Read our latest blog from our Chief Officer, Deborah Long –
After more than 17 years working for small environmental and cultural charities in Scotland, I left the eNGO sector for two years. And now I’m back. Coming back in with fresh eyes has been a revelation. Some things have changed and others haven’t but the clarity of a new perspective has been invaluable.
- The value given to working cooperatively and collaboratively: two years ago, environmental bodies in Scotland rubbed along, usually pulling in the same direction although not always. That marriage of convenience has changed into a marriage of necessity as this sector and others respond to external and significant threats, including the current consitutional crises. There has been a realisation that we face enormous challenges and that if any one of us wants to achieve our broad objective of making Scotland a sustainable place to live, work and play then we have to work together in defending the environment.
- The rise in public support for action against climate change and biodiversity loss: while both have been massive threats for a long time, they have not, until recently reached the top of people’s worry lists. Both are now right at the top and are bringing people out onto the streets as they see the significance of today’s inaction for future generations. Public opinion when it changes can change very quickly and governments have been left scrabbling with inadequate mechanisms that are far too cumbersome to be able to address the significant and stretching demands now being made by the public.
What hasn’t changed?
Scotland’s landscape and wildlife is still being taken for granted. Despite Scotland trading increasingly on its global reputation for clean seas, wild mountains and magnificent wildlife, the investment and protection in all of them has declined, and continues that way despite the investment Scotland makes in marketing its landscapes, seascapes and wildlife. In addition, there is still no strategic vision for Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage and landscapes. For centuries Scotland’s attitude to land and sea has largely been to use it as a never ending resource that requires no inputs. As a result, Scotland is home to moorlands that are overgrazed and burnt and unable to sustain ecologically functioning food chains or functioning soils. Scotland is home to declining fish stocks and seabird colonies in free fall. And Scotland is home to a landscape characterised as wild but with no protection against fragmentation and industrialisation from wind farms or hill tracks. Yet at the same time, the image Scotland projects to the world is of food chains able to support top predators like sea and golden eagles, artfully photographed landscapes with no wind turbines, tracks, plantations or pylons. Wild landscapes and wildlife on land and at sea do still exist in Scotland but they don’t thrive. They survive despite and not because of how we value our natural resources.
What will it take for us as the public and our policy makers to realise and act on the basic truth that nothing can be sustained without sustenance? If Scotland is to keep attracting the world through its natural and cultural heritage, that heritage needs conserving, protecting and restoring. For natural heritage that does not mean conserving what we have as museum pieces but it means conserving the active ecological processes that enable Scotland’s ecosystem to function. That enable peatlands and river systems to regulate healthy water supplies, woodlands to support a timber industry and woodland species like red squirrels and Celtic rainforest mosses, grasslands that support flower rich machair and vibrant crofting communities and seas that support a global shell fish industry as well as internationally important seabird and seal colonies. These need not be mutually exclusive and for Scotland’s future cannot be so. But both sides of the give and take need to be addressed. We are still taking too much and not giving enough. And any economist will tell you that is a model bound to fail.
So on balance, do the changes cancel each other out? The positive change of cooperation and collaboration is an important tool in addressing the challenges we face and that public opinion is highlighting. But that spirit of cooperation and collaboration needs to reach way beyond the eNGO world and into much wider circles. We need to be working with farmers and crofters, fishermen and creelers, outdoor instructors, tourism businesses as well as government. And the environment, its wildlife and landscapes need investment if they are to deliver our livelihoods. If we get the tools right then we are in much stronger position than we were 2 years ago.
Scotland is not alone. The UN Global Assessment for Nature illustrates the same challenge right across the world. In Scotland, we still have natural systems that are still functioning albeit in a suboptimal way. We need to act now, act together and show the way forward.