NatureScot Applies Informed Solutions’ AI-Based Decision Support Platform on AWS to Enhance Environmental Decision Making

Executive Summary

NatureScot, Scotland’s nature agency, works to protect the country’s natural environment and provides advice and consent for anyone wishing to develop in protected areas. The agency enlisted AWS Partner Informed Solutions as part of a government-funded initiative to help it apply artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to more effectively manage protected areas. The resulting commercially available platform, InformedDECISION, is built on AWS and uses over 20 AWS services. The platform has demonstrated the potential to cut NatureScot’s application review times by 50 percent and improve access to information, allowing staff to focus on high-value protected area cases.

Improving Decision Making for Protected Land Use through Government-Funded Initiative

NatureScot is Scotland’s nature agency, with responsibility for the protection of the country’s natural environment. At a national level, this involves developing environmental policies that are designed to support government-level initiatives aimed at increasing biodiversity and meeting net-zero goals. At a regional level, it involves supporting sustainable land use by providing advice and permission for the activities of local authorities, developers, estate managers, and landowners to preserve and maintain Scotland’s nature.

The agency began receiving increasingly numerous and complex applications for land use changes, with staff struggling to find the time to resolve each one. Each request meant lengthy investigation times because critical data was located in different places in multiple formats—both structured and unstructured—across on-premises legacy systems, making it time-consuming to find the information required to support decision making. “We needed to improve efficiency and support decision making for land use inquiries,” says David Genney, protected areas and surveillance manager at NatureScot. “We also needed to free up staff time spent on casework to resource an accelerated response to the nature and climate emergency.”

To solve these issues, NatureScot wanted to harness innovative technology and data science, and needed a partner with AI expertise to help it develop a solution that would best meet its needs. It decided to put out a proposal through the UK government’s GovTech Catalyst initiative, a £20 million fund that helps public bodies solve complex problems—called challenges—using innovative digital technologies.


Combining AWS services with our own technology has allowed NatureScot to support all stakeholders in processing land use applications much more efficiently and effectively.”

David Lawton
Technical Director, Informed Solutions

Choosing a Cloud-Based Information Service Built on AWS

The GovTech Catalyst initiative invites a number of organizations to provide solutions in a competitive selection process. NatureScot chose AWS Partner Informed Solutions, which proposed an innovative, cloud-based, AI-enabled information service built on Amazon Web Services (AWS). The proposed platform included the latest advances in AI, data analytics, mapping, and satellite and earth observation imagery to simplify and resolve complex customer queries. It also provides advanced support for NatureScot’s case officers to make decisions on planning applications across the whole of Scotland.

Informed Solutions created a new platform, now called InformedDECISION, built on AWS. The platform was developed iteratively, engaging NatureScot’s customers and staff in a user-centered design, research, and development process, explicitly considering pain points to ensure the service addressed all issues to speed decision making. “Informed Solutions clearly demonstrated that they understood our needs,” says Genney. “It was clear to us that their platform would drive the consistency and efficiency we needed to process customer requests.”

Informed Solutions began by configuring the platform’s data integration and unification capabilities, extracting information by ingesting 150,000 documents from various formats, including email, scanned or PDF documents, and Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files. For this, it used a combination of AWS Glue, which can integrate data at any scale, and Amazon Textract, which automatically extracts printed text, handwriting, and data from any document.

Informed Solutions’ proven natural language processing (NLP) and named entity recognition (NER) modules were combined with Amazon Kendra, which provides intelligent enterprise search powered by machine learning. “With such complex data sources, it was hard to create a consistent approach when responding to land use applications,” says Genney. “We needed to make data access much faster to reduce the load on our staff.”

50% Reduction in Review Times Using AWS AI and NLP Capabilities

Following a successful regional pilot, NatureScot is expecting to reduce total casework review time by up to 50 percent, by accessing relevant data to speed response times and identify unnecessary cases. The platform combines Informed Solution’s innovative geospatial, NLP, and NER capabilities, using the functionality of Amazon Comprehend. This allows it to derive and understand valuable insights from text within documents, and dynamically build associations between places, habitats, species, activities, and impacts.

Informed Solutions linked NatureScot’s casework management, document management, and geographic information systems using APIs to continually ingest hundreds of thousands of documents and process data for faster decision making.

For this, it uses a range of highly scalable serverless capabilities based on AWS Lambda, to run code without thinking about servers or clusters; AWS Fargate, to provide serverless compute for containers; and Amazon API Gateway, to manage, orchestrate, and secure complex API interactions at any scale. “We had to build a map from a wealth of data that included different species, places, operations, people, and business activities,” says David Lawton, technical director at Informed Solutions. “Combining AWS services with our own technology has allowed NatureScot to support all stakeholders in processing land use applications much more efficiently and effectively.”

According to Informed Solutions’ estimates, the InformedDECISION platform will cut pre-application processing times by up to 50 percent by minimizing the number of unnecessary and non-relevant applications and queries. It is also expected to reduce application review times by up to 50 percent, by identifying and notifying people when applications have been completed incorrectly—and by automating the prioritization and routing process.

Scalable, Anywhere-Access Platform Cuts Information Search Times from Hours to Minutes

The platform supports anywhere access for caseworkers and scales cost-effectively using several AWS serverless services, with auto-scaling to respond to changes in customer demand and website traffic. To support horizontal scaling across the entire system, it uses AWS Lambda and AWS Fargate to deliver high scalability in a cost-effective manner with minimal operational overhead. The platform can scale on demand while avoiding costs associated with a fixed resource profile.

Using Informed Solutions’ platform, NatureScot has improved digital access for individuals submitting applications, by providing self-service tools to access land use information. Faster data access also means that agency staff can now perform searches in minutes rather than several hours. This allows NatureScot’s officers to spend more time on policy and high-value initiatives such as supporting the Scottish National Planning Framework and 30 by 30, an initiative that aims to protect 30 percent of Scotland’s land and sea for nature by 2030. “Previously, we spent lots of time searching different systems to make decisions,” says Genney. “Working with Informed Solutions and AWS, we can make better sense of information, so our experts can make a positive difference to the environment and on climate change.”

The agency is also able to protect its own and sensitive customer data and secure itself against denial of service attacks using AWS. To support customer compliance requirements and best practice, the platform passed its AWS Foundational Technical Review (FTR) and uses several AWS services, including AWS Shield, AWS Web Application Firewall (AWS WAF), Amazon GuardDuty, AWS Security Hub, AWS Config, and Amazon Inspector to monitor compliance against benchmarks and machine learning-supported intrusion detection.

Ready for Country-Wide Rollout and Collaboration with Similar Organizations

NatureScot, with Informed Solutions’ help, is in the process of rolling out InformedDECISION to its National Operations South team. This involves streamlining communications with other key agencies and local authorities within Scotland. NatureScot plans to expand its use of AWS in the future, with the expertise it has gained from the new platform. The agency is looking at growing its use of machine learning and AI and increasing its ability to gain deeper insights from its data to further enhance decision making.

Based on the experience of building the InformedDECISION platform on AWS for environmental asset management, Informed Solutions is now in discussions with similar organizations that need to make important decisions based upon large volumes of distributed information.

With NatureScot able to do more with the same resources, it is now well placed to roll out its new platform across Scotland with its existing number of internal employees. “It’s not always easy to achieve wholesale change in a governmental organization—with Informed Solutions and AWS, we’ve seen that change,” concludes Genney. “It’s a massive achievement and one we’re hugely proud of.”


About NatureScot

NatureScot is the national nature agency for Scotland that works to help improve the natural environment, protecting the biodiversity, geodiversity, and natural elements of both land and marine areas. It helps shape environmental policy and procedures and supports the sensitive management of Scotland’s natural world to maintain and enhance nature.

AWS Services Used


  • 50% expected reduction in casework review times
  • 50% estimated decrease in application review times
  • Up to 50% anticipated reduction in pre-application processing times
  • 150,000 data items ingested from various sources

About the AWS Partner Informed Solutions

Informed Solutions is a multi-Queen’s Award-winning services and platforms provider, delivering digital, data science, artificial intelligence, and technology solutions and products to help customers accelerate and de-risk business change. It works with organizations in the areas of sustainable land management, environment, energy, civil defense, and healthcare.

Published July 2023