By Deborah Long, Chief Officer at Scottish Environment LINK. Originally published by the National.
HOW often do you think about nature? For many, the natural world is somewhere for relaxation or enjoyment – the place we go to disconnect, to get dirt underneath our fingertips, or to feel sun on our backs or cold water on our ankles.
But how often do you really think about nature, and how dependent we are upon it? The food on our plates, the clean air that we breathe, even the unspoken confidence that the river upstream will not flood our home – these are all aspects of our daily lives that are dependent on a healthy natural environment. And, sadly, nature is in decline.
The climate crisis is the most obvious example of the environmental challenges we face. The shocking impacts of wildfires and extreme weather we’ve witnessed globally this summer alone show how urgent it is that we rapidly reduce emissions.
But reducing emissions is only one part of the picture. The reason why climate change is such an enormous threat is that it disrupts our natural ecological processes – crops struggle to grow; habitats and ecosystems are lost or damaged; and extreme events including fires, droughts, and floods become increasingly common.
While nature is threatened by climate change it is also our first line of defence. Our forests and peatlands have an incredible capacity to lock up carbon, and a healthier natural environment can help us adapt to the warming that is already happening. But our failure to protect nature is undermining its capacity to help us.
Biodiversity – the abundance and genetic diversity of all life on Earth, from iconic large mammals to the microscopic life in our soils – is key to our collective health and wellbeing. But the way we manage our land, seas and natural resources is driving a shocking decline in the state of our natural environment.
The Scottish Government will shortly publish its delivery plan to stop and reverse our collapse in biodiversity. This will come at the same time as a consultation on the upcoming Natural Environment Bill, which will introduce legal targets for nature restoration – finally giving biodiversity the same legal standing as the climate.
Meeting these ambitions will be challenging but achievable. There are actions we can take that we know will work, such as reducing deer numbers to allow our native woodlands to regenerate naturally.
Protecting more of our land for nature will provide bigger areas of natural habitats for species to move across and to create conditions that species can move into.
Our farm funding system can be made fairer for farmers and crofters while supporting them to adopt nature- and climate-friendly methods of food production. The solutions are on the table and it is up to our political leaders to have the vision to champion them.
Earlier this month the leaders of Scotland’s nature charities wrote to all Scottish party leaders calling for renewed commitment to tackle the climate and nature crises.
We hope that the imminent publication of the Biodiversity Framework marks the start of a more consensual approach to environmental policymaking and the resumption of the cross-party consensus that has driven previous successes, such as our climate targets.
Both government and opposition parties in Scotland have a moral responsibility to take these crises seriously, to offer ambitious solutions and constructive challenges, and to work in partnership in our long-term interest. Without that, not only will Scotland’s environment, our landscapes, our seas and our wildlife suffer, but so will Scotland’s communities, our people and our economy.
The old saying goes that the best time to plant a tree was yesterday, the next-best time is today. The same is true for action on climate and nature – we have understood these challenges for a long time but yesterday’s failures must not stop us from acting now.
The faster we can restore nature, connect up habitats, and halt unsustainable use of natural resources, the sooner our environment can start to mend and the better chances we, and our children, will have in the future.