Scotland is arguably the most nature rich part of the UK. With over 60% of the coastline and marine habitat, all the UKK’s arctic – alpine habitats, all the machair, Caledonian pinewood and most of the temperate rainforest, Scotland is nature rich. But the prospects are not good.
The State of Nature report, launched on 4 October, highlighted negative overall trends, in the last decade in particular and over the last 50 years’ worth of statistically comparable data. This is set against ongoing longer term declines that have been in train for even longer. The UK as a whole is losing species diversity – most marked in Countryside Survey plots, surveyed specifically for a rich species diversity where that diversity is declining. The next Countryside Survey report, now long overdue, is unlikely to show an improving picture.
These trends, the blue flashing lights, are clear signals – sirens if you like – of the crisis in our countryside. Without species and habitat diversity, Scotland’s ecosystems run much higher risks of collapse because their internal resilience is being stripped out. Diversity, in every walk of life, offers resilience to change. Resilience to change is becoming increasingly important as we face climate change and climate extremes. And it is harder to reverse under ongoing political change, where there is every danger that political attention is being distracted away from the life threatening issues facing not just Scotland but the world. This combination of factors means that commitment to urgent, real and effective action is now badly needed.
In Scotland, the First Minister has declared a climate emergency and noted that we need to respond not just to that but also to the biodiversity crisis too. She has made it clear that support for human rights, which includes the right to a healthy environment is a top priority, underlined by the Scottish Government being one of the first nations to sign up to the Sustainable Development Goals. These announcements are important but they are not enough.
If this is an emergency, where is the emergency response? With the blue lights gathering around what could become the car crash of climate change and biodiversity loss, it would be much better to act now. And there are 3 main areas we need to act in: geographically, financially and in a timely manner.
Geographically, we need to put in place a mechanism that supports all means to halt biodiversity loss and reverse its decline, enabling habitats and species to build resilience. The most effective, and quickest, way to do this is to identify a national ecological network that connects habitats together and enables them to expand so that species can move from one location to another. This means ensuring the landscape is nature friendly so species can pass though farmland, across mountain valleys to find new habitats. It doesn’t necessarily mean landscaped habitat corridors. It means making the landscape permeable to nature and allowing it to thrive wherever it can. Enabling this to happen at the scale required means having a land use subsidy scheme and other funding support for nature friendly farming and the provision of land that supports rejuvenated peat bogs, wetlands and rivers, woodland that spreads from the limited ravines in which it is pinned on our west coast and mountain tops where alpine species can move from one top to another without being burnt.
We need action at home too: although land managers have a huge role to play in addressing these crises, there is plenty we can all do at home. Limiting our own carbon footprint will obviously help bring down emissions that contribute to climate change. Using green space to grow a diversity of plants, in window boxes, gardens and parks and most importantly letting politicians know we care and we want them to act. The blue flashing lights that politicians are seeing right now are an engaged electorate making their wishes known through marches and support for action on climate change and on biodiversity loss.
None of this is going to arrive by magic or for free though. We need to see determination from government to deliver on the issues people are raising and we need to see appropriate levels of funding put in place to ensure some progress is made quickly. How much are we willing to pay for our future? For our children to be able to see red squirrels and otters? For our clean air and water and homes that are safe from flooding? For carbon to be locked away in healthy and productive soils? Public surveys have shown that people want to see farmers paid to deliver clean water, flood defences, healthy populations of wild flowers and insects. And for those things that can’t be delivered by farmers, we need to see other funders step in with the vision, determination and resources to build healthy natural habitats and thriving native species.
We, and our nature and landscapes, need this to happen today. The international panel reports on climate and biodiversity give the world about a decade to turn these trends around. The earlier we tackle both the climate and nature crisis, the more effective and cheaper it is. If we act now, we may need to spend 1 -2 % of GDP on action against climate change alone. If we leave it until the lights become sirens, we will need to spend more than an estimated 20% of GDP. The blue lights are gathering. Let’s not watch and wait for them to become sirens.
Find out more about the State of Scotland’s nature here: https://www.scotlink.org/publication/state-of-nature/