Public Engagement on Landscape and Ecosystem Futures: Scotland

First Submitted By MartinKing

Most Recent Changes By Scott Fletcher, Participedia Team

This project constitutes the Scottish strand of a public engagement programme addressing climate related landscape change and impacts on ecosystems and quality of life across the UK. Public workshops were held in the areas of Nairn and Machars.

Problems and Purpose

The project addressed the impact of climate change and the future landscape and ecosystems of Scotland, focusing on the areas of Nairn and Machars. Workshops were held within these communities in order to:

  • Deveop the concept of ecosystem services associated with landscape character and landscape qualities;  
  • Develop a method which can more effectively measure and capture the effects of landscape change on ecosystem services as a means of judging the impacts on quality of life; developing a process which can be used with communities and other stakeholders to identify ‘landscape’ ecosystem services and measure the effects of landscape change;  
  • Trial this approach with two communities with specific reference to climate related landscape change, using this to gauge people’s perceptions of these changes, and the community and policy actions that they consider should be taken forward to address them. [1]

The work led on from previous research carried out by Land Use Consultants (LUC) for Scottish National Heritage (SNH) into climate related landscape change and the implications for quality of life  

Background History and Context

Climate change will have implications for Scottish landscapes and the social, economic and environmental benefits they provide. Bringing together current research on the effects of climate change across a range of sectors, including forestry, agriculture, ecology and the built environment, this study explores how these changes could interact and alter Scottish landscapes and townscapes, and their benefits to people. 

The short listing of pilot communities was based on consideration of three main factors: 

  • Existing landscape character;  
  • Patterns of possible climate related landscape change;  
  • An initial understanding of different communities’ suitability for a Climate Change Panel exercise.  

After discussion with the Steering Group, Nairn in Highland and the Machars in Dumfries and Galloway were selected as the two communities that would be asked to participate in the study.  

Organizing, Supporting and Funding Entities

Land Use Consultants (LUC) and the Small Town and Rural Development Group (STAR) were commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Sciencewise- ERC to work with communities to explore the implications of climate change and some of the choices that decision makers will face over the coming decades. 

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH)
Scottish Natural Heritage is responsible for Scotland’s natural heritage.

Land Use Consultants
Land Use Consultants is a specialist environmental consultancy. [2]


Sciencewise-ERC is a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills funded programme to bring scientists, government and the public together to explore the impact of science and technology in our lives. It helps Government departments and agencies commission and use public dialogue to inform policy making, involving science and technology issues. Its core aim is to develop the capacity of Government to carry out good dialogue, to gather and disseminate good practice, have successful two-way communications with the public and other stakeholders, and to embed the principles of good dialogue into internal Government processes.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

STAR worked with the Nairn and the Machars communities to set up the Climate Change Panel Meetings and to identify and invite a good cross section of the community to the meetings (three evening meetings each set a week apart). 

The target audience was agreed at around 20 people and the intention was that the same 20 people would attend all three meetings – providing continuity in terms of the issues raised and developed through the Panel discussions. 

The aim was to invite a representative cross section based on: 

· Demography – male/female; good age range  

· Geography – people from different villages and rural settlements from within the area

· Interest – to include land managers, recreation, heritage, culture, environment, tourism, business and community interests  

· Organisational Representation – to make sure that key community development organisations e.g. community councils were invited.  

Methods and Tools Used

Workshop design

Workshop design was developed by the consultant team and refined in discussion with the project steering group. It was agreed to break the exercise down into three sessions, reflecting the amount and complexity of information to be covered. The aims of the three sessions were as follows: 

  • To explore people’s understanding of their local landscape, and the ways in which it contributes to their quality of life;  
  • To increase understanding of climate change and its implications for the places, features and qualities identified as being of importance in the first session;  
  • To explore choices, trade-offs and priorities in the way that the local area adapts to climate change and contributes to carbon reduction targets.  

The workshop discussions were designed to include:  

  • Information for participants – presentation, handouts, posters, photos;  
  • Opportunities for group discussion;  
  • Table based discussions with materials for recording;  
  • Analysis and feedback linking the three sessions.    

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

With the assistance of local host organisations, ‘Climate Change Panels’ were established in two communities: Nairn in Highland and the Machars in Dumfries and Galloway. Participants were drawn from a representative cross section of local people based on gender, age, geography, interest and organisation. Incentives in the form of travel expenses, a raffled hamper of local produce and refreshments acknowledged people’s involvement in the process. The meetings were held over six weeks in September and October 2010.

Phase 1 of the project involved developing a more detailed understanding of the predicted impacts of climate change on Scottish landscapes and their contribution to quality of life, taking account of natural processes, mitigation and adaptation responses. [1]

Phase 2 of the project explored ways of communicating the key messages, thereby influencing climate change policy and practice so that it takes account of landscape and quality of life concerns. Phase two also aimed to help communities make informed choices about how they want these changes managed. To do this a community dialogue exercise was ran with two pilot communities. This involved between 20 and 25 members of each community participating in a series of meetings to discuss what they valued about their area, the ecosystem services their area delivered and how this could be affected by climate change. The discussions also started to identify the preferred responses to these impacts. 

There was value in asking each Climate Change Panel (CCP) to confirm or refine the ‘study area’. While the Machars CCP was content with the proposed study area, in Nairn the boundary was redrawn to coincide with the historic county of Nairnshire.  

Both Climate Change Panels found it relatively straightforward to identify aspects of the local landscape that they considered important. In both places, this comprised a mix of areas, specific places or buildings and qualities. The conclusions reached by the two panels were broadly comparable with information from the relevant landscape character assessments.  

In the Machars there was a broad spread of features including beaches, Christian heritage sites, lochs, Wigtown Bay local Nature Reserve, a range of recreation sites and qualities including views, peace and quiet and remoteness.  

In Nairn, there was strong agreement around a short list of landscape features including beaches, golf course, Culbin Sands, Cawdor Estate and woods, Rivers Nairn and Findhorn and historic built environment of Nairn itself.  

The Panels were asked to use the framework of ecosystem services (described as ‘benefits’) to record the reasons why these aspects of the local landscape were judged to be important. This process worked well, with people citing a broad range of benefits, including some of the more ephemeral cultural ecosystem services such as escapism and spirituality. On the other hand, some of the more technical services (e.g. water regulation) were less well understood and highlighted less frequently as a result.  

The Machars area was most strongly valued in terms of:

  • recreation, tourism, education and wildlife;  
  • peace and quiet, inspiration and escapism;  
  • sense of place, sense of history and spiritual values.  

The Nairn Panel identified a broad range of benefits but with lower importance attached to spiritual values, freshwater, fuel, water and climate regulation.  

The Panels considered the effects of climate change on these features and the ecosystem services they provide. In the Machars, the Panel’s views suggested that climate change could result in:  

  • major negative effects on sense of place;  
  • medium negative effects on wildlife, recreation peace and quiet, inspiration, escapism, sense of history, spiritual values and tourism;  
  • minor negative effects on the provision of food/timber and freshwater;  
  • minor positive or neutral effects on fuel, water regulation and climate regulation.

In Nairn, the Panel’s views suggested that climate change could result in:  

  • an increase in recreation, learning and fuel benefits;  
  • a mix of decreased and increased wildlife, food and timber, freshwater, water regulation and climate regulation benefits;  
  • a decrease in tourism, peace and quiet, sense of place and sense of history benefits; 
  • little or no effect on inspiration, escapism or spiritual benefits.  

It is likely that effects on some of the more technical types of benefit (climate regulation) were underrepresented. There was, however, a very clear message from both Panels that they consider that climate change could have a major and negative effect on sense of place and a range of the other important benefits that people derive from the local landscape. In the third session, the focus of the discussions turned to the choices and trade-offs that decision makers have in considering how to address the issues (positive and negative) identified by the Panels during the second sessions. 

The Machars Panel made the following recommendations:  

Sea level rise 

· Focus expenditure where threats / benefits greatest  

· Avoid new development in areas that may be at risk of flooding in the future  

· Carry out flood defence works for Isle of Whithorn, Port William, Newton Stewart and Garlieston, but elsewhere explore opportunities for managed realignment, with new wetland creation  

· Accept some loss of historic sites but ensure they are properly recorded before they are lost Manage road system to reflect loss of some sections of coast road.

Flooding along rivers and burns 

· Manage mosses and woodland to retain water  

· Develop floodplain flood management measures along the River Bladnoch linked to water storage and small scale hydro  


· Plan for agricultural intensification in order to retain key landscape features  

· Managed realignment to reflect presence of better quality agricultural land  

· Sensitive design and location of new sheds for overwintering of cattle indoors  

· Provide information and advice for farmers  


· Managed realignment along the coast to retain important habitats  

· Careful choice of new trees and woodland  

· Sensitive management of peat and rivers  

· Restoration of river floodplains and other habitats  

· Co-ordinated approach with good information 

Recreation and tourism

· Develop opportunities for informal recreation  

· Local businesses to market the area in terms of its local character  

· Aim to minimise impacts of wind energy development on tourism areas  

· Balance impacts of tourism on local communities and land management  

Historic environment 

· Recognise some historic sites will be lost, and place an emphasis on recording as a basis for interpretation and promotion for tourism 

Forests and woodlands 

· Raise awareness of land owners to the importance of managing and maintaining existing small woodlands and shelter belts  

· Consolidate and reinforce existing woodlands in preference to new large scale planting in the area  

· Promote the importance of monkey puzzle trees at Monreith House 

Climate change mitigation 

· Reduce energy consumption  

· Promote local wood fuel production  

· Woodland expansion  

· Mix of renewable energy technologies including small wind turbines, wood fuel, and solar energy.

· The Nairn Panel made the following recommendations:  

Sea level rise and storm surges 

· Improved flood defences for the town itself, linked to restoration of natural flood areas  

· Managed realignment linked to habitat creation at Culbin Sands  

· Sacrifice some coastal recreation sites in order to protect others  

· Encourage greater use of harbour and relocated boat yard  

Flooding along rivers and burns 

· Dredging along lower section of the river  

· Restore natural flood plains to hold flood water 

· Manage and stabilise river banks  

· Reduce agricultural water abstraction during the summer to reduce low flow  


· Water storage (winter) and irrigation (summer)  

· Measures to reduce soil erosion by wind  

· Maintain field boundaries  

· Assess implications of new crops for water management  

· Advice and information for farmers  

Recreation and tourism 

· Development of a wider range of outdoor recreation opportunities  

· Maintain quality of beaches (water treatment) 

Forests and woodlands 

· Replace and replant trees  

· Develop commercial hardwoods  

· New riparian planting  

· Native woodland expansion  

Climate change mitigation 

· Maximise production and use of biomass  

· Manage peatland to store CO2  

· Wider use of public transport  

· Micro renewables in all new development  

· Anaerobic digestion for dairy farms  

· Tidal energy (subject to environmental impacts)  

· Mixed views on wind energy development with some very negative and others indicating that some well placed wind farms will be needed. [1] 


The work has shown that considering climate change through its effects on the local landscape and quality of life provides a useful methodology for communities. The work has also shown that there is potential to use the concept of ecosystem services to explore the reasons why the local landscape is valued and to assess the likely implications of climate change. 

In both pilot communities there was:

  • A recognition that climate change is likely to result in significant change across the area and that it will not be possible to prevent this;  
  • Concern that the focus should be on managing this change to retain or, where it may be lost, record what is important and distinctive about the area;  
  • Understanding there will be some tensions, trade-offs and compromises, and there may be competing pressures for land from agriculture, habitats, flood protection, sea level change and renewables; and  
  • A general preference for smaller scale and diverse approaches to carbon reduction which could fit better with the local area’s resources and character rather than large scale wind farm development.

Influence Outcomes and Effects


Key policy links include:

  • Implementation of the Shoreline Management Plan including recommendations for specific coastal management units and approaches to management of coastal heritage;  
  • Local development plan policies, including locating development away from flood risk areas and influencing policies for renewable energy development;  
  • Implementation of forest and woodlands strategies and forest design plans;  
  • Development and implementation of flood management strategies;  
  • Implementation of the Scottish Rural Development Programme to inform long term land management practices;  
  • Development and implementation of the area’s tourism strategy.  


Key policy links include:  

  • Flood management strategies;  
  • Highland Council Climate Change Adaptation Strategy;  
  • Long-term land management practices via the Scottish Rural Development Programme;  
  • Highland Coastal Management Strategy;  
  • Core Path Plan;  
  • Work of the Highland Area Tourism Partnership;  
  • Forest and Woodland Strategies and Forest Design Plans.  

Analysis and Lessons Learned


The Machars Climate Change Panel meetings were generally very successful with good and consistent attendance and contributions to discussions. Most elements (presentation, discussion, feedback and reporting back) seemed to go well. The following specific issues have been raised and were carried forward to the refined approach used in Nairn: 

  • Some concern that the first session appeared unrelated to the issue of climate change and seemed to be providing information which could be used to market or promote the area - though session 2 made it clear why this information was needed. The approach is described at the start and end of session 1, but can perhaps be made clearer.  
  • Modification of the pro forma for session 2 to ensure Panel members record climate changes, effects on places, features and qualities and implications for quality of life (using the framework of defined benefits).  
  • A clearer agenda (checklist or key questions) for discussions in session 3 to focus discussion and aid facilitation.  
  • Session 3 in particular demands considerable discussion and in the Machars overran by 30 minutes. A stricter agenda could help address this, but there may also be a need to focus on those policy areas most relevant to the area.  

It was recognised that the older people were over-represented and younger people under-represented on the Panel. In part, this reflects the willingness of people to engage with this kind of community based exercise. However, additional efforts were made to secure the participation of younger people in the Nairn sessions that followed the Machars Panel meetings.  


The Nairn Climate Change Panel meetings were generally very successful with good and consistent attendance and contributions to discussions. Most elements (presentation, discussion, feedback and reporting back) seemed to go well. The following specific issues were raised:  

· Some concern that the discussions were not long enough and that participants felt they were being overly managed through the process  

· A concern that the final discussion in Session 3, focusing on climate change mitigation, was a little short and would have justified more detailed exploration  

· While three younger people attended the first session, they did not return, perhaps suggesting that a more tailored approach may be required for this group. [1] 

See Also


Public Engagement on Landscape and Ecosystem Futures in England, Scotland, and Wales 

Public Engagement on Landscape and Ecosystem Futures: East of England 


[1] Land Use Consultants (2011) “An assessment of the impacts of climate change on Scottish landscapes and their contribution to quality of life: Phase 1 - Final report”in Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 488 

[2] Sciencewise (2017) “Public Engagement on landscape and Ecosystem Futures: Scotland” (ONLINE) Available at:

External Links