We are testing our new beta website at beta.environment.gov.scot

State of the environment summary

State of the Environment report

State of the Environment report

The State of Scotland’s Environment Report describes the condition of our environment and how it is changing. It discusses the main pressures affecting the environment and outlines some of the things that are being done to look after it.

Key messages

Key -Message -One

On the whole, Scotland’s environment is of good quality and there have been many significant improvements in recent years. However, the State of the Environment Report clearly shows that some habitats and species are under threat, and poor air quality continues to affect some people in our towns and cities.

Over the centuries our landscapes have been moulded by people and the climate, and few untouched, native habitats survive. Nonetheless, Scotland’s iconic environment provides the backdrop for the high quality of life many of us enjoy, and underpins many elements of a successful economy. Conversely, degraded environmental surroundings (often in areas where the poorest members of society live) have negative impacts on our health and happiness.

Our environment provides a wide range of benefits, such as the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink, as well as the many materials needed in our homes, at work and for leisure.

Key Message - Two

Our land is used for a variety of purposes, and we depend on the soil for producing food and storing carbon. Our seas are biologically diverse and relatively unpolluted, with fishing and energy production amongst their varied uses. In most of the country the state of our freshwater environment is good, and in places this has improved markedly. Air quality meets the necessary standards in most areas, too.

Environmental regulation is generally implemented to an excellent standard, which is reflected in the state of our environment. However, Scotland, like other industrialised economies, has contributed to environmental damage in other parts of the world.  Consumerism (our demand for goods, how industry supplies them and how we use and dispose of them) plays a significant role in all the environmental problems we face.

Globally, the biggest challenge to the environment is climate change. Available weather data show that Scotland’s climate has changed over the last 100 years, with drier summers, wetter winters and more frequent heavy rainfall events. We are all making a substantial contribution to this rapid change in climate. A different climate will alter our environment dramatically and significantly affect the lives of everyone in Scotland.

All components of the environment are interlinked and depend on each other to remain in good condition. Below, we have described the quality of the individual major components. More detail on the linkages between them is given in each chapter and topic.


Air quality in urban areas has improved significantly since the 1950s, but there are still some areas of towns and cities where the air quality is of concern. In urban areas, emissions from transport are a significant cause of pollution.


Our freshwaters and seas are generally in good condition, and there have been significant reductions in pollution over the last 25 years. There are still problems resulting in the loss of habitat and wildlife (both current and historic) and from water pollution, predominantly from excessive amounts of nutrients entering the water. Floods and droughts can damage our economy and wildlife and affect our health and wellbeing.


Scotland’s highly diverse landforms, rocks and soils are the foundation of our landscape, wildlife and cultural heritage. Land is used for a variety of purposes, and we have to balance the many demands we make on it. 

What we use the land for and how we manage, maintain and improve it are important causes of change. Expanding built developments and the projected growth in forest cover are changing the landscape, and more intense farming practices and how we manage our towns are altering habitats and wildlife.

What is being done

Action to address these varied problems is being taken; for example, through the Land Use Strategy, National Marine Plan, Climate Change (Scotland) Act, Water Framework Directive River Basin Management Plans and the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy.

The overarching challenge is to achieve a sustainable balance between short-term needs and maintaining or improving the quality of our environment for future generations.

Reducing our impact on the environment is complex and can only be solved by public organisations, businesses, non-governmental organisations, research organisations and the public working together.

The Scottish Environmental Monitoring Strategy has been developed by CAMERAS (Co-ordinated Agenda for Marine, Environment and Rural Affairs Science) and aims to co-ordinate environmental monitoring across Scotland, to make it more efficient and cost effective. The strategy encourages the development of a series of monitoring actions plans (MAPs). The first phase of MAPs are being developed: a Soil MAP and implementation plan have been published; a Freshwater MAP has also been completed; an Air MAP is being developed. Other MAPs will follow in due course.

What is the state of the environment report?

The 2014 state of the environment report provides an assessment of Scotland’s environment and how it is changing.

Read more

State and trend assessments

The assessments of the state and trend are shown as a series of spectrum diagrams.

Read more

Who wrote this?

The State of the Environment Report contains many topics, each of them written by a lead author, with contributions from other experts.

Read more


You can download pdf versions of the 2014 and 2011 State of the Environment Report. The key messages for the 2014 State of Environment Report are available in Gaelic

Read more