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Working with nature to shape Scotland’s economic future
By Daniel Gotts, Sustainable Development Manager, Scottish Natural Heritage

Scotland was voted as the world’s most beautiful country in 2017 and it’s easy to see why, with world-famous scenery attracting visitors from across the globe.

Our nature – the trees, plants, wildlife and landscapes – is one of the country’s greatest economic assets and, as set out in the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy, holds huge economic potential. As well as directly supporting tourism businesses, it can provide better places for people to live and can have knock-on benefits for house values, as well as public health and wellbeing. The importance of this is illustrated by around £20 billion of Scotland’s GDP being in some way related to our natural environment.

But more could be done to realise the benefits. For example, developing green infrastructure near where people live and work in order to improve Scotland’s workforce productivity. We know that being outdoors is good for your health, both physically and mentally. Walking for 30 minutes a day reduces the risk of a range of illnesses, including depression – and this could benefit the economy, from the reduced cost of healthcare to an improvement in productivity.

Nature can also help provide solutions. For example, Scotland’s peatland has huge potential to store carbon and help us manage the challenges of climate change. Our current peatland holds as much as 1,600 million tonnes of carbon even though 80 per cent of these peatlands aren’t functioning as well as they could. Imagine the carbon benefits if it was restored, not to mention the way peatland can store water and reduce the risk of flooding.

The economy exists in the natural world and cannot be separated from it, and so businesses and nature benefit from working in harmony. There are already some good examples of this in Scotland – in Stirling, the City Park and The River are key features of the City Region Deal, while 21 per cent of employment is in tourism in the Borderlands area.

At Scottish Natural Heritage, we’re working with industry leaders, businesses and individuals to ensure key decision-makers have the skills needed to connect people and their environment. By investing in nature now, Scotland will feel the benefits three-fold – environmentally, socially and economically.

Scottish Natural Heritage is an Associate Partner of the SCDI Forum 2019, with Nick Halfhide, Director of Sustainable Growth at SNH, speaking at the conference.