Today’s Programme for Government comes amid severe challenges and political uncertainty. It is more important than ever that government, at all levels, retains a laser-focus on tackling the nature and climate emergencies, and ensures that this is a decade of delivery.
This parliamentary term will see vital legislation across a number of policy areas, including legally binding targets to restore nature and land reform. There will also be a new Scottish Biodiversity Strategy, stronger protections for marine habitats, and a new National Planning Framework. Scottish Environment LINK welcome today’s confirmation that the Circular Economy Bill and Wildlife Management (Grouse) Bill, which will implement recommendations of the Werritty Review, will be introduced in 2022-23.
The introduction of a new system of farm funding will be one of the most significant measures taken forward in this parliament. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make farming work for nature, climate and people. LINK welcomes the commitment in the Programme for Government to explore capping of base-level payments to release additional funding for nature- and climate-friendly farming.
Scottish Environment LINK welcomes the prominence of nature restoration within the Scottish Government’s priorities, and we will work constructively to ensure the steps taken match the urgency of action required.
Every day brings new illustrations of the climate and nature emergency we’re facing across the world: food insecurity, water shortages, pollution, unaffordable costs of living and overwhelmed healthcare. To treat the symptoms, we must treat the cause. The twin crises of a warming planet and widespread nature loss are deeply connected and mutually reinforcing.
Both crises have been driven by humanity’s exploitation of land and its resources. Our fossil fuel based economy, driving how we use our land, has contributed to unsustainably high greenhouse gas emissions and the depletion of nature. Changing how we use our land is now crucial – to reverse biodiversity loss, to store carbon, and to adapt for a warming planet.
Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to industrialise from the 1820s. Since then, we have released a huge amount of carbon dioxide, contributing far more than our fair share to the warming of the planet. Following World War II, Scotland also industrialised its agriculture, switching to more intensive production methods. It’s clear that from when reliable data began to be collected in the 1970s, Scotland’s nature has declined significantly, leaving us with one of the most ecologically degraded landscapes in the world.
As an early adopter of industrialisation, Scotland has a moral responsibility to act and to demonstrate global leadership. But we also have enormous potential to restore nature while mitigating against climate change.
This urgent need to act offers huge opportunities not just for the planet but for local communities too. Creating nature rich landscapes can protect towns and villages from flooding, support healthy soils able to produce food, and ensure we have clean air and water. It can also create long-term rural jobs. An ambitious approach to restoring nature would allow Scotland’s rural areas to support more jobs with wider skill sets, bringing opportunities across the generations and revitalising rural communities.
However, land use change does not happen in the abstract. Modern patterns of land ownership and land use have deep historical roots and are often sources of bitter controversy. While the benefits of environmental action are shared across humanity, policymakers must be conscious that the impacts of specific changes are felt much more locally.
The overarching principle determining Scotland’s approach to land use change should be to ensure a Just Transition. Action to restore nature must decrease existing inequalities and create good jobs, thriving ecosystems that can protect us from climate change, and diverse and resilient communities.
Land ownership in Scotland has been and remains one of the most skewed in the world: about 2% of Scotland’s population owns about 60% of its land. While some large landowners are doing great things for nature, for climate and for local communities, a more equal distribution of land ownership would allow for a fairer distribution of the benefits of restoring our natural environment.
Ultimately, nature restoration will need to be undertaken by everyone, including the public sector, charities, communities and private landowners. However we manage land in future and whoever owns it, there must be ways for local communities to participate meaningfully in land use decisions, so that they, as well as the rest of the planet, benefit from nature restoration appropriate to local circumstances and priorities.
Written by Dr Deborah Long is chief officer of Scottish Environment LINK, this piece was published as a Friends of the Scotsman piece on 30 August 2022
By Dr Phoebe Cochrane, sustainable economics officer at Scottish Environment LINK
Most people have an inherent dislike for wastefulness, yet we seem to be stuck in a system which pays little heed to the quantity of waste that is generated or its final destination. Now is the time to have your say on how we can change this situation.
The Scottish Government has published proposals for a Circular Economy Bill alongside a draft Circular Economy Route Map, and is asking people to give their views on both until 22nd August. It’s crucial that as many people as possible respond to these consultations, to urge the government to make real and lasting changes to the system. Scottish Environment LINK has produced this guide to help you respond.
What is a circular economy and why do we need one?
In Scotland and other developed countries we are using and wasting vast amounts of materials. Research shows global consumption of natural resources has tripled since the 1970s and is set to further double by 2060. This is the key driver of biodiversity loss. Material flow accounts for Scotland show our material footprint to be more than double sustainable levels, and carbon footprint data shows that over 80% of Scotland’s carbon footprint is derived from emissions embedded in goods we consume. Addressing the quantity of raw materials used in our economy is therefore key in meeting climate and biodiversity goals.
The best way to reduce the quantity of raw materials we use is to make our economy more circular, with repairable products designed to last as long as possible, made of materials that can be safely reused or recycled. Such an economy should be regenerative, replenishing natural systems through returning biological materials as composts to the soil and restoring and nurturing biodiversity.
The Circular Economy Consultations
The suggestions put forward in the Scottish Government’s consultations will help make Scotland’s economy more circular and less wasteful and, in turn, reduce our impact on climate and nature. However, there are areas where the proposals don’t go far enough. By responding to the consultations, you can demonstrate your support for the government’s proposals, and urge it to do more.
You might well be wondering why there are two consultations at the same time on the same topic. The Route Map sets out the actions to be taken, many of which do not require legislation; whereas the Bill will provide the Government with the outstanding powers it needs to deliver these actions.
Participants had many and varied ideas about how the proposals could be improved, including:
A sustained and comprehensive public awareness raising campaign
More focus on manufacturers and design
Tracking of surplus materials and waste
Publicly available and better data
Stronger measures on public procurement
More focus on the global impacts from supply chains and waste
Measures to look after our soil
More on addressing the inputs to food production
More active facilitation of reuse
A stronger and bolder vision especially on how to influence inputs and production.
Given it is #plasticfreejuly we could also think a bit more about how the Scottish Government could go further in tackling plastics. The recent Big Plastic Count found fruit and vegetable packaging followed by snack bags, packets and wrappers to be the commonest plastic packaging waste from households. The Rethink Plastic Alliance have identified key asks of governments to reduce plastic packaging from the grocery retail sector including:
Binding targets of 25% reduction in plastic packaging by 2025, increasing to 50% by 2030. To be complimented by:
An overall reduction target for packaging waste per material stream to prevent switching to other single-use packaging
Bans on unnecessary packaging.
Reusable packaging targets of 25% of consumer packaging to be reusable by 2025, increasing to 50% by 2030.
Eat-in food and beverage packaging must be reusable for hotels, restaurants and cafes.
75% of take away and delivery food and beverage packaging must be reusable by 2030.
50% of e-commerce packaging should be reusable by 2030.
France has banned plastic packaging for about 30 types of fruit and vegetables (such as cabbage, potatoes, leeks, peppers, apples, pears) this year. Additionally, newspapers can’t be mailed in plastic packaging and public spaces must have at least one accessible drinking fountain to reduce numbers of plastic water bottles.
In Germany, deposit return schemes for cups are in operation in a number of cities and regions whereby the cup you purchase your beverage in has a small charge which is redeemed when you return it to one of the multiple returning points. These systems replace single-use with reusable, but don’t require everyone to have their own reusable cups. Festivals and markets in Germany also largely operate these systems for cups, plates and utensils.
Several LINK members are working on different aspects of plastic pollution – the Marine Conservation Society would like to see plastic wet wipes banned in Scotland; Fidra asks for a legislated supply chain approach to plastic pellet loss, and Friends of the Earth Scotland are campaigning for plastic to be kept out of incinerators.
Have your say
These are some of the ideas for and examples of what could be done in Scotland. I am sure you will have other ideas as well and it is really important that the Scottish Government hears them.
Scotland is renowned for its rivers and lochs. Our freshwaters provide a home to iconic species such as Atlantic Salmon and Freshwater Pearl Mussels. They provide drinking water, and are used to generate electricity. They support game fisheries, and are essential for the production of food and drinks, including whisky. Freshwaters are important for our heritage, and they provide opportunities for recreational activities and aesthetic enjoyment. Their natural capital means they have considerable economic value.
Scotland’s rich industrial heritage has however resulted in a legacy of interventions and barriers in our freshwater environments, particularly to free-flowing rivers. Our rivers have been dammed to power industrial processes, generate electricity and provide drinking water. Although many barriers have been removed, over 2,200 barriers remain in Scottish rivers. Whilst some of these are still operational, many are no longer used but still block the flow of the river, and the path of Salmon and Sea Trout on their migratory journeys. The result is that few rivers in Scotland can be considered to be truly free-flowing.
When a river is free-flowing, it is largely unaffected by human-made changes to its flow. Nan Shepherd, the celebrated Scottish poet, captured the essence of free-flowing rivers in her poem ‘The Hill Burns’ – “Out of these mountains, Leap the clear burns, Living water, Like some pure essence of being”. Water and sediments can move downstream unimpeded, fish and invertebrates can migrate freely, and the river is free to move and adjust naturally on its flood plain, whilst also replenishing groundwater sources.
Scottish rivers have been confined and constricted to prevent them flooding adjacent land. But our rivers need space to move and adjust naturally to varying water volumes so that they can regenerate habitat, improve wildlife, and help us adapt to climate change. This would allow natural processes to contribute to biodiversity restoration and act as a nature-based solution to the effects of climate change, such as flooding.
Installing passes to accommodate the migratory movements of fish does not reinstate natural river processes such as sediment movement or restore natural flow regimes. The only way to restore these natural processes is to remove barriers completely. Scotland’s River Basin Management Plan, published by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency in December 2021, aims to remove or ease 262 man-made barriers by 2027. At this rate of action it will take over 50 years to free our rivers.
Riverbanks are also an essential habitat for reptiles, particularly grass snakes and common lizards. Floodplain wetlands provide habitat for water beetles, amphibians, and wetland plants. But most rivers are disconnected from their floodplains by embankments and flow control structures. As well as being bad for wildlife, these barriers limit the scope of floodplains to reduce downstream flooding issues by holding water during high flows.
A stream or river is far more than the water we see in the river channel. The flow of water amongst the stones and gravels below and alongside the river is incredibly important, forming a refuge and habitat for the young of many invertebrates and often influencing the chemistry and life in the river above. This underground flow is of vital importance in ensuring the resilience of rivers to climate change. Extraction of water, development, and pollution can all affect this habitat, with sedimentation, and the subsequent blocking of the tiny spaces between the gravels a particular problem.
We need concerted action to restore our rivers, to set them free to move and meander, to allow Salmon and Sea Trout to access their ancestral spawning grounds, and to allow wildlife to flourish along their banks. We can’t wait for another 50 years to free our rivers, we need to do it now.
Craig Macadam is Conservation Director at Buglife, and convenor of Scottish Environment LINK’s freshwater group.
This blog was published in the Friends of the Scotsman, on Tuesday 12 July 2022.
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.
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