SCOTTISH estates have vowed to continue driving forward an international wildlife and habitat accreditation scheme, despite Brexit's effects on the UK's relationship with European institutions.

Based on a European scheme implemented in 19 countries across the continent, Wildlife Estates Scotland is celebrating its 10th birthday this month, with Scotland currently sitting second in the league table of accredited land, with only Spain ahead on approximately 1.6 million acres – but WES aims to double Scotland's accredited land to 2.5 million acres by 2023.

Robbie Douglas-Miller, who owns The Hopes Estate in East Lothian, has been closely involved in WES since its inception and believes the scheme is more vital than ever in helping Scotland’s wildlife to flourish. Originally accredited in 2013, The Hopes comprises 4200acres of land, primarily open hill and moorland. Over the past five years the estate has been heavily involved in significant peatland restoration and woodland creation. In 2016, Hopes won the Golden Plover award celebrating the best sustainable upland management.

Mr Douglas-Miller said: “An accreditation scheme such as Wildlife Estates Scotland has never been so valuable given the loss of wildlife and habitat that we are seeing across the world. We are celebrating 10 years of WES and during that time it has helped farms and estates take account of the effect their work has on wildlife. All too often we see farming, forestry or country sports labelled good or bad with regards to wildlife – the reality is far more complicated and each can produce great outcomes through sharing knowledge via a scheme such as WES.

“Wildlife Estates is a European concept and it enjoys close cooperation with European Union institutions. Over the past decade WES has been built into a Scottish success story and the scheme will continue to reflect on the latest environmental developments from Europe as we work to increase the amount of land which is accredited.”

Sixty five farms and estates have now reached the scheme’s ‘gold standard’ level 2 accreditation, underlining their credentials as guardians of wildlife and habitat. WES also enables estates to measure how they are contributing to government climate change and biodiversity targets. Diverse landholdings from 250 acres to tens of thousands of acres have achieved accreditation, including Balmoral, Roxburghe, Reay Forest estate and Threepwood Farm.

WES was developed in Scotland by Scottish Land and Estates and was launched by Roseanna Cunningham MSP, in November 2010.

Species that accredited properties are continuing to help include red squirrels, black grouse, curlew, lapwing and Scottish wildcats.

WES chairman, Dee Ward, said: “Landholdings across Scotland are undertaking vital conservation work that goes above and beyond what would be expected of them. This usually comes at significant cost to the business but more often than not, land managers see their role as custodians of their local habitat and want to help a rich array of wildlife to flourish.

“A recently accredited property was Allargue Estate, which experienced a 106% increase in the black grouse population as a result of the removal of old commercial forestry plantations which were acting as a barrier preventing black grouse moving between habitats. These are the great outcomes which can be achieved through best practice in a scheme such as WES.

“We are aiming to reach 2.5million acres and overtake Spain as the leading accredited country in Europe. We may be entering a new phase in our relationship with Europe and EU institutions but that in no way diminishes our ambition to do the best we can for our wildlife and environment.”