Scottish Environment LINK first launched its Species Champions initiative in 2013. Since then, it has far outstripped the success we thought it might have had and not just in Scotland. It has inspired similar programmes in Wales, Northern Ireland and England. Conceived in the wildlife garden at Balallan House in Stirling, the idea was enthusiastically taken up by LINK members and Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) from all Parties and has resulted in some strong relations between eNGOS and MSPs, between MSPs and their constituents and MSPs and some iconic species. Some of the evidence is in the images of Liam MacArthur, MSP, towering over the Scottish primrose, Stewart Stevenson, MSP, crouched next to a spiny lobster or Andy Wightman, MSP, grinning over an unfeasibly large golden eagle chick.
The first films we made when we invited MSPs to tell us why they had chosen their species, included poetry about sparrows, laughter over tongue twister species names, reminiscences about wildlife sightings with children and even childhood memories of marching for whales. You can see one example, from 2013, here. This has forged a strong relationship between MSPs and nature in Scotland.
This relationship has been to everyone’s benefit. Nature has benefited – not just through the frequent references to particular species in the Chamber but through MSP constituency engagement in schools and green spaces. MSPs have learnt more about the amazing species we live amongst: the natterer bat’s booming voice, the brown hare’s land speed records are just two examples. Each nugget of information revealed to the adopting MSP how amazing the nature in Scotland is and gave them a personal reason for engaging regularly with it in policy matters.
Our new short film celebrates some of what has happened amongst species and MSP Champions over the last Parliament. You will certainly spot faces you recognise, human, feathered, petalled, leaved and furry. Watch it here.
I don’t want to bamboozle you with numbers but here are just a few:
111 MSPs have championed a species, from Shetland to Galloway, Outer Hebrides to East Lothian. And from all political parties.
We’ve had champions for mammals, insects, birds, trees and plants, jellyfish and whales, slow worms and newts, lobsters and sea fans. And a host more.
Species Champions have lodged Parliamentary motions, declared their interest as a species champions in debates, with some amusing asides, asked parliamentary questions, held field and site visits and created videos, and of course seen press coverage in local and national papers, BBC and lots of social media action, including facebook films, tweets and instagram imagery.
100 day challenge in 2018 to celebrate reaching 100 Species Champions: had species champions all doing something for nature in those 100 days, resulting in 180,000 social media engagements
In 2021, 2,044 people from right across Scotland signed up to call on their candidates to sign our Pledge for Nature. And 68 candidates did so. It is still running and we hope you’ll be able to support it if you haven’t already. Details are here.
And now, 7 years on, we are relaunching the initiative, this time as Nature Champions. With >80% of MSPs engaged in the last Parliament, we ‘re looking to top the level of engagement this time round and are giving even more choice of species and habitat for MSPs to visit, learn about, engage personally with and champion in Parliament. We have charismatic species, diminutive species with amazing stories to tell, common but declining species and vitally important habitats that all need championing so we can make sure today’s generations and future generations can share in our wonder.
This is now even more important than ever. It would have been fantastic to have been able to say, that 7 years after we first launched it, species and habitats are in a better state now than they were then. This isn’t the case. The State of Nature Scotland reports in 2016 and 2019 show continuing decline. Scotland, and the other UK countries, is near the bottom of the international Biodiversity Intactness Index, which measures the resilience of our nature through assessing how much nature is left from a pristine state. Nature needs our help more than ever – ironically at a time when we’ve leaned on nature more than ever and the joy and comfort it has provided over the last 15 months.
I hope you are inspired to take part in our new initiative. More information is here.
At the start of this Decade for Ecosystem Restoration, now is the time for Nature’s voice in the Scottish Parliament to be strong, loud and well informed. This initiative is all about making that happen. As an individual, ask your MSP to become a Nature Champion and make your voice heard by adding it to our campaign here: tell us why and how nature matters to you.