A map of opportunities to develop peatland and urban nature-based solutions in Scotland

Urban Nature-based Solutions in Scotland at Scale

Toward a regenerative natural asset economy



There is no pathway to net zero that does not involve a massive scale up of Nature-based Solutions (NbS). They could provide ⅓ of the cost-effective climate change mitigation worldwide, while helping communities adapt, reverse biodiversity loss, tackling climate vulnerability around the world. Despite all this just 3% of global climate fundings is invested in nature1.

A key strategic risk for Scotland is the unviable cost of not meeting its climate emergency targets, in the context of rising extreme weather events, which are irreversibly damaging Scotland’s Natural Capital. Annual rainfall over Scotland has increased to about 13% above the 20th century, while northern areas of Scotland have experienced drier summertime conditions since 1961. Wildfires are to increase by 40% by 2080 in Cairngorms and 17% of the Scottish Coastline will become vulnerable to flooding. Extreme weather events, such as Storm Ali in September 2018, are expected to become more frequent.

Urban Nature-based Solutions are critical in addressing this Natural Capital crisis. In the UK, the built environment sector accounts for 40% of total emissions, while city dwellers are 25 times more likely to die from air pollution than car crash. Another key natural asset of the Scottish landscape is its vast peatland reserves. Scotland is home to about 2 million ha of peatland, covering about 20% of its territory. Yet research found that up to 80% of the UK’s peatland landscape2 (most of which is located in Scotland) has been damaged. These conditions risk increasing fire frequency, degrading land, losing biodiversity, releasing preciously stored carbon, negatively affecting healthcare and urban infrastructure.


Dark Matter Labs (DML) were commissioned by the Scottish Government to develop ideas for the Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB) on the development of new lead markets in natural assets. DML asked for NatureScot’s input and we established a constructive working relationship to investigate how we can leverage the co-benefits of natural assets through emerging technical and cultural shifts to map and monitor the state of Scotland’s natural capital – in order to stimulate blended capital investments and seed a new lead market. Specifically, we investigated how to deliver development in two natural asset groups; Urban NbS and Peatlands.

Via a series of co-designed systems mapping workshops, interviews with key Scottish NbS stakeholders and desk research, we investigated the potential of Urban NbS and Peatlands to address societal and environmental challenges and discovered the potential of new infrastructures – such as new regulatory tools, cultural behaviours and financial mechanisms, for growing and delivering more and better NbS – to help us shift institutional responses on solving multiple interconnected problems in cities, through nature.

What did we learn?

In order to seed a new NbS lead market we need systemic intervention at multiple levels of the economy. We identified eight areas of action to accelerate the development of NbS:

  1. Building political buy-in;
  2. Nurturing culture and citizen engagement;
  3. Developing collaborative working across sectors;
  4. Establishing NbS-centred regulatory and planning systems;
  5. Managing land speculation and market risks;
  6. Re-aligning supply chains for NbS delivery;
  7. Integrating NbS in infrastructure and construction systems; and
  8. Developing innovative funding models.

For example, Urban Nature-based Solutions require investments in remote sensing capabilities, new financial instruments, and in elements as diverse as the production of seedlings, new labour market skills, and new capabilities and organisational cultures in municipal green space departments. The acceleration of these near-now infrastructure assets need rapid, coordinated investment across the whole supply chain, not only to match increased demand but to innovate practices, methods, and machinery for a post-carbon economy.

Throughout its history, NatureScot has played multiple roles. From advocacy to regulator, from steward to provider, funder and even customer. While today the organisation is committed to delivering a high-quality public service, it has traditionally placed an emphasis on advocacy and stewardship, specifically on raising awareness, as core levers for influencing policy and regulatory change, citizens behaviour, financial or fiscal incentives. Other patterns of action such as funder, provider and customer could gain more attention when considering the role of NatureScot in Scotland’s natural capital market. NatureScot could become an international thought leader in the knowledge and practice of NbS innovation; a service regulator (ethics and standards) required for the digital economy to scale justly and empower others to innovate via early adopter support and new NbS financial mechanisms.

How are we continuing this work?

DML’s work was well received by the Scottish Government, by those supporting the nascent SNIB, by the team developing the Green New Deal, by DG Exchequer and by the First Minister of Scotland’s office. They encouraged DML, NatureScot and others to continue this work to develop some of the foundations of a Natural Assets Economy for Scotland. In close collaboration with the Green New Deal team, DML is conducting a whole system mapping exercise to understand the technical market requirements for scaling Scotland’s Natural Capital; a process that will lead us in identifying concrete implementation steps for stimulating blended capital investments and seeding a new lead market.

Find out more by reading our report:

Delivering Urban Nature-based Solutions in Scotland at Scale︎︎︎

  1. Zac Goldsmith, UK Minister for the International Environment and Climate.
  2. It is estimated that 70% of our blanket bog and 90% of our raised bog area has been damaged to some degree. Peatland Code, National Committee United Kingdom, 2018.

We would like to thank:

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We’re a distributed team with presence around the world.

Dark Matter Laboratories B.V.
Pakhuis de Zwijger
Piet Heinkade 181K
1019 HC Amsterdam

KvK number: 75174405

United Kingdom
Dark Matter Laboratories Limited
217 Mare Street
London, E8 3QE

Company number: 13294211

Laboratoires de Matière sombre / Dark Matter LabsOrganisation à but non-lucratif canadien / Canadian not-for-profit 
6107 Av. de Monkland
Montréal, Québec
H4A 1H5

Numéro de l'organisation / Corporation number: 1196376-7

South Korea
주식회사 다크매터랩스코리아 / Dark Matter Labs Korea Co., Ltd 
#301, Pyeongtaek 5-ro 20beon-gil 8,
Pyeongtaek-si, Gyeonggi-do, 17902

경기도 평택시 평택5로 20번길 8, 301호, 우편번호 17902
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Mörk Materia Laboratoriet AB / Dark Matter Labs Sweden
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21437, Malmö

Registration number: 559305-1047