Scottish Natural Heritage

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH; Scottish Gaelic: Dualchas Nàdair na h-Alba) is the public body responsible for Scotland's natural heritage, especially its natural, genetic and scenic diversity. It advises the Scottish Government and acts as a government agent in the delivery of conservation designations, i.e. national nature reserves, local nature reserves, long distance routes, national parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas and the national scenic areas. The protected areas in Scotland account for 20% of the total area, SSSIs alone 13%. SNH receives annual funding from the Government in the form of Grant in Aid to deliver Government priorities for the natural heritage. SNH programmes and priorities have a strong focus on helping to deliver the Scottish Government's National Outcomes and Targets which comprise the National Performance Framework.

Scottish Natural Heritage
MottoAll of nature for all of Scotland
Legal statusExecutive non-departmental public body of the Scottish Government
HeadquartersInverness, Scotland
  • Scotland
Chief Executive
Francesca Osowska
Budget (2015)
£53 million
Staff (2015)

SNH is the Scottish Government's adviser on all aspects of nature, wildlife management and landscape across Scotland, and also helps the Scottish Government meet its responsibilities under European environmental laws, particularly in relation to the Habitats and Wild Birds Directives. The agency currently employs in the region of 680 people, but much of SNH's work is carried out in partnership with others including local authorities, Government bodies, voluntary environmental bodies, community groups, farmers and land managers. The body has offices in most parts of Scotland including the main islands. SNH works closely with the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the equivalent bodies for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland to ensure a consistent approach to nature conservation throughout the United Kingdom and towards fulfilling its international obligations. SNH is also a member of SEARS (Scotland's Environmental and Rural Services).

In November 2019 it was announced that SNH would be re-branded as NatureScot with effect from 1 May 2020, however its legal persona and statutory functions would remain unchanged.[1]

Roles and responsibilities

The general aims of SNH as established in the Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991 are to:[2]

  • Secure the conservation and enhancement of Scotland's natural heritage;
  • Foster understanding and facilitate the enjoyment of Scotland's natural heritage;

For the purposes of the Act, Scotland's natural heritage is defined as the flora and fauna of Scotland, its geological and physiographical features and its natural beauty and amenity. Specific responsibilities of SNH include:

  • Providing advice to the Scottish government on the development and implementation of policies relevant to the natural heritage of Scotland;
  • Disseminating information and advice relating to the natural heritage of Scotland to the public;
  • Carrying out and commissioning research relating to the natural heritage of Scotland;
  • Establishing, maintaining and managing designated areas of conservation in Scotland;

Protected areas

SNH has responsibility for the delivery of conservation designations in Scotland, i.e. national nature reserves, local nature reserves, long distance routes, national parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas and the national scenic areas. The conservation designations overlap considerably with many protected areas covered by multiple designations.

National nature reserves

National nature reserves (NNRs) are areas of land or water designated under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to contain habitats and species of national importance. NNRs can be owned by public, private, community or voluntary organisations but must be managed to conserve their important habitats and species, as well as providing opportunities for the public to enjoy and engage with nature. There are currently 43 NNRs in Scotland, which cover 154,250 hectares (1,542.5 km2).[3]

SNH is responsible for designating NNRs in Scotland and for overseeing their maintenance and management. The majority of NNRs are directly managed by SNH; however, some are managed by, or in co-operation with other bodies, including the National Trust for Scotland (7 NNRs), Forestry and Land Scotland (5 NNRs), the RSPB (5 NNRs), the Scottish Wildlife Trust (1 NNR), South Lanarkshire Council (1 NNR), and the Woodland Trust (1 NNR).[3]

All NNRs in Scotland are also designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest. Many also form part of the Natura 2000 network, which covers Special Protection Areas and Special Areas of Conservation. Additionally, some of the NNRs are designated as Ramsar sites.[3]

National scenic areas

There are 40 national scenic areas (NSAs) in Scotland, covering 13% of the land area of Scotland. The 40 NSAs were originally identified in 1978 by the Countryside Commission for Scotland in 1978 as areas of "national scenic significance... of unsurpassed attractiveness which must be conserved as part of our national heritage".[4]

Protected species

Vulnerable plant and animal species in Scotland are protected under various legislation. In many cases it is an offence to kill or capture members of a protected animal species, or to uproot plants. SNH's primary role in regard to protected species is to license activities that would otherwise be an offence.[5]


SNH is governed by the SNH board. As of April 2016, the board is made up of seven members and is chaired by Mike Cantlay. Board members are appointed by Scottish Government ministers for an initial term of 3 years and normally serve a maximum of two terms. The primary roles of the SNH board are to determine the objectives, strategies and policies of SNH in respect to its statutory obligations and guidance from the Scottish Government.

Day-to-day operations of SNH are led by its management team consisting of a chief executive appointed by the board and three directors covering Policy and Advice, Operations and Corporate Services. The current chief executive is Francesca Osowska.

Supporting the Board are a Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC), a Protected Areas Committee (PAC) and an Audit & Risk Management Committee (ARMC). Members of these Committees are appointed by the SNH Board. There are sessions at meetings of the SNH Board, the SAC and the PAC which are open to the public to attend as observers.


SNH was formed in 1992 from the amalgamation of the Nature Conservancy Council for Scotland and the Countryside Commission for Scotland to “secure the conservation and enhancement of, and to foster understanding and facilitate the enjoyment of the natural heritage of Scotland”.[2]

In March 2003, Scottish Ministers announced their decision to transfer SNH's headquarters from Edinburgh to Inverness, with around 270 jobs to be transferred.[6] Prior to the move, relocation costs were variously estimated at between £22 million and £40 million.[7] The decision to transfer SNH's headquarters was heavily criticized by MSPs, unions, Edinburgh civic leaders and staff.[8] Criticism focused on the cost of the move, the disruption to staff and the risk of compromising the effectiveness of SNH's work. Up to 75% of headquarters staff were reported to be against the move.[8] Relocation took place between 2003 and 2006, many staff left at this point as they did not wish to, or were unable to transfer location.

In 2006, SNH headquarters staff moved into Great Glen House, a £15 million purpose-built headquarters building in Inverness. Great Glen House was built by Robertson Property, working with Keppie Design. As part of the tendering process, SNH set seven environmental and sustainability criteria for the design including achieving an 'Excellent' rating under the BREEAM system. The final design met all criteria and achieved the highest ever BREEAM rating for a public building in the UK.[9]

On 1 August 2010, the functions of the Deer Commission for Scotland were transferred to SNH by section 1 of the Public Services (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Commission was dissolved.[10][11]

See also


  1. "National nature agency to become 'NatureScot'". Scottish Natural Heritage. 19 November 2019. Retrieved 19 November 2019.
  2. "Natural Heritage (Scotland) Act 1991". 1991. Retrieved 17 April 2016. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. "About NNRs". Scottish Natural Heritage. Retrieved 14 May 2018.
  4. "Scotland's Scenic Heritage" (PDF). Countryside Commission for Scotland. April 1978. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 October 2012.
  5. "Species licensing - Scottish Natural Heritage". Retrieved 23 April 2016.
  6. "Scottish Natural Heritage HQ will move to Inverness". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  7. "SNH staff move 'could top £40m'". BBC. 16 October 2003. Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  8. "Inverness ready for Scottish Natural Heritage's First Fifteen". Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  9. "About SNH - Press Releases". Retrieved 19 April 2016.
  10. Section 1 of the 2010 Act on the Statute Law Database
  11. The Public Services (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2010 (Commencement No.1) Order 2010 (SSI 2010/221)
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