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LOCAL AUTHORITY PARTNERSHIPS TO PROTECT WETLANDS AS IMPORTANT WILDLIFE HABITATS

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Wetlands research to help protect the environment ...
Wetlands research to help protect the environment

With water conservation and climate change top of the agenda in the recent heat wave, the Macaulay Institute is continuing work with Scottish Borders Council and its local biodiversity action plan partners to protect wetlands as important wildlife habitats.

Scottish Borders Council recently commissioned Macaulay Research Consultancy Services (MRCS), to develop cutting-edge software which will help local authorities find the best management solution for wetlands. The project is part of the council's Borders Wetlands Vision, a new approach to local wetland conservation, and the first of its kind in Scotland.

Wetland sites in the Scottish Borders are particularly varied - there are no less than 11 different types of wetlands in the region and three types of loch. They are often home to rare species of plants and animals.

Scottish Borders Council plans to use the research to help guide its Sustainable Flood Management programme. As a future development it aims to produce web-based wetland maps for farmers, landowners and land managers. The user-friendly maps will help land managers decide on land management contracts and identify opportunities for wetlands development to meet the requirements of the EU Water Framework Directive.

The new software, a decision support tool, can also identify areas that could become wetlands in the future, increasing biodiversity but helping with flood and pollution control. Using Geographical Information Systems (GIS), a type of 'smart-map', the models will act as a planning tool, identifying existing, historical and potential wetland areas within the Borders, to help in the development of the council's and community plan partners commitments to conservation.

'We used data from the entire Scottish Borders region, including the hydrology of different soil types, flood risk, slope, altitude and geology, and combined the information with the distribution of certain types of habitat. This allowed us to identify eleven types of wetland habitats and three types of lochs,' explained Jonathan Ball of MRCS. 'The software also allows Scottish Borders Council to explore 'what-if' scenarios by making changes to the models or incorporating other datasets. We are pleased to have developed an accessible planning tool that can be applied across Scotland and used to assist local authorities in managing not only wetlands but also other important habitats.'

Comparisons between the results from the computer model and the real life wetland locations have already proved promising and the results are now being tested in an extensive field survey. Recent changes in EU and national legislation have placed increasing demands on local authorities to undertake this kind of work.

Andy Tharme, Scottish Borders Council ecology officer, said: 'Wetland areas in the Scottish Borders are of national and international significance, in terms of the biodiversity they support as well as their importance for controlling flooding and pollution. We will be the first area in Scotland to adopt this strategic, information based approach to wetland conservation. By working with our community plan partners and land managers in the region, we hope not only to bring biodiversity benefits but also to buffer the Scottish Borders environment from the worst effects of climate change such as drought and floods, bringing wider benefits to the communities of the Borders.'

The council received funding for the project under the Scottish Executive's Biodiversity Action Grant Scheme, with some additional support from Scottish Natural Heritage. By implementing this project the council will help meets it obligations under the biodiversity duty, and its environmental objectives under its corporate and community plans.

The full report can be downloaded from the Scottish Borders Council's website.

Notes

The Borders Wetland Vision project is a Scottish Borders Local Biodiversity Action Plan project. The Vision adopts a strategic, information based approach to wetland conservation, utilising opportunity maps identifying where environmental enhancements for wetlands could be delivered in future, using existing wetland areas of environmental value as a starting point. The project is co-ordinated by Scottish Borders Council, and also involves Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Scottish Borders Biological Records Centre (SBBRC), Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Tweed Forum.

Funding for the project has come from the Scottish Executive's Biodiversity Action Grant Scheme with some additional support from SNH and Scottish Borders Council.

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