Scottish Highlands

Scotland is renowned for its distinctive and diverse range of landscapes, which are a significant part of the country’s natural and cultural heritage. The environment has been shaped by interconnected human and natural processes over thousands of years and includes built heritage, ancient woodlands, wildlife and native species, art and literature, folklore, language and traditions associated with historical people and places. Scotland’s complex and multi-faceted environment creates the backdrop for human-nature interactions while contributing to a sense of national identity, culture, well-being, and to community and economic resilience. It is crucial that these cherished and historic landscapes are managed, protected, and restored effectively to avoid losing the value that they hold for both nature and humans.

The Scottish Highlands is characterised by dramatic mountain scenery containing networks of peat bog, woodland, heathland, grassland and freshwater. These habitats support a wide range of biodiversity, including rare and charismatic species, from internationally important lichens in Atlantic woodland to the elusive pine marten. Human impacts have also shaped the landscape, with forestry, agriculture, burning, grazing and drainage leaving a mark. Habitat restoration and the reestablishment of natural processes at large scales has the potential to enhance the ecological health and ecosystem service outputs of the region.

Flourishing natural environments make a significant contribution to Scotland’s economic, cultural and social interests. Nature restoration benefits people’s health and well-being, promotes economic growth through tourism and inward investment, protects Scotland’s heritage and cultural identity, and provides intangible qualities such as aesthetics, tranquillity, and ‘wilderness’. However, changes in land use, development, and pressures from tourism are contributing to habitat and biodiversity loss in Scotland. Issues are also caused by a high concentration of privately owned rural land, with concerns over the exclusion of people and rural livelihoods from the landscape. Communities must be placed at the heart of nature restoration to ensure sustainable, equitable, and resilient outcomes for both people and planet.

Policy changes and a widening in the valuation of outputs from Scotland’s land are shaping a new vision for land-use in the Scottish Highlands. Our research will be conducted at the forefront of the shifting ecological, economic and social landscape in Scotland, working with case study partners to explore mechanisms and outcomes of change.