus Magnusson.
It was formed from the amalgamation of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland, with a remit to “secure the conservation and enhancement of, and to foster understanding and facilitate the enjoyment of the natural heritage of Scotland”.
The state-funded body acts as adviser to the Scottish Government on all aspects of nature, wildlife management and landscape, while also helping the country meet international obligations and responsibilities under European environmental laws.
Notable moves over the past quarter of a century include the introduction of a pioneering management scheme aimed at encouraging eco-friendly practices on agricultural land and sporting estates to protect internationally important peatlands.
SNH spearheaded work on proposals to create national parks in Scotland in 1997, with two having been set up so far and plans for others in the pipeline.
Scotland’s Great Trails, an internationally recognised network of long-distance walking routes, has also taken shape over the past two decades, starting with the Great Glen Way in 1999. The 65-mile-long Arran Coastal Way this summer became the 29th path to be included in the network.
The agency has also overseen the creation of the landmark Scottish Outdoor Access Code in 2005 and the Scottish Marine Wildlife Watching Code the following year.
More recently, the team worked on proposals that resulted in the designation of marine protection areas, aimed at safeguarding important wildlife and geographical features in Scottish seas.
The agency, which had its headquarters moved from Edinburgh to Inverness in 2006 in an attempt to decentralise national jobs, has more than 30 offices throughout the country.
A new chief executive, Francesca Osowska, is due to start at the beginning of next month. She replaces Ian Jardine, who had been in the role for 15 years.
“Over the past 25 years we’ve worked hard to protect and enrich Scotland’s nature, as well as to encourage everyone to get out and enjoy all that it has to offer,” said Mike Cantlay, who took over as chairman of SNH in May this year.
“I’m particularly proud of the work we’ve done to secure Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code, as well as the vital work to restore our precious peatlands and battle climate change.
“We’ve got plenty to be excited about for the future as well. We’re leading work for the Green Infrastructure Fund and the National Cycling and Walking Network – which will mean those in both cities and the countryside have even more wonderful places to get fit, de-stress and enjoy Scotland’s great outdoors.
“There are certainly challenges – such as climate change, reduced budgets and some species continuing to struggle – but I’m confident that we will continue to accomplish a huge amount with new, innovative ways of working, as well as working even more closely with the many other organisations committed to Scotland’s nature.”
Jonny Hughes, chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, said the organisation has never been more important to Scotland than it is today.
“Since it was born out of the old Nature Conservancy Council 25 years ago, SNH has provided an invaluable service to the people of Scotland by helping to ensure a healthy natural environment for all.
“Without the expert advice and targeted action provided by SNH over the past quarter of a century, the picture would look very different for species such as red squirrels, beavers and white-tailed eagles, and habitats such as peatlands, wildflower meadows and coastal environments.
“If we are to meet Scotland’s national and international commitments to reverse declines in biodiversity, SNH needs two things. First, a decent budget allocation from government after years of deep cuts. And second, strong support from ministers, which will better enable SNH to provide impartial, evidence-based advice so, as a nation, we make better decisions about the future of our natural environment.”