Introduction

We worked on a three-month feasibility study funded through Innovate UK’s Sustainable Innovation Fund to assist Highlands Rewilding – a new company founded by eco-entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett – to map soil fauna and fungi across the 511-hectare Bunloit estate on the shores of Loch Ness in Scotland.

Highlands Rewilding aims to be one of the world’s most impactful accelerators of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) implementation, with the site aiming to become a beacon of hope in addressing the dual challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss. Restoration and rewilding practices implemented across the estate will enable species and ecosystem recovery, which in turn delivers carbon sequestration and community prosperity.

In this pilot, we worked with Ecosulis as part of the CreditNATURE project. Our eDNA Soil and Sediments service provided a rich bank of data, demonstrating the power of this approach for establishing biological baselines against which progress can be measured and interventions planned going forward.

We were excited to see the results of the eDNA sampling undertaken by NatureMetrics as it gave us a unique view into the diversity of the different habitats we have across the estate. Importantly, it gave us a standardised, repeatable baseline of data that we can measure at regular intervals to monitor the impacts of our nature restoration and rewilding efforts.

We believe that eDNA has the potential to become a leading standard measure of biodiversity impacts across the world, similar to how carbon is currently measured in tonnes of CO2. We look forward to working with NatureMetrics in the future to see how this develops.

Jeremy Leggett, Executive Director, Higlands Rewilding

The Challenge

Meaningful Assessment of Ecosystems

A range of detailed metrics needs to be evaluated on an annual basis to assess the impact of management on achieving ecosystem recovery and delivering against biodiversity and carbon sequestration goals.

Soil biodiversity is directly linked to ecosystem function, making it a critical component of natural capital and a powerful indicator of ecosystem health. eDNA was identified as an efficient and costeffective way of creating a baseline against which to monitor progress.

Our role

Cutting-edge Technologies for Real-World Data

The CreditNature project aimed to integrate a range of cutting-edge technologies to create a data-driven platform to enable the development of carbon, biodiversity and rewilding (ecosystem recovery) credits.

The Highlands team used NatureMetrics kits to gather 40 soil samples across the 511-acre estate, covering all of its representative habitats. DNA was extracted from the soil samples and sequenced for fungi and soil fauna to characterise the communities present. Diversity metrics were generated from the species lists to compare diversity among different habitat types and assess correlations with factors such as soil carbon and nitrogen.

The Impact

A Multihabitat Baseline

Analysis of the 40 soil samples revealed 1,168 species of fungi and 352 species of soil fauna. Interestingly, the data showed that soil fauna was most diverse in the peat bog habitat, which is often considered to be of low biodiversity value. Peat bog communities were also highly distinct from those in other habitat types, supporting a unique assemblage of species.

This dataset provides a good baseline of soil communities against which to assess the impact of restoration and rewilding measures implemented at the site. This will help the estate managers to make more informed decisions regarding their management plans.

NatureMetrics presented its insights on the Bunloit Estate at COP26 in Glasgow alongside other innovative technology providers (AgriCarbon, CSX Carbon & Terra Motion) following publication of the Natural Capital Report. We will continue to work together to provide long-term monitoring at the estate.

Client

Highlands Rewilding, Ecosulis

Location

Loch Ness, Scotland

Sample Type

eDNA from Soils

Environment

Peatland, woodland, grasslands, heathlands, scrub

Group Targeted

Fungi and Soil Fauna

511 hectares of land surveyed

40 soil samples taken for DNA analysis

Detailed soil biodiversity and carbon data obtained across multiple habitat types

1,520 fungi and soil fauna species uncovered through soil eDNA metabarcoding

What next?

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More on the project

1,168 fungal operational taxonomic units (OTUs) and 352 faunal OTUs were detected across the 40 samples.

Although limited by the small number of samples collected in each habitat, the eDNA analysis showed that:

  • Coniferous woodlands have the lowest richness and diversity of both soil fauna and fungi

  • The estate’s peatlands and grasslands have the highest and most distinct soil biodiversity

  • Two of the detected fungal taxa matched to sequences of near-threatened species on the IUCN Red List although there are no known records of these species in Scotland. This data could be used to pinpoint areas for further investigation to establish whether those particular species are indeed present at the site

  • Communities of both fungi and soil fauna were significantly associated with concentrations of soil organic carbon and total nitrogen, but not pH

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