Global awareness of the impacts of climate change and biodiversity is now greater than it has ever been. International events such as COP26 in Glasgow, followed by COP27 in Egypt, have made sure that climate change is firmly on international governmental agendas. COP15, the UN convention on biological diversity, held last month (December) in Montreal, sought to do the same for biodiversity.

Awareness of climate change and biodiversity loss, which are very much interlinked, is also being increasingly highlighted on our doorstep here in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

But how many people know that one of our greatest assets here in the northeast, The James Hutton Institute, is addressing climate, societal and ecological issues?

We’re a world leading centre of science focused on finding solutions to these and other key issues. Tucked away in the suburbs of Aberdeen, our Craigiebuckler campus is home to research facilities, laboratories and more than 150 scientific staff. They’re focused on science that informs the policies and practices that will make a difference in how we continue to live on this planet into the future – how we use the resources we have to ensure we have the food, water, energy and wellbeing that we need.

Including our Invergowrie site and three research farms, we have around £35 million in annual funding, from government, other research institutes, universities, funding partners and commercial income to carry out this work.

But, for many years, we’ve held our light under a bushel here in Aberdeen. So, we’re now looking to redress that balance with an ambitious £12 million master plan for our Craigiebuckler campus.

Thanks to recent funding from the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Fund, our plan includes a new hub and café with state-of-the-art engagement and training facilities. This will help us to bring more people on site and build capacity in areas such as peatland restoration.

Peatland restoration is one of the critical ways that we can reduce emissions here in Scotland, which has 20% peatland coverage, 80% of which thought to be degraded and therefore leaching greenhouse gas emissions.

The first phase of designing our new hub has started and we hope to submit a planning application this year, with construction expected to start in 2024.

Our masterplan also includes new visitor accommodation, to complement on-site training and secondments, as well as starter hubs, for spin-in companies that can thrive with the support and networks we offer, with the support of the Macaulay Development Trust.

This will build on the growing hub of co-located businesses that we have here at Craigiebuckler and enhances our Open Campus strategy. Companies now on site include GlykoGen, who are developing cancer treating antibodies, Isotopic, who perform geochemical studies for industry, NESCAN, a regional community climate action support hub, and Aberdeen City Council’s Scientific Services Laboratory, which supports everything from testing water quality to checking food and commercial goods production compliance. In early January 2023, we welcomed our latest tenant, sHYp BV, who is developing an electrolyser able to produce hydrogen from seawater.

Our masterplan also incorporates improved public access, including a new entrance road, car park, footpaths and routes for cyclists. We submitted our planning application for the new road late last year (2022) and, subject to planning approval, we hope to start work this summer (2023).

So, we have an incredible amount going on – and I’ve not even mentioned HydroGlen project at Glensaugh, our research farm in the foothills of the Grampian mountains. HydroGlen is a £6million project, also funded by the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Fund, and part of our Climate Positive Research Farm Initiative, to create a green hydrogen powered farming community.

But let’s save that for another day! As a renewed member of Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, we’re hoping we can tell you more about these projects, as well as other initiatives and our ongoing research in coming months and years.