The Scottish Government published the ‘final draft’ of its biodiversity strategy at the tail end of last year. It coincided with the UN biodiversity conference in Montreal, where world leaders agreed on a global framework for nature’s recovery, known as the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.
LINK welcomes the publication of the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy (SBS) which has the potential to be instrumental in turning the tide on nature loss.
The SBS needs to reverse losses and restore nature: this is clearly stated as the overarching goal of this strategy. The commitment to introduce a programme of ecosystem restoration is positive and, if effectively delivered, can help nature recover at scale.
We also welcome the twenty-six priority actions outlined to restore Scotland’s natural environment and halt the loss of biodiversity by 2030. Priority actions include:
–A plan for Invasive Non-Native Species
–Expanding and improving protected areas
–Actions to reduce deer densities
–Supporting nature-friendly farming
–A policy framework for restoring Scotland’s rainforest
–Recovering vulnerable species
It is also great to see new outcomes for making our best nature sites larger, better connected and in good condition, and improving the abundance and distribution of species – two areas which had been missing from the previous draft.
However, there is still work to do. The actions for species must go further and include a headline commitment to a national programme of species recovery. You could draw a parallel to any education system: different pupils need different approaches and support to thrive. Diversity is a strength but it needs to be actively supported, otherwise those species that don’t fit with wide scale habitat restoration will be lost such as the twinflower.
The strategy is based on the principle of tackling the nature and climate emergencies together. However, the SBS needs to be as powerful as Scotland’s Climate Change Plan. This is not yet being reflected: the climate change adaptation programme only goes as far as peatland restoration and woodland creation which are important but very specific. Both the climate and biodiversity emergencies must be being tackled together robustly and at pace.
Scotland has suffered a high level of historic nature loss, and we face even greater threats today. We look forward to working with the Scottish Government to turn this into the Nature Emergency Strategy that Scotland so desperately needs.
This revised Scottish Biodiversity Strategy is still a draft to allow for any further amendments. There will be the opportunity for stakeholders to further consider the strategy alongside the consultation on the delivery plan which will be launched in spring 2023 with the final documents published in summer 2023.
Petition calls for funding for sustainable farming
Today at the Scottish parliament members of Scottish Environment LINK’s Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign presented Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, with a petition calling for a new farm funding system that works for nature, climate, and people.
The petition, signed by more than 2,600 people, calls on the Scottish government to use the Agriculture Bill, due to be introduced this year, to ensure that at least three quarters of public spending on farming supports methods that restore nature and tackle climate change. It also calls on the government to support all farmers and crofters in the transition to sustainable farming.
Current methods make farming one of the top three sources of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland and a major cause of wildlife loss.
More than half of those who signed the petition wrote personal messages to the Cabinet Secretary, explaining why the future of Scotland’s farming matters to them. The messages came from a people across Scotland including farmers and crofters, young people, and grandparents concerned about the legacy being left for future generations. Many describe the loss of nature they have witnessed in their own lifetimes.
Mairi Gougeon said today:
“I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to the petition, and I’d especially like to thank those who shared their opinions and experiences with me.
“Our plan to make Scottish agriculture more sustainable and regenerative relies upon the vital contributions of farmers, crofters and land-managers across the country.
“The petition is a shining example of the expertise that we will rely on to help guide us to a fairer and greener future for Scottish farming.”
Deborah Long, chief officer of Scottish Environment LINK, said today:
“We support the Scottish Government’s ambition for Scotland to become a world leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture, and it’s essential that the upcoming Agriculture Bill can set us on the path to deliver this.
“The strength of feeling in the messages people wrote to the Cabinet Secretary is striking. People care deeply about the future of farming and want it to work in harmony with our natural environment. It’s vital that public spending on farming is used to help farmers and crofters produce food in ways that protect and restore nature, cut climate emissions, and revitalise our rural areas for everyone to enjoy.”
The Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign was launched last June by a coalition of environment charities and farmers’ groups. A recent Survation opinion poll found that 85% of Scots said it was important that public spending on farming supports methods that restore nature and tackle climate change.
Image L to R: Alastair Seaman (Director, Woodland Trust Scotland), Pete Ritchie (Director, Nourish Scotland), David McKay (Head of Policy, Soil Association Scotland), Mairi Gougeon MSP, Deborah Long (Chief Officer, Scottish Environment LINK), Jo Pike (Chief Executive, Scottish Wildlife Trust), Anne McCall (Director, RSPB Scotland), Lang Banks (Director, WWF Scotland)
Planning departments will need more expertise to deliver the environmental ambitions set out in the refreshed framework for planning policy, charities have said.
The call comes as the Scottish Government has published the final version of the National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) which sets out a plan for Scotland to create sustainable, liveable and productive places to improve people’s lives.
Scottish Environment LINK, a coalition of leading environmental charities, welcomes the ’significant weight’ to be given to both the global climate emergency and the nature crisis in the final draft of the framework.
Protections for ancient woodlands and veteran trees have been strengthened, with the Government clear that developments will not be supported that impact on these habitats.
The final draft of NPF4 also includes proposals for Nature Networks to be created, which provide corridors for wildlife and natural regeneration. However, the framework fails to commit to providing additional financial resource to planning authorities to allow for the recruitment of more biodiversity officers within local authorities to work on the roll out Nature Networks at local level to contribute to a national Nature Network.
However, environmental charities have said that local planning authorities must be given adequate resources to officers with experience in biodiversity and ecological science to effectively deliver on the kind of planning system envisaged in NPF4.
A 2022 survey, conducted by CIEEM, of 26 Local Planning Authority (LPA) staff found that 22% of respondents have no current ecological resource or expertise available and one third said there had been cutbacks to ecological provision within their LPA over the past 5 years.
Without in-house ecological expertise in local authorities, proposals for positive effects for biodiversity put forward by developers cannot be assessed and delivered. To implement transformation in Scottish planning there is an urgent need for increased capacity and expertise at local levels.
Esmé Clelland, Senior Conservation Planner and Convener of LINK’s Planning Group, said:
“NPF4 offers a real opportunity for meaningful change in the planning system and a shift to development which helps meet or climate change goals and nature recovery aims.
“We would like to thank the Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth and Scottish Government officials for their hard work and listening to stakeholder views to produce a document which puts climate and nature at the forefront of decision making.
“Every local authority needs adequate resources and planning staff who are supported by experts in specialist area such as biodiversity, protected species and trees.
“NPF4 will be a key consideration in every planning application decision in Scotland and will shape local development plans in the future. The way it is interpretated and implemented will be critical.
“LINK members will continue to monitor progress to see how NPF4 is being delivered on the ground and hope it will deliver for climate, nature and people.”
Scottish Environment LINK is the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community, with over 40 member bodies representing a broad spectrum of environmental interests with the common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society.
People in Scotland believe sewage and chemical pollution pose the biggest threat to the health of our seas, according to new research.
The opinion poll, conducted by Survation on behalf of the environmental coalition Scottish Environment LINK, also found high levels of public concern over litter and the impact of climate change on our seas.
9 in 10 Scots say that it is important to them personally that Scotland’s seas are in a healthy state, according to the poll. But sea health is being damaged by a range of factors, including plastic, chemical and sewage pollution.
One factor concerning environmental charities is the lack of monitoring of sewage releases in Scotland – with the public left in the dark over the scale of the problem.
Sanitary waste such as wet wipes and cotton bud sticks can end up in our seas when sewers overflow due to heavy rainfall or insufficient capacity in the network.
These storm overflows, which release untreated sewage into rivers and coastal waters, are intended to operate during extreme weather events – but the Marine Conservation Society has raised concerns that storm overflows may be being used on a more regular basis.
Evidence from Marine Conservation Society volunteer Beachwatch litter surveys suggest a higher level of sewage related debris on Scottish beaches than in England and Wales, where monitoring rules are stricter.
Scottish Water monitor only 9% of storm overflows, and are required to monitor only 3%. In comparison, over 80% of overflows in England and Wales are monitored, with a commitment for 100% to be monitored by the end of 2023.
Scottish Water reported 10,763 spills in 2021 – however, this only covers the 3% of overflows they are required to monitor, suggesting a much more widespread problem. Environmental charities have called on the Scottish Government to install electronic monitoring on all sewer overflows by 2024.
Calum Duncan, Convener of the Scottish Environment LINK Marine Group and Head of Conservation for Scotland at the Marine Conservation Society, said:
“Scotland’s beaches are beautiful – but anybody who has visited one in recent years will have noticed pollution being washed up on our shores.
“Our ocean is fundamental to life on earth, and inextricably linked to all our health and wellbeing.
“But our seas are being used as a dumping ground for sewage, plastic rubbish and ‘forever chemicals’, all of which continue to build up over time, wreaking havoc on our planet.
“We need much stronger monitoring on our sewer overflows to help target improvements and reduce the sewage and debris entering Scotland’s seas, and a ban on all non-essential ‘forever chemicals’.”
Clare Cavers, Senior Projects Manager at Fidra said:
“Evidence of pollution in our rivers and seas from invisible chemicals and tiny plastic particles is growing all the time, and a lot is known to come from sewage.
“There needs to be an urgent increase in monitoring sewage from storm overflows in Scotland, so that we can understand exactly what is coming through the sewers and where it is coming from.
“Then we can work with manufacturers, retailers and government to turn off the pollution tap and protect Scotland’s stunning seas for the next generation to enjoy.”
People living in Scotland overwhelmingly back plans to protect 30% of the country’s land and sea for nature by the end of the decade, a new opinion poll has found.
The global “30 by 30” target, expected to be agreed at the upcoming UN biodiversity conference COP15 in December, sets out to protect 30% of the world’s land and sea in response to the catastrophic decline in nature.
Scotland has historically suffered from a high level of nature loss, but more recent research shows that we are still losing nature today and 1 in 9 species are at risk of national extinction.(1)
Research conducted by Survation has found that 66% of respondents support the 30 by 30 approach being adopted in Scotland, with only 13% opposed. Excluding “don’t knows”, 84% of those who expressed an opinion were in favour of the target.
The findings come as a new report by Scottish Environment LINK outlines the steps necessary to make the 30 by 30 pledge deliver for nature’s recovery.
Currently around 18% of Scotland’s land is legally protected for nature, such as through designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest and European sites. However, not all of these places are working as well as they should be, with data showing that the condition of protected areas has not significantly improved over the past 15 years.
Scottish Environment LINK says that, as well as increasing the coverage and quantity of protected areas, and exploring new ways to protect land for nature, it is the quality of our best nature sites that is vital to make the 30×30 target effective, and a strategic programme of active management and restoration of these places is required.
The coalition of environmental charities is calling for:
Robust criteria to be applied to decide what counts to the 30%
New targets and a strategic programme to improve the condition of protected areas
Long-term funding to support robust monitoring and management of species and habitats
The introduction of Nature Recovery Zones within our National Parks
Isobel Mercer of RSPB Scotland, and lead author of the Scottish Environment LINK report, commented:
“Nature is in trouble. In Scotland, nearly 50% of species have declined in abundance since 1994 and we need action now to reverse this trend before it is too late.
“Protected areas are the frontline of defence for nature against growing pressures from human activity and climate change. The evidence is clear that wildlife does better where protections are put in place.
“The global target to protect 30% of land and sea by the end of this decade is a major opportunity for reversing nature loss. The focus must be maximising benefits for nature rather than drawing lines on a map.
“The public clearly recognise that an ambitious approach is needed in this decade – we must make sure that the delivery of 30 by 30 meets those expectations.”
Alistair Whyte of Plantlife Scotland, Convener of the LINK Wildlife Group, added:
“A healthy natural environment is essential for our health and wellbeing, and protected areas are one of the most important tools we have.
“Increasing the level of protection to encompass 30% of Scottish territory is ambitious. It is also essential.
“We are in the midst of climate and nature emergencies and we must act now to protect nature before its too late.”
An overwhelming majority of people in Scotland want forestry policy to prioritise native woodlands, according to a new opinion poll.
The Survation poll, commissioned by Scottish Environment LINK, found that 8 in 10 members of the public believe that the focus should be on native woodlands while only 1 in 10 believed that policy should prioritise the non-native species often grown commercially.
The findings come shortly after the Scottish Government announced a planned refresh of the Forestry Grant Scheme, with a consultation expected early next year.
Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said that the refreshed scheme would support targets to expand forests, while tackling nature loss and climate change.
Scottish Environment LINK, a coalition of environmental charities, is calling for the Forestry Grant Scheme to do more to support biodiversity in our woodlands and provide more benefits to communities.
The coalition says that the refreshed scheme should:
·Improve the health of our most valuable native woodlands
·Deliver a higher proportion of new native woodlands
·Increase support for natural regeneration of woodlands as a key tool to restore nature to our landscapes
Alan McDonnell, Conservation Manager at Trees for Life and Convener of LINK’s Woodlands Group, said:
“Scotland’s woodlands are an incredibly important part of our landscapes and natural environment, and have a key role in tackling the twin crises of climate change and nature loss.
“Targets to plant more trees and regenerate more native woodland are key to this and should help us to truly deliver the right trees in the right places.
“Commercial forestry has an important part to play, but there is little biodiversity benefit in creating uniform forests dominated by a few species grown commercially and generally clear felled at harvesting time.
“We need a more thoughtful approach to landscape change that reflects both the climate and nature emergencies, as well as the needs of local communities.”
Arina Russell, Policy and Advocacy Manager at Woodland Trust Scotland, said:
“We welcome the Scottish Government’s intention to refresh the Forestry Grant Scheme and do so by consulting the public, which is a huge opportunity for public funding to tackle nature loss.
“The public overwhelmingly want policy and funding support to focus on native woodlands for nature and people. The Scottish Government can make that happen.
“The Forestry Grant Scheme should reverse the decline in our native woodlands, and should offer increased support natural regeneration where we can let nature do the work for us. All this is possible while also supporting a thriving and sustainable commercial forestry sector.
“This approach would carry public support, capture carbon long-term, and be hugely beneficial for nature.”
The Scottish Government has set targets to plant more trees to help tackle climate change. On the right soils and with sensitive techniques, commercial forestry usually grows quicker and involves growing non-native tree species in an area. However, growing native species in woodlands has a greater biodiversity benefit and also reduces atmospheric carbon, albeit more slowly. Which of the following is closest to your view?
There should be a focus on growing native woodlands across Scotland’s landscapes, even if it takes time to grow them (80%)
There should be a focus on growing non-native woodlands across Scotland’s landscape, even if it reduces the biodiversity of these areas (10%)
Almost 80% of the public want Scotland’s National Parks to have a stronger focus on restoring nature and tackling climate change, according to a new opinion poll.
The Scottish Government has committed to introducing at least one new National Park in this parliamentary term. Scotland currently has two National Parks, covering the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & The Trossachs.
A public consultation is seeking views on the designation of future parks, as well as how well existing parks are managed. One proposal is for park authorities to be given a new overarching purpose to deliver nature restoration and a Just Transition to Net Zero.
78% of the public would support parks being given this refreshed environmental mandate, according to a new Survation poll commissioned by Scottish Environment LINK. Only 3% of the public said they would oppose such an approach.
Scottish Environment LINK, a coalition of environmental charities, is calling for National Parks to take a leadership role in tackling the nature and climate crises, for example through demonstrating how deer management can deliver nature restoration at scale while providing local employment opportunities.
Deborah Long, LINK’s Chief Officer, said:
“It is more than two decades since Scotland’s two National Parks were established. Today there is a much greater understanding of the urgency of the environmental crises we face, and it is right that our National Parks lead in meeting that challenge.
“There are great examples of nature restoration work being done in our National Parks. But if we are serious about stopping and reversing nature loss, we need to do much more.
“The designation of a new National Park is a welcome opportunity to ensure that the level of ambition in our parks, across Scotland, meet the scale of the challenge on the ground.”
Scottish Environment LINK is the forum for Scotland’s voluntary environment community, with over 40 member bodies representing a broad spectrum of environmental interests with the common goal of contributing to a more environmentally sustainable society. Its member bodies represent a wide community of environmental interest, sharing the common goal of contributing to a more sustainable society.
Scotland currently has two National Parks, and the Scottish Government has committed to introducing at least one new National Park by 2026. To what extent do you agree that the overarching purpose of National Parks should be focused on nature recovery and tackling climate change?
NET Agree (78%) NET Disagree (3%) Neither agree nor disagree (15%) Don’t know (4%)
A coalition of leading environmental charities has called on the Scottish Government to ensure imminent reforms to the planning system respond to the climate and nature emergencies.
Scottish Environment LINK has said that the draft National Planning Framework 4 (NPF4) falls short of the action required to reverse the crisis of nature loss.
1 in 9 species are at risk of extinction in Scotland  and, in a comparison of 240 countries and territories, Scotland is ranked as one of the most nature depleted countries in the world .
NPF4 is the Scottish Government’s long-term plan to guide where development and infrastructure in Scotland takes place. It will play a critical role to guide all planning decisions in Scotland for the next decade and beyond. It will also play a key role in supporting economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and addressing the climate and nature emergencies.
In response to the global nature and climate crises, the Scottish Government has set out ambitious targets to protect 30% of land by 2030  and achieve net-zero by 2045. However, NPF4 does not yet go far enough to respond to the nature and climate emergency and meet these targets, nor will the current draft deliver the promised transformative change needed for Scotland’s planning system.
The Scottish Government’s proposed reforms of the planning system will require local authorities create “nature networks”, creating corridors of nature-rich landscapes, to reverse a crisis in biodiversity. However, environmental charities have said that the proposals lack a clear delivery mechanism and insisted that a joined-up, national approach is necessary.
Nature networks can play an essential role in delivering nature recovery by providing corridors for wildlife and natural regeneration, can provide multiple benefits for nature, climate and people, by creating and enhancing local spaces for nature.
We are told NPF4 will deliver this, but there is no description of what nature networks should be comprised of or how they will work in practice. There is little guidance for councils available, no duty to report their progress, and no sign of extra investment to support the work.
The final version of NPF4 will be laid before the Parliament by mid-Autumn. Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth, Tom Arthur MSP, has confirmed that the Scottish Parliament will have at least six weeks to provide scrutiny. This is the last chance for the Scottish Government to ensure that the new planning system will deliver for nature.
Clare Symonds, Founder and Chair of Planning Democracy and Convener of LINK’s Planning Group, said:
“Nature recovery is key to reaching net-zero and coping with the consequences of climate change.
“Scottish Environment LINK is pleased that there is recognition of the climate and nature crises and many of the policy changes are positive. However key aspects of the document remain incremental and fall short of the transformational approach required.
“We need real leadership and national coordination, with councils supported to deliver a joined-up, Scotland-wide network to restore nature. The planning system has the potential to play a key role in delivering meaningful change, but to do this planning policies need to be stronger to ensure wildlife and habitats are properly protected. To go further and enhance nature we need far greater commitment and investment.”
Four environmental organisations representing charities across the UK have warned that the Levelling Up Bill could weaken protections for nature by handing the UK Government the power to amend the law in devolved areas.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will grant UK Ministers the power to scrap and rewrite, by secondary legislation, environmental protections set out in primary legislation.
This use of so-called “Henry VIII powers” will allow Ministers to replace the current system of environmental impact assessments with a new system of Environmental Outcome Reports – including in areas of devolved competence, without the consent of the devolved administrations.
The UK Government has said this will “introduce a clearer and simpler process where relevant plans and projects are assessed against tangible environmental outcomes set by government, rather than in Brussels”.
In a joint letter to Ministers, environmentalists have called on the UK Government to reconsider these proposals.
“These proposals are of serious concern to our members because they have the potential to weaken the protection of the environment.
“Our organisations and members have no specific constitutional position; however, we note that under the current arrangements, within the UK, the environment is considered a devolved matter.
“The Scottish Government, Welsh Government and Northern Ireland Executive have developed and legislated for distinctive environmental policies in their jurisdictions. In some cases, we applaud these policies, in others we have argued for different approaches – however, in all cases, they should be scrutinised, agreed and approved by their respective Parliament or Assembly with engagement of civil society at various stages.
“Yet, as it stands, Part 5 of the above Bill extends to the whole of the UK and any proposed EOR regulations containing provisions within the devolved competences must be subject only to consultation with the relevant devolved administration.
“This approach is at odds with the “Sewel Convention”, as expressed, for example, in s.28(8) of the Scotland Act 1998, as amended, that ‘the Parliament of the United Kingdom will not normally legislate with regard to devolved matters without the consent of the Scottish Parliament.’
“Given the distinctive policies and legislation for the environment, in the devolved jurisdictions, we consider that either matters of devolved competence should be excluded from this power or the approach of consent – rather than simply consult – must apply to EOR regulations.”
A coalition of environmental groups has called on the Cairngorms National Park Authority to agree an ambitious approach to tackling unsustainable deer numbers and increasing the natural diversity and resilience of the Park.
The Park Authority will this week (Friday 10th) agree a new Park Partnership Plan, which will set out conservation and land management priorities for the next five years. This Plan puts nature recovery at the heart of the Park’s plans and takes a welcome lead in Scotland’s response to the climate and nature crises.
In an open letter, published today, a range of environmental organisations have said that urged the Park Authority to take “effective action to tackle deer numbers, increase the diversity of its moorlands and increase nature regeneration of woodland. In doing so, they will be creating a more ecologically balanced Cairngorms”.
The letter argues that “much of the park’s ecosystems are being damaged by excessively and unnaturally high deer numbers” and that reducing numbers “is essential if we are serious about protecting our environment while supporting the economic vitality of our rural communities.”
Commenting, Deborah Long, Chief Officer at Scottish Environment LINK said:
“The Cairngorms National Park is one of the jewels in Scotland’s natural heritage crown.
“But we also have to accept that for too long, our approach to land management across Scotland has allowed deer numbers to become unsustainably high at huge ecological cost.
“The Park Authority set out an ambitious approach to tackle deer numbers in their draft Plan and in committing to implementing this, the Park Board will be ensuring Scotland builds its lead as a nature rich country, restoring its nature for future generations.”
Mike Daniels, Director of Policy at the John Muir Trust and a resident of the Cairngorms Park, added:
“Deer are a vital part of the park – at the right number. Since all their natural predators were exterminated, humans must manage them to benefit habitats for all nature, including deer, and people. We have a range of highly skilled deer managers in the park who are perfectly placed, and now urgently need to deliver the action required.
“Lower deer numbers will allow a more ecologically balanced Cairngorms, which will in turn bring benefits to the communities who live here – in line with the objectives of our National Parks.”
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