Habitat Network

Our landscape is made up of many different habitats that together can support wildlife, people’s wellbeing, and our ecosystem services*. The key to making these habitats function in the best possible way is to ensure they link together across the landscape – this is what we mean by a habitat network.

Between 2014-2019 a project called EcoCo, supported through the LIFE+ financial instrument of the European Community, funded a range of habitat creation and improvement work to help join up nature across Central Scotland. As part of the project they developed what they called an ‘ecological coherence protocol’ to identify the best places to carry out work to maximise benefits for biodiversity and ecosystem services, both during their project and into the future. Having created and used the protocol, they needed to review and refine it to check it worked as they hoped it would across a wider range of habitats, to make it as easy as possible to use in other regions. The protocol is intended as a practical tool to help decision-makers at all levels to choose where best to invest in habitat improvement, restoration and creation, to connect habitats together, and deliver wider eco-system and socio-economic benefits. 

In autumn 2018 Inner Forth Futures and Buglife – The Invertebrate Conservation Trust were commissioned by EcoCo to refine and revise the ecological coherence protocol through the Inner Forth Habitat Network Pilot and CSGN B-Lines Project. Both projects used the protocol to work with staff from a wide range of organisations, including local authorities, statutory bodies and conservation organisations.

The Inner Forth Habitat Network Pilot

The Inner Forth Futures partners used their strong knowledge base to pilot partnership approaches to defining and developing a habitat network for the Central Scotland Green Network areas within Stirling, Falkirk, Clackmannanshire and Fife local authorities. The Pilot identified five key habitat types in the area: woodland; rivers and wetland; intertidal; peatland and heathland; and grassland and open mosaic habitat.

IFF ran three workshops inviting a range of organisations to share their local knowledge and expertise to develop the habitat network. They did this by looking at the three key elements of the ecological coherence protocol in a specific order: habitat networks, then ecosystem services and lastly opportunity areas. Each meeting built on the last by reviewing knowledge and existing data using a series of maps of the Inner Forth landscape, before a final, mapped vision was produced.

You can read about the process in detail by downloading Ecological Coherence: A Practitioners’ Guide, and Reviewing & Refining an Ecological Coherence Protocol using the Inner Forth Habitat Network Pilot & CSGN B-Lines (40Mb), which were produced following the workshops.

The results

Ecological Coherence: A Practitioners’ Guide explains the refined ecological coherence protocol, using the Inner Forth Habitat Network Pilot as a case study. It aims to help other decision makers, such as local authorities, statutory bodies like SNH (NatureScot from May 2020) and SEPA, and conservation organisations or land owners and managers, to identify where best to carry out habitat management and creation work to make the most of their potential to improve biodiversity, people’s well-being, and their economic and environmental benefits.

Reviewing & Refining an Ecological Coherence Protocol using the Inner Forth Habitat Network Pilot & CSGN B-Lines explains the process that the two projects followed to refine and revise the EcoCo protocol, and suggests future uses for the ecological coherence approach in Scotland.

The Inner Forth Habitat Network Concept Maps (East) and (West) & User Guide (40Mb) show what and where existing and potential habitat areas were identified across the Pilot area, where the data was sourced and how practitioners can use the mapped concept to inform their work. The User Guide describes how to use the map to find where the conservation, restoration and management of an existing habitat is the priority for the coherence of the habitat network, and includes an Opportunity Network, which is places where there are the best opportunities to strengthen the habitat network.

The Inner Forth Habitat Network Pilot Report explains the whole process in detail and includes the draft Call to Action. The call-to-action is an evolving document, and will be revised and updated to reflect achievements and opportunities as they arise. The Inner Forth Futures Natural Heritage Working Group are taking this work forward.

What next?

We will be updating this page with new information, and ways in which practitioners can get involved in delivering the project, over the next few months.

In tandem with this work other projects are contributing to a habitat network across the Inner Forth landscape and more widely. These include:

Buglife’s B-Lines project

Central Scotland Green Network Trust

National Ecological Network

Landscape-scale Conservation

Download the resources:

*The way in which natural habitats provide the things we need to survive – clean water, clean air, energy, flood prevention and carbon capture, for example.

This work was supported by a contribution of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Community delivered as part of the EcoCo LIFE project:  LIFE13 BIO/UK/000428