Meeting commitments to protect at least 30% of Scottish seas for ecosystem recovery by 2030
Evidence is growing to show that the health of Scotland’s seas has been in decline for some time. Seabed habitats are a shadow of what they once were, fish stocks have dwindled, and coastlines are changing due to the impacts of climate change. By law our seas should have been in ‘Good Environmental Status’ by 2020 (seas are healthy and productive and resources are being used at sustainable levels), but unfortunately all governments across the UK failed to achieve this for 11 out of 15 indicators. And that’s not to mention the bigger picture that this is a worldwide trend, with the earth now widely recognised as being simultaneously in the midst of a climate emergency and nature crisis – a de facto ocean emergency. Arguably we now need to go further than GES. (more…)
The consultation on the Cairngorms national park plan has generated a huge response, with nearly 1,500 people – residents and visitors alike – making their views known. While 75% of respondents were supportive, fears have been raised over rural workers’ jobs.
The fear of job losses is one shared by every sector in the park. The last few years have thrown up massive challenges to local residents and businesses – Brexit, Covid, spikes in visitor numbers, the energy and cost of living crises. Yet lurking behind these shocks is a deeper, darker challenge. The existential threat that our species, and all others we share the park and the planet with, face from the looming double whammy of climate and biodiversity crises.
Within the park we are already witnessing increasingly unpredictable and often unprecedented weather events. The melting of the Sphinx snow patch, the devastating floods from storm Frank, and winds from storm Arwen have shifted our perception of climate change from a theoretical threat to a real and present danger. The steady decline in black grouse, curlews, lapwings, hedgehogs, dotterel, eels, salmon and sea trout, with changes in flowering dates and butterfly emergence, and rising water temperatures in the Dee and Spey tell us that the very fabric on which the park is built is starting to tear.
We all must face up to and tackle these crises. It is the duty of the Park Authority to use every lever and tool it has to promote measures that will give nature the freedom to adapt and mitigate the worst effects that human industrialisation has unleashed across the globe. Nature is incredibly resilient. With a bit of help, regenerating woodlands and healthy peatlands can suck up carbon from the atmosphere and safely store it in timber and peat. Thriving, scrubby riparian vegetation can shade, cool and slow water flows, reduce flooding, trap silt and peat and provide insect life for fish. Nature too can provide employment opportunities for local communities: tourism, recreation, forestry, agriculture, deer management.
Rather than being threatened, rural worker jobs are essential and must play a key part in the fight for the future of, and our future in, the park. We need more workers restoring peatlands, planting trees, managing deer, monitoring our threatened species. More rural workers engaging with visitors to generate understanding, and income. More outdoor education programmes for local children from the park and outwith to learn how nature works and how we can manage it for all our futures.
Rural workers have the experience and understanding of the ecosystem to not only join but to lead this fight. Uncertainty and fear around change is something we all share. Like nature we all have to adapt, to adjust, to face up to new realities. The norms of two years ago, let alone two centuries ago – when the roots of traditional land management were laid – have changed. We have no option but to roll up our sleeves and to help nature to help ourselves. Rather than threatening jobs, the park plan highlights the urgent need we have for more rural workers.
Mike Daniels is director of policy at the John Muir Trust and vice convenor of Scottish Environment LINK’s deer group.
This article was first published in The Scotsman on 24 May 2022.
How important is nature to us all? We live in an ever changing world with biodiversity loss and ecosystem that no longer function, extreme climate changes and pressures of war, costs of living, energy and food security issues, all impacting us all now, here in Scotland and across the world. Is it self indulgent to be concerned with nature loss and climate change in the face of so much human suffering and environmental destruction?
Absolutely not. If we continue down today’s trajectory, there is much more environmental destruction and human suffering baked into our future. Arguably if we had acted earlier to reduce emissions, halt nature loss, the energy and food security issues we face today would be much less severe.
Scotland’s nature is iconic and world renowned for its beauty, but it is also degraded and its decline is contributing to climate change. Scotland’s habitats give us unique opportunities for ecosystem restoration. Scottish peatlands hold over 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon. Scotland’s marine environment and habitats store more carbon than the land. Scotland’s native woodlands, including for example Caledonian pinewoods and Scotland’s’ rainforest, if they are healthy and regenerating, store carbon in trees and soils and connect woodland habitats to one another through nature networks, building much more resilient woodland. Ecosystem restoration must be a central part of our action to tackle climate change.
We are currently at the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. It aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. Scotland, as a historically high emitter and the site of globally important habitats, has a duty to show leadership in the fight against nature loss.
The global context for progress in this decade will be set this year by COP15, due to take place in Kunming in September: COP15 will see the adoption of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, which provides a strategic vision to be living in harmony with nature by 2050, and a global roadmap for the conservation, protection, restoration and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems for the next decade. It’s got some ambitious targets and it has the potential to be far reaching, if adopted.
If the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago and the next best time is today – then it stands that the next best time to halt the destruction of nature, to limit emissions and to reconnect people to nature is today.
The challenges are huge and many and the time is short. BUT there is also determination – our members between them have more than 0.5 million supporters in Scotland. There is innovation – look at some of the initiatives here in our slideshow. We have the recognition of the importance of nature – not just for itself, but for ourselves and the future the planet: the BBC has shown that and the Scottish Government have reiterated it. And we have a legacy to pass on: what will that be?
Nature and ecosystem restoration must be central to everything we do from now on:
We need leadership on biodiversity and addressing the nature crisis alongside the climate crisis with strong, ambitious, legally binding targets to restore nature: so we know where we need to get to within the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and how to get there. We have to do this now or it will be too late.
Nature needs to be at the heart of government: it needs to be in all portfolios and all of government should be working with nature in mind. Nature has to become the new climate and net zero, both because it is so important in its own right, but also because we cannot meet our climate targets without restoring nature. In fact, Scotland’s new biodiversity strategy should be our nature emergency strategy.
Protecting 30% of Scotland’s land and highly protecting at least 10% of Scotland’s seas will be vital going forwards. We need to do this properly, not just on paper.
Creating a Scottish Nature Network to restore and protect our habitats and native species will build the wider ecosystem resilience we need through planning reform, land use planning and land use support.
Reforming farming subsidy: 75% of Scotland’s land is farmed – the agricultural subsidy of £750 million a year is being reformed and this is a once in a generation opportunity to make farming work for nature, climate and thriving rural communities.
I’m looking forward to the conversations, connections, resolutions, promises and collaborations that will happen tonight and in the future. We want to make the next 8 years of this Decade for Ecosystem restoration count. Years when we halt the loss of nature, reverse its decline, reconnect with nature and create thriving communities and a future for young people.
This is the text of the speech given by LINK’s Chief Officer at the LINK Parliamentary reception at Holyrood, on 18 May 2022
The international community is facing twin emergencies: climate change and biodiversity loss. These entangled crises demand swift action from policymakers and Nicola Sturgeon’s recent commitment to showing leadership on both crises is very welcomed.
Tackling the nature crisis can feel even more complex than the climate crisis and yet it is paramount that biodiversity is interwoven into all decision-making processes. As we progress through the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, Scotland must continue to take real, sustained and effective action to restore ecosystems. However, when it comes to Scotland’s nature restoration, considerable attention needs to be paid to the intricacies of specific ecosystems and the situated threats that they encounter.
Invasive Species Week 2022 (16-22 May) is an important opportunity to highlight the considerable damage and expense caused by invasive non-native species in Scotland and the UK. It may be surprising to some to learn that invasive non-native species have been identified as one of the five key drivers of global biodiversity loss, alongside changing use of sea and land, direct exploitation, climate change, and pollution (IPBES, 2019). Furthermore, a 2020 study published by Global Change Biology suggests that even moderate increases in invasive species expansion (between 20-30%) are expected to cause major impacts on biodiversity in most sociological contexts.
Discussions of invasive non-native species are set to be at the forefront of the UN’s upcoming COP15 – ‘the biodiversity COP’ – where the attending parties will be formalising The Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Similarly, it is paramount that tackling the spread of invasive non-native species is included in the new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and delivery plan, to be delivered in October 2022.
What are invasive non-native species?
Just like humans, over time many species migrate into new hospitable habitats and gradually adjust to fit into their new ecosystem. However, there are certain species that have been translocated into non-native ecosystems, whether intentionally carried by humans or not, in which they have considerably adverse effects. These species are known in these ecosystems as ‘invasive non-native species’.
It is important to note that not all non-native species are invasive. When a species simply moves outside of their normal range and outside of the ecosystems that they have adapted with for millennia, they are just known as ‘non-native’ or ‘alien’ species. When these have been transported as a result of human activity, these are also occasionally termed ‘introduced’ species. As a result of centuries of accelerating trade and migration, there are many non-native species that are found within Scotland, and many of these pose no threat to their surrounding ecosystems. The issue is with those ‘invasive’, non-native species – those species that are outside their normal range and which negatively affect other native organisms and environments. Through their translocation, these species may have escaped the predators, parasites and herbivores that would have limited their spread within their own native ecosystems.
What impacts do invasive non-native species have?
Invasive non-native species can negatively impact native ecosystems through a variety of ways. They may predate or become parasitic upon native species, or they may simply outcompete native species for resources, reproduce more quickly and dominate native habitats.
To give an impression of the scale of the issue, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published their Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services 2019 which stated that nearly one fifth of the Earth’s surface is at risk of invasive non-native plant and animal species. Equally, cumulative records of non-native species expansion suggest that there has been a 40% global increase in non-native species proliferation since 1980, and the rate of introduction of invasive species is higher than ever. For islands like Great Britain, the effects of invasive non-native species are particularly serious as these ecosystems are likely to have developed with little alien interference and are more likely to be susceptible to extinction.
Invasive species in Scotland
In Scotland, invasive non-native species are covered by Section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, alongside the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011. These Acts state that it is an offence to release or cause the release of any animal or plant to a place outside of its native range. The Scottish Government has also published a non-native species Code of Practice to ensure people act responsibly within the law so that non-native species do not cause increasing harm to Scotland’s envhironment. But what about those invasive species that are already present in Scotland?
There are almost 2,000 non-native species established in the UK and some 10-15% of these species are logged as invasive (Defra, 2012). Alongside degrading Scotland’s biodiversity, these invasive species especially impact agriculture, forestry and horticulture sectors, costing the Scottish Government £300 million a year.
Some examples of invasive non-native species that are established in Scotland include American Mink, Giant Hogweed, Grey Squirrels, Japanese Knotweed, Himalayan Balsam, American Skunk Cabbage, White Butterbur, and Rhododendron Ponticum. Each of these species detrimentally disrupt Scotland’s native ecosystems in different ways.
The American mink (Neogale vision), for example, spread throughout Scotland after they escaped from fur farms in the 20th century. As they spread, they predated on a variety of species, including water vole and ground-nesting bird populations, which were especially negatively affected. As the Scottish Invasive Species Initiative notes, American mink are believed to be responsible for the disappearance of moorhen from Lewis and Harris, and a 94% decline in water vole populations. To combat the spread of American mink in the Western Isles, NatureScot led a successful project to eradicate the species, costing over £4.5 million over 17-years.
Within the plant kingdom, Rhododendron ponticum is Scotland’s most threatening invasive non-native plant. Despite its attractive flowers, Rhododendron forms dense thickets which shade out native plants, its leaf litter is toxic to many plants, and it harbours the phytophthora – a disease that can kill a wide range of plants. In 2010, Forestry and Land Scotland began a ten-year, £15.5 million project to remove rhododendron from 50,000 hectares of land – a task that is continued by two of LINK’s members, John Muir Trust and National Trust for Scotland.
COP15 and the way forward for Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy
As the world prepares for the UN’s upcoming biodiversity conference, COP15, it is clear that invasive species must be at the forefront of the Post-2020 Global Diversity Framework. Within the first draft of the UN’s Framework, the 21 targets for 2030 include a draft commitment for “a 50% greater reduction in the rate of introduction of invasive alien (non-native) species, and controls or eradication of such species to eliminate or reduce their impacts”. This is a promising direction considering the accelerating spread of non-native, invasive species and the catastrophic effects they have upon endemic ecosystems – a proliferation which continues to increase as a result of climate change, transport and socioeconomic change.
As the Scottish Government prepares its upcoming Scottish Biodiversity Strategy Post-2020, it is critical that the attention to invasive species with the UN’s Biodiversity Framework and the IPBES Global Assessment of Biodiversity is matched within the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. As the Statement of Intent to the upcoming Scottish Biodiversity Strategy recognises, joint working arrangements with the UK Government on addressing non-native invasive species is a positive direction in centralising this factor in Scotland’s biodiversity loss going forward, but as with COP15, tangible targets are required to protect Scotland’s fragile ecosystems.
Andy Marks, Nature Champion Coordinator, Scottish Environment LINK
Land and People in Scotland: the new Cairngorms National Park Plan showing the way in this Decade of Ecosystem Restoration
Despite its status as the birthplace of John Muir – ‘the patron saint of national parks’ – Scotland arrived late on the scene. More than a century behind the USA, and half a century behind England, Scotland gained its first national parks in 2002 and 2003, following the setting up of a Scottish Parliament a few years earlier.
Although latecomers, Scotland’s national parks are significant in size and scope. Spread across four and a half thousand square kilometers, the Cairngorms National Park is almost double the size of the Lake District. Along with Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, it encompasses diverse habitats, species, landscapes, and local economies, underpinned by a rich cultural heritage.
The legislation passed in 2000 that led to the establishment of the two National Parks set out four key aims: to conserve and enhance natural and cultural heritage; to promote the sustainable use of natural resources; promote understanding and enjoyment of the areas; and to promote sustainable social and economic development of locally. Arguably, the first of these is the basis for all the others.
National parks in Scotland deliver their remits through national park plans. Public consultation around the current national park plan for the Cairngorms has been heartening. Many people have contributed their thoughts, raising questions about what the National Park is for and how it should be delivering its aims. LINK strongly supports the bold ambitions set out within the draft plan.
The whole of the park has a degree of protection in national planning policy, and just under half (49 percent) is under legal protection for nature, in recognition of the ecological importance of this extensive mosaic of crucial habitats.
Today, the pressures on those designated sites – and across the wider Cairngorms landscape – are significant. These pressures include climate change and intensive sporting upland management practices that involve muir burning, overgrazing by high populations of deer and proliferation of invasive, non-native species. This in turn is driving species loss and decline, along with habitat fragmentation, in what is perhaps the finest and most important natural heritage area anywhere in the UK. To halt the loss of our biodiversity and restore it to a condition sufficiently resilient to withstand the impacts of climate change, we need to act now.
The actions outlined in the park plan are urgently needed. A third of the UK’s land above 600 meters is within the Cairngorms National Park. These uplands are managed for a variety of purposes, which includes nature, access and recreation, forestry, and game bird shooting and deer stalking. To meet the aims of the National Park as set out in the 2000 legislation, it will be necessary to gear land management priorities towards protecting and restoring nature, while nurturing sustainable local communities and thriving local economies.
In the absence of natural predators, Scotland’s uplands, in the Cairngorms and elsewhere, are hugely impacted by our unnatural deer densities, which are among the highest of any country in the world. Estimates of deer numbers vary, with some estimates putting the figure as high as one million (roe and red deer combined) (Forestry and Land Scotland 2021), This compares with 100,000 immediately after the second world war, rising to half a million in 1990 (Simon Pepper 2016). In recent years, the numbers have stabilised – but at an unsustainably high level. In the Cairngorms National Park specifically, the mean density of red deer was 11.5 per km2 in 2021 (NPPP 2022 factsheet: Land management).
As well as preventing natural regeneration of woodland habitats, high deer numbers across Scotland, and in the Cairngorms, are responsible for traffic accidents, ticks and Lyme’s disease, and damage to peatlands. The question is: is this fair?
Scotland’s history of land ownership and land management is complicated and historically fraught. The solution, if there is one, is not easy and is equally fraught. However, as the Scottish Land Commission says: Land matters because we all use and need it. As such, land management in Scotland’s national parks should be setting the standards of exemplary land management for nature, and the multitude of public benefits that will bring. Managing for nature gives Scotland’s environment the best chance of survival, so future generations can enjoy the benefits of a healthy ecosystem, from an abundance of wildlife to stable landscapes delivering a suite of ecosystem services and providing sustainable livelihoods for local communities.
Bringing deer numbers to a level where trees can naturally regenerate and increase ecosystem and landscape resilience to future shocks. While this level is generally accepted to be five or fewer deer per square kilometer, research shows natural regeneration of Caledonian pinewood, for example, requires deer densities below two per square per km.
Diversify upland ecosystems to maximise species diversity and move from monocultures towards diverse and resilient ecosystems able to withstand climate change.
Halt muirburn on peatland and fragile upland and montane soils so fragile slow-growing upland plant communities can survive, are species rich and are resilient to wildfires. This would also allow natural mountain woodland regeneration, one of Scotland’s rarest natural habitats, and prevent peat loss.
Halt peat loss by licensing muirburn and controlling overgrazing, while targeting peatland rewetting and restoration. This contributes to Scotland’s’ carbon targets and builds biodiversity.
Provide a home to wildlife and landscapes capable of inspiring local communities and visitors alike, building sustainable local economies in tune with nature rather than exploiting it.
Through healthy landscapes, support diverse jobs: the numbers of jobs in traditional upland estate management are low. But they will need to increase if we are to achieve and maintain lower deer numbers so ecosystems can recover. Furthermore, the need for nature-based jobs in woodland and peatland restoration, sustainable forestry and farming, nature tourism and visitor management will only increase if we restore Scotland’s iconic habitats and species. Rural communities do much better in diverse and resilient ecosystems and with the diversification of employment opportunities that brings.
This is the minimum we need our national parks – as the best examples we have of natural ecosystems – to deliver. Robust national park plans, designed to deliver the park aims of nature and rural community protection and restoration are vital.
Since the 1970s our global consumption of natural resources has tripled – taking a devastating toll on our planet.
Our lifestyles and ever-increasing appetite for raw materials have now destroyed [i]two-thirds of the world’s rainforests, [ii]half the coral reefs, and [iii]87% of all wetlands. A staggering [iv]90 percent of the world’s biodiversity loss has been caused by the extraction and processing of raw materials and in Scotland alone, today, one in nine species – plant, fish and animal – is at risk of extinction.
This is truly tragic and more than ever we need to heed the wake-up call. Failure to act now will only make halting the loss of species and habitats more difficult and could lead to unprecedented consequences for us and our natural world. We must address the quantity of raw materials used in our economy and fix the rapid decline of nature before it’s too late.
Scotland’s Material Flow Accounts show the scale and nature of our consumption by calculating all the raw materials such as oil and metal ores that go into making all the products we use in our day-to-day lives, whether made in Scotland or imported. They show that our material footprint is more than double sustainable levels. What’s more, over 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint is derived from emissions used to produce the goods we consume.
Rather than our current economic model of fast consumption to drive economies, we need to move to a more circular economy and significantly reduce our reliance on raw materials. This means having products that are repairable and designed to last; made of materials that can be safely reused or recycled. It also means restoring soil and nature, the foundational building blocks of life on Earth.
Next month, the Scottish government will release its much-awaited proposals for the Circular Economy Bill, in a consultation. Scottish Environment LINK together with over 35 organisations have today published a paper calling on the Scottish government to bring forward an ambitious Circular Economy Bill that is fit for purpose.
This is our chance to develop a long-term strategy that makes economic and environmental sense. The bill must include a vision for an economy in which waste and pollution are designed out, products and materials are kept in use and natural systems are regenerated, and which embeds the ‘polluter pays principle’.
Our climate and nature emergencies demand systemic change across our economy. Such systemic change must be driven by targets to focus minds – in all areas of the economy – on reducing our use of raw materials. In the same way that our climate change targets are driving policy to decarbonise energy and heat production, a material footprint target is key to driving policy to create a resilient and sustainable economy.
The bill should also include an obligation to publish a plan, updated every five years, which maps out how to meet our targets; how to address environmentally damaging materials and chemicals, and the requirements that will be placed on different sectors, to help achieve our transition to a more circular economy.
The circular economy bill proposals will include banning the destruction of unsold goods, a welcome step, but only one part of the jigsaw. There should be mandatory public reporting on surplus stock and waste, including supply chain waste for retailers and food services, so we can see how much waste is behind what we buy.
We need to ensure products stay in use for as long as possible and their use is optimised. Legislation should introduce a repairability index, telling consumers how easy a product is to repair. This both informs consumer choice and pushes manufactures to make products which are durable and can be readily mended.
Retailers should be required to take back products at the end of their life. This will encourage them to think about the products they sell, incentivising design that retains value in components and materials.
In general, we must move away from single use. Products that are particularly environmentally harmful such as plastic wet wipes, should be banned, and reusable alternatives promoted. Single-use cups and other crockery should be banned where possible and again reusable alternatives sought. In our villages, towns and cities, there should be re-useable cup deposit schemes – similar to those planned for bottles and cans next year.
When things can no longer be repaired or reused, the materials from which they are made need to be recycled. The bill must include a commitment to phase out harmful chemicals, which make re-use and recycling unsafe, and composite materials, that are difficult to recycle.
It is not only environmental charities which want an ambitious circular economy bill. Many businesses, from those involved in resource management, to construction, to biotechnology and textiles; want to do the right thing and are leading the way in more circular practices. However, a more sustainable approach is often more expensive and legislation that ‘levels the playing field’ is needed.
The health of our planet is deteriorating at an alarming rate, placing us at a critical point in our history and leaving us with no alternative but to live more responsibly. We can no longer get away with taking what we want from nature and damaging its delicate balance with no repercussions on the precious life it helps to sustain. Put bluntly, this includes us and the future wellbeing of our children.
Nature is resilient. Given the chance, it has an amazing capacity to regenerate. It’s for us to heed the wake-up call before it really is too late.
Farming has profoundly shaped Scotland: our people, our economy, our traditions, our landscapes and our wildlife.
Nature is also a key part of Scotland’s identity. In a 2019 survey for Scottish Environment LINK, 94 percent of the Scottish public saw our natural environment as ‘very important’ or ‘quite important’ to both Scotland’s economy and its national identity. With 75 percent of Scotland’s land under farming management supported by government grants, how we farm our land is clearly central to our future.
The Scottish Government is currently considering how to replace the decades-old system of funding for farming. This provides a key opportunity to encourage farming methods that protect and restore nature and guard against climate change, instead of methods that contribute to climate change and damage the natural environment.
As an issue, this reaches right across Scottish society. In rural communities, farms able to produce healthy food and support jobs become a key part of the rural social fabric. Where those farms are also maintaining areas of natural habitats, where species can live and move, rural communities benefit even more – not just through the healthy environment but in having natural assets that visitors are more likely to want to see.
And then there are the benefits to nature too: agricultural management is one of the most significant pressures on biodiversity, with intensification, greater use of pesticides and fertilisers, and changes to land use all impacting on species decline, soil and water quality and carbon storage. To date, Scottish agri-environmental schemes have been used to balance production against nature and ecosystem integrity and when they have worked, they have resulted in positive changes – in breeding farmland birds for instance. But with the scale of the nature and climate crisis we face this piecemeal approach is not enough.
The new system of agricultural funding must be focused on supporting farmers to manage their land for nature, the climate and our people. Taxpayer funding must lead to the outcomes the public expect: a healthy, vibrant and resilient natural environment that is able to provide clean water, healthy and productive soils, carbon storage, healthy and nutritious food, diverse and resilient pollinators and the native species and habitats that are part of our national psyche.
From LINK’s perspective this is about supporting all farmers, large and small, to make changes to embed action for nature and climate into farming practice. Farmers must be able to access expert knowledge, advice and training to support and develop sustainable local opportunities through thriving nature, local food and resources, be that employment, accommodation, services or becoming part of wider green tourism initiatives. What we shouldn’t do is fund farming practices that harm biodiversity, fragment habitats, degrade soil or water and emit carbon.
On a recent visit to Monzie Farm in Highland Perthshire, we explored these issues with the Cabinet Secretary, Mairi Gougeon, and showed her the sorts of farming practices we’re talking about and that need more support.
Independent farm conservation advisor Richard Lockett said: ‘Farm like Monzie have a great track record of managing land sensitively and producing good quality food in a diverse, wildlife rich environment. We took this opportunity to show the Cabinet Secretary how well-funded, targeted incentives backed by good advice is essential if we want to address the challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change.’
Now is the time to be thinking about the future for farming. With reform coming, we must get the changes right and ensure the industry is sustainable today and for the future. Scotland’s record of action during this UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration must look towards our legacy to future generations as well as supporting people and nature today.
Deborah Long is chief officer at Scottish Environment LINK.
This article was first published in The Scotsman on April 21st 2022
“To save wildlife and wild places the traction has to come not from the regurgitation of bad-news data but from the poets, prophets, preachers, professors, and presidents who have always dared to inspire.”
J. Drew Lanham
Scotland currently ranks 28th from the bottom in the Biodiversity Intactness Index (RSPB & Natural History Museum, 2021). This means that nature in Scotland is more depleted than 88% of 240 countries and territories across the world. Perhaps even more bleakly, an alarming 1 in 9 species are presently at risk of extinction in Scotland.
Whilst these facts and figures importantly communicate the extent of the biodiversity crisis that Scotland currently faces, they can also make conversations around Scotland’s wildlife feel overwhelming because of the scale of the problem. The everyday experience, familiarity, and value of Scotland’s remaining extraordinary flora and fauna can get lost in these universal statistics.
For Members of the Scottish Parliament – those people who are currently tasked with leading Scotland and its natural environment towards a sustainable, thriving future – I imagine that the biodiversity crisis can also sometimes feel vast and impenetrable. Where policies are made that affect different species and habitats, the everyday impact of these decisions can perhaps feel distant from the realpolitik of Holyrood. Whilst MSPs are thoroughly interwoven with the concerns of their constituents, many of whom care and raise concerns about their surrounding natural environment, the voice of Scotland’s species and habitats can sometimes feel unheard in the decision-making process.
In 2013, the Scottish Government updated its strategy for the conservation and enhancement of biodiversity in Scotland, titled ‘2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity’. One of the principle aims of this strategy was to connect people with the natural world and to involve them more in decision-making. That same year, Scottish Environment LINK and its members would echo this call back to Parliamentarians themselves through a new initiative that sought to connect and build relationships between MSPs and nature.
The Nature Champions initiative (then known as Species Champions) aimed to foster greater connection between politicians and threatened species and habitats beyond legislation. Through partnering MSPs with a particular species or habitat, the initiative hoped to ‘give a voice’ for Scotland’s wildlife in Parliament and raise awareness and promote action to restore and safeguard Scotland’s environment.
Nine years since the initiative launched, it has been hugely successful in linking MSPs with previously unknown or undervalued habitats and species. Incredibly, over 80% of MSPs were engaged in the initiative in the previous Parliament, and following significant evidence of its impact on decision-making, it has also inspired similar programmes in Wales, Northern Ireland and England.
Crucially, the relationships fostered between species and habitats and MSPs do not just include species and habitats that are already at the forefront of Scotland’s cultural identity – the golden eagles and Caledonian pine forests – but also those that quietly enrich ecosystems and their surrounding communities: the lowland raised bogs, flapper skates, flame shells and natterjack toads. The Nature Champions initiative has included many invertebrates, plants and fungi that are integral to Scotland’s iconic landscapes, but unassumingly go about their work and without fanfare when they are at risk. The Nature Champions initiative challenges this status quo and enables MSPs to develop a more nuanced view of what preserving and enhancing biodiversity really means ‘on the ground’.
Through the Nature Champions initiative, MSPs have had the opportunity to visit these extraordinary species and habitats in their own constituencies, to see them for themselves and more comprehensively grapple with the threats, community concerns and actions required to support their survival. Utilising the expert of advice of their accompanying LINK member host organisations, MSPs have been able to bring these species to the forefront of parliamentary debate to ensure that these wild things and wild places are present to inspire generations to come.
At present, there are currently 63 Nature Champions represented by MSPs in the 6th Scottish Parliament. There are still many species and habitats who desperately need championing to ensure that they are present in the minds of decision-makers as Scotland prepares for the UN’s upcoming biodiversity conference, COP15, alongside achieving the Scottish Government’s post-2020 Biodiversity Framework.
At LINK, we will continue to recruit and support cross-party MSP Nature Champions to ensure Scotland’s natural environment is preserved and enhanced going into the future. 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.
You can find more about the initiative on our website, including which MSP is championing which species and habitat. You can also keep up to date with what the different Nature Champions are up to as well as learning interesting facts about Scotland’s wildlife and wild places on the Nature Champions Twitter page.
Keep an eye out for this Friday 22nd April, where the Nature Champions account will be launching its weekly #FunFactFriday awareness-raising campaign to mark Earth Day.
In 2011, LINK published our first Rhetoric to Reality assessment. In it, we commissioned an independent consultant to assess 8 key areas of environmental policy on how far reality on the ground had matched the rhetoric of policy. Now, ten years on, we’ve commissioned another assessment. A decadal review seems timely: it covers the life span of two Parliaments, we’re at the start of the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and we have a new Parliament with the Greens holding ministerial portfolios, the first time ever in UK politics. The Bute House Agreement is bringing environmental legislation to the fore and giving impetus to Scotland’s’ leadership on climate and nature.
“The challenges facing biodiversity are as important as the challenge of climate change, and I want Scotland to be leading the way in our response.” Rt. Hon. Nicola Sturgeon MSP, July 2019
Looking more widely, while COP26 in November didn’t go far enough to ensure the world halts warming to 1.5oC, it was good to see nature at the forefront and the clear recognition that the climate and nature crises are interlinked and urgent. The very recent IPCC report indicates we are most definitely not going far or fast enough on climate action. We need now to see momentum for nature and climate built upon and furthered at the Nature COP15 due later this year. That is our next opportunity to commit to targets to halt the loss of nature by 2030 and to restore it by 2050. Tough targets but we are living through a crisis.
This is just one of the many opportunities we have in front of us this year and just one of the many reasons why working together with our partners is so crucial. Wider and better collaboration has never been more needed – to bring people together, to win more hearts and to demand that government delivers the changes that are needed.
This report is our contribution to the debate. It is a springboard to help us identify what needs to happen in Scotland to meet our ambitions, and what we, as the environment sector, can do. We welcome the government’s leadership on the climate emergency and the statements around the nature crisis – we really want to help build that into reality.
This report was born from conversations amongst LINK’s 14 policy groups around the policy areas we wanted to examine. This was followed by interviews with Groups and their members to build the evidence for change, both positive and negative, and to identify a set of recommendations to help move us all forward from rhetoric into reality. The overall conclusion is that despite the very welcome rhetoric around the nature and climate crises, reality is not yet measuring up. In order for rhetoric to become reality within the next 9 years, we think we need improved scrutiny, audit and challenge, statutory targets, duties and powers, a much stronger voice for the environment across Parliament, government and society and we need to address the balance in power between the environment and economic strategy and it needs funding. Those issues are just as alive today as they were 10 years ago but by working in partnership with government and wider society, it is possible to make the significant changes we need to make in order to restore nature.
Even since we finished this report in April, the good news is that things are changing. Change is happening at an incredible speed here in Scotland. Within the last 2 weeks, we’ve seen, for example, the new interim principles for responsible investment in natural capital, which we welcome, setting a level of ambition that we support and very much want to see turned into reality. The Blue Economy vision has been published, and if the recent welcome commitments on Highly Protected Marine Areas, an inshore cap on fishing, completing protections for the Marine Protected Area network and Priority Marine features are delivered in full, that will be a significant step from rhetoric to reality. We want that pace of change to be maintained.
Our report is available to read here. We’d love to hear your thoughts: contact us via social media and let us know what you think.
Since COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, we have witnessed a very welcome focus on net-zero and the climate challenge. But there is another challenge that is just as important to the planet: the nature crisis. While it is as important, it is more difficult to grasp what we need to do. Partly because we haven’t yet agreed where we need to aim (our nature targets) and partly because action for climate change can contribute to the nature crisis.
The Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII) is one measure of how Scotland’s natural environment is faring – it measures how intact it is – and intactness equals resilience to change. We also have measures of species decline in terms of abundance and distribution/range through State of Nature Scotland Report 2019 (updated every 3 years). The BII shows the UK is bottom of the G7, and third from the bottom of EU countries. Within the UK, Scotland is doing slightly better than England, Wales or Northern Ireland but better than bottom is not great, especially for a nation that prides itself on its natural environment.
Scotland’s natural environment is just as much under threat as in the rest of the world. The UN has designated this decade as the Decade for Ecosystem Restoration where the world needs to take real, sustained and effective action to restore ecosystems. We have 9 more years to restore the planet and it has never been more urgent.
Ecosystems support all life on Earth. The healthier our ecosystems are, the healthier the planet – and its people, our societies and economies. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration aims to prevent, halt and reverse the degradation of ecosystems on every continent and in every ocean. It can help to end poverty, combat climate change and prevent mass extinction. It will only succeed if everyone plays a part.
Scotland’s ambition to reach net zero by 2045 is already clear. COP15, later this year, will agree global ambitions to halt the loss of nature by 2030 and to restore it by 2050. Both these climate and nature targets are tough to meet. Both can also be tackled through nature based solutions. There is one particular and hugely important example: Nature Networks.
Nature networks are not just an environment policy priority however. To work, they need to be delivered through many strands of policy. One key one, currently out for consultation is the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4). To be effective and successful, which we believe it absolutely has to be for nature and climate emergency reasons, NPF4 will be a crucial mechanism to embed and enable delivery of Nature networks across Scotland.
Today we face a key question: how can we embed nature restoration within the next 9 years into the planning system to deliver for climate and local communities? This is not a question of choice. It’s a question of how we do it and how we do it effectively and quickly. We can’t afford to bolt nature restoration onto other actions or worse, forget about it until it’s too late.
We’re still only now working out what we’re aiming for in terms of targets for nature restoration. There is widespread concern that nature restoration will get left out of the new planning priorities in NPF4. The new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy and its delivery plan, is due October 2022 and will be key in identifying what we need to do for nature restoration. However, the mismatch in timescales between the design of NPF4 and the biodiversity strategy is a challenge. We clearly need to build action for nature restoration into planning now and, unfortunately that means, in advance of knowing what those targets for nature restoration will be.
NPF 4 has as its ambition and action: ‘tackling and adapting to climate change and restoring biodiversity…through ‘radical change.’
How can NPF4 deliver this radical change?
Development plans must facilitate biodiversity enhancement, nature recovery and nature restoration across the development plan area
NPF4 needs to build capacity and support for Nature-Based Solutions to climate change
Restoration requires linkages: a National Nature Network integrates nature into places that are planned, designed and built on land and at sea.
A National Nature Network is one path to the net-zero, nature positive future we need.
If NPF 4 is to act as a central mechanism to deliver for net-zero and nature positive change, it needs to align with other relevant policies and plans that are also currently tasked with delivering elements of a Nature Network, including Regional Spatial Strategies, Land Use Strategy, Regional Land Use Partnerships, River Basin Management Plans, Forestry Strategy.
It will mean requiring adjoining Local Authorities to coordinate, collaborate and deliver their own nature networks across boundaries in order to link into a national network. These need to define and take account of key components, including woodlands, corridors, stepping-stones and landscapes that are porous to nature.
Vital to the success of NPF4 will be including policy that protects biodiversity gains and builds in future long term network growth.
Thriving biodiversity is good for people, not just because we need to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss for the planet, but because it makes good sense in terms of creating more pleasant places to live which support our health and wellbeing.
These are the reasons why we are looking for a transformative NPF4 that:
Leads a nationwide shift in planning places to benefit nature, climate and communities
Pivots from ‘business as usual’ to a new approach that tackles the nature and climate crises to meet future generation needs, and not just today’s
Embeds a new approach to future prosperity that restores nature, increases our resilience to change and offers a future worth having to new generations
You can find out more about what a nature network is in this film below. More information on nature based solutions can be found here.
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