Our natural environment is our greatest national asset. Scotland's nature is unique, with awe-inspiring landscapes and habitats found in few other places on Earth: from our diverse marine life and spectacular coastal machairs to ancient forests, peatlands and heather-covered mountains.

Our environments also contribute to our health and wellbeing in countless ways, providing the essential resources we all need to survive; food, water and even medicine.  They also play a vital role in tackling climate change - removing carbon from the atmosphere and securing it in natural habitats on land and in our seas.

Our environment is also vital to our economy. It supports the productivity of many sectors, supplying energy, resources and essential natural processes. The beauty and quality of our nature and landscapes is the essence of Scotland.

Despite this, important aspects of our environment are degraded and under threat. We know that significant action is needed to restore the health and vitality of the natural systems that sustain us. In a time of change and uncertainty, we need to innovate and be creative, to forge new partnerships to tackle these challenges head on.

We spoke with Barbara Mills, Deputy Programme Director at CivTech , to learn more about their new partnership with NatureScot, the Innovate for Nature programme.

St Ninians Isle Shetland

St Ninian's Isle, Shetland

A new partnership

One of the first government led accelerators in the world, CivTech is a Scottish Government programme that brings people from the public, private and third sectors together to build things that make the world a better place.

With a mission to drive daring and innovation in the public sector, it takes real problems faced by government departments, public sector organisations and charities, inviting anyone with a brilliant idea to work hand-in-hand with them to develop and implement solutions through the CivTech Accelerator programme.

NatureScot is Scotland's nature agency, which works to improve the natural environment in Scotland and inspire everyone to care more about it. Its mission is to care for the country's nature so that key habitats and landscapes, all green spaces and native species, are maintained, enhanced, and continue to bring us all benefits.

NatureScot have set out a commitment to harness technology to benefit nature in its 2019-2024 Technology and Digital Services Strategy. Through its Innovative Technology programme NatureScot is understanding need, developing innovative solutions, and mainstreaming their use.

This year, CivTech and NatureScot have launched a joint initiative, Innovate for Nature, to identify and deliver a range of 'Challenges' which address the biodiversity and wider climate crisis.

This partnership recognises that the world is in an emergency and both organisations are determined to move quickly and focus on the delivery of solutions that will make a difference and enable action.

The Challenges

CivTech, has announced four new Challenges as part of its official partnership programme with NatureScot.

These Challenges will seek innovative solutions from tech companies around the world to address problems faced by public sector bodies in Scotland in protecting nature, with a particular focus on how technology can be used to develop evidence-bases and make it easier to monitor and manage protected sites.

Challenge 8.3: Sponsored by NatureScot and Scottish Wildlife Trust

How can technology help to create a nature network by 2030 across all of the different areas of Scotland?

A Nature Network connects areas of land and freshwater that are important for nature, including protected areas and restoration projects, by enhancing and developing corridors and stepping-stones between them to allow habitats and species that rely on them to thrive. An effective Nature Network is an essential tool to reverse biodiversity declines. In Scotland Nature Networks will address local priorities for nature, ensure connectivity and restoration across landscapes, and support urban-rural connectivity. Local authorities' local development plans will facilitate the creation of Nature Networks and continue to strengthen the connections between them.

Challenge 8.4: Sponsored by Marine Scotland

How can technology help us better assess and identify projects and opportunities that will improve and increase investment in Scotland's marine natural capital?

In common with other coastal nations across the globe, a huge part of Scotland's Natural Capital, and our opportunities to develop nature based solutions to help meet net-zero goals and support wider biodiversity, is located within the marine environment. However, decision makers both in Scotland and further afield, lack the information required to identify the optimum locations for projects to invest in. We will invest in the development of new technologies that will support decision makers in the identification of optimum locations for marine Natural Capital projects as well help estimate and monitor their impacts.

Challenge 8.5: Sponsored by NatureScot

How can technology help NatureScot flexibly manage its understanding of the state of protected areas by making best use of available evidence?

If we are to support land and sea managers to make decisions that protect and restore Scotland's Nature we need a better understanding of our natural environments which give us a holistic understanding of ecosystem health. This includes: the ability to ingest various different types of data, in as close to real time as possible and the ability to present and analyse that data at different scales. We are looking for innovative proposals for technology solutions to support our national nature agency, NatureScot, to develop a world leading approach to monitoring the health of Protected Areas to support land and sea managers in decisions that help Scotland respond to the global biodiversity and climate emergencies.

Challenge 8.6: Sponsored by NatureScot, Scottish Wildlife Trust and Scottish Government Environment and Forestry Directorate

How can biodiversity credits be designed in a way that provides simplicity for projects and buyers, and enables investment in Scotland's nature?

Biodiversity credits are an economic instrument that can be used to finance actions that result in measurable nature positive outcomes for biodiversity and the environment. They directly address the need for investment in natural capital, beyond nature's role in managing the carbon cycle.

Biodiversity credits differ from biodiversity offsets - they can be part of a company's nature-positive journey, an investment in nature's recovery, rather than an offset for damage.
The development of biodiversity credit markets has the potential to help address the £20 Billion finance gap for nature in Scotland by leveraging responsible private investment into nature recovery, in line with the Scottish Government's Biodiversity Strategy and Natural Environment Bill and the Interim Principles for Responsible Investment in Natural Capital.

This year is the first year of expanded funding with up to £6 million in Scottish Government  funding to the companies on CivTech 7 and 8, of which £2.5 million in contracts is available specifically for Innovate for Nature Challenges. Innovative businesses of any age or stage learn more and how to apply at the CivTech website.

Find out more about the Challenges here.

The CivTech partnership with NatureScot to launch these new challenges is an exciting development. By facilitating new partnerships between the public and private sectors CivTech will gather new technology and ideas from Scotland and abroad to help address these crucial issues. The fight for our planet, for the ecosystems and natural environment on which we all rely is real, and it is happening now. In Scotland we are one small part of a global journey of change, but we hope can inspire and share others to do the same, our world depends on it.