Since 2013, Scottish Environment LINK has been encouraging Members of the Scottish Parliament to champion threatened and iconic species and habitats through its Nature Champions initiative (formerly Species Champions).
Through the initiative, MSPs agree to champion a threatened or iconic species or habitat for the duration of that Parliamentary session. MSP Nature Champions are then partnered with Scottish Environment LINK Members who are leading on the conservation of that species or habitat. The partnering LINK Member organisations support Nature Champions to learn more about their habitat or species, including the key issues affecting them, in order to raise awareness and promote action to restore and safeguard Scotland’s environment.
The Scottish Environment LINK ‘MSP Nature Champion of the Year’ award celebrates an MSP who has made a notable contribution over the year to the protection and recovery of their species or habitat alongside their partnering LINK Member. This award is given to an MSP Nature Champion on the basis of their personal investment in their species or habitat, their public awareness-raising efforts and their broader advocacy impact.
In 2023, Scottish Environment LINK decided to award the MSP Nature Champion of the Year title to Jackie Dunbar MSP.
Jackie Dunbar MSP is the Nature Champion for the Sea Trout, working with both the John Muir Trust and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Over 2023, Jackie Dunbar has been a committed and passionate Nature Champion for the Seat Trout alongside her Scottish Environment LINK Member hosts.
Early in the year, Jackie joined representatives from both the John Muir Trust and Scottish Wildlife Trust for a walk along the Don in her Aberdeen Donside constituency to learn more about the threats facing Scotland’s Sea Trout. Following this visit, at a meeting of the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee, Jackie questioned the Minister about holistic sustainable land management for recovering species, with specific reference to Sea Trout conservation, also raising the opportunity for the Minister to include Sea Trout within wider protection strategies.
Jackie then went on to successfully secure cross-party support for her Motion celebrating World Rivers Day 2023, which was later chosen for debate. Within the text of the Motion itself, Jackie highlighted how successfully implemented nature-based solutions can lead to healthy, dynamic, resilient river systems, that deliver multiple benefits to species, such as Sea Trout. Jackie delivered an excellent speech which stressed the need for landscape-scale river restoration initiatives, such as Riverwoods, and she made multiple references to her role as the Nature Champion for the Sea Trout.
More broadly, Jackie has been active in supporting initiatives that overlap with the interests of Sea Trout, including riparian woodland creation, improving water quality, reducing pollution and reducing the effects of the climate crisis.
In 2022, Scottish Environment LINK decided to jointly award the MSP Nature Champion of the Year title to two MSPs for their support over 2022: Jenni Minto MSP and Beatrice Wishart MSP.
Jenni Minto is the MSP Nature Champion for Scotland’s Rainforest, through which she is working alongside both Woodland Trust Scotland and Plantlife Scotland. Jenni’s support for this precious habitat has been vital to the campaign to restore Scotland’s rainforest, led by Plantlife Scotland, Woodland Trust Scotland and other members of the Alliance for Scotland’s Rainforest. Jenni has joined Woodland Trust and Plantlife on many visits to Scotland’s rainforest, and she has also championed rainforest ecosystems in Parliament, most recently within a Parliamentary debate on the role of trees in meeting Net Zero targets. Outside of Parliament, Jenni has spoken publicly on the need to protect rainforest ecosystems, including in the spring of this year at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, where she launched ‘The Ghost Rainforest’, a moving film that follows a group of indigenous activists from the Amazon as they make a journey from COP26 in Glasgow to visit areas of Scotland’s rainforest and perform a blessing.
Beatrice Wishart is the MSP Nature Champion for Orca, working with Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Having completed Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s Shorewatch training programme, Beatrice is now a citizen science volunteer trained to carry out regular ten-minute cetacean surveys and log her sightings on the Shorewatch database. Alongside her championing of orca, Beatrice has also demonstrated a commitment to the wider protection and recovery of Scotland’s marine environment. Earlier this year, Beatrice secured a Member’s business debate which highlighted the need to protect marine life during unexploded ordinance removal, in which she raised awareness of the threat to cetaceans from current methods used to remove these devices. Beatrice has also stressed the importance of these issues and the threats to orca among her constituency through her column within the Shetland Times.
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