Scotland’s Natural Environment Bill could be nature’s lifeline

05 Oct 2023

By Deborah Long, Chief Officer at Scottish Environment LINK

Scotland is renowned across the world for its landscapes, seas and wildlife. Despite that reputation, we are 28th from the bottom of countries in terms of the health of our biodiversity, as measured by the Biodiversity Intactness Index. Scotland’s wildlife is not doing well.  If we want to continue seeing our wildlife spectacles, we need to act to halt the loss of nature and restore it. That way we can continue to enjoy it and pass it on to future generations. 

This is why the new Natural Environment Bill, out for consultation from 7 September, is so important. It tackles a host of areas that with effective legislation in place, would make a serious and sustained positive contribution to Scotland’s ambitions to halt nature loss and restore it. It builds on the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy to 2045: tackling the nature emergency, which was published in draft in December 2022. In that, Scottish Environment LINK and our members welcomed the ambition for Scotland to be nature positive by 2030 and to have restored and regenerated biodiversity across the country by 2045.  

Leading the Edinburgh Declaration at COP15 in December 2022, the Scottish Government helped formalise the role of all levels of government in meeting the Kunming Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. As such, Scotland committed to set national targets to implement the framework, which itself sets out how we will reach the global vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050.  

This leadership role, appropriate in a country renowned for its wildlife, is now being delivered through the proposed Natural Environment Bill. The consultation includes plans to introduce legal targets for nature restoration as well as the details of the first delivery plan for the Scottish Biodiversity Strategy. 

Setting targets is important. It’s a way to measure progress towards the goal of halting the loss of nature and restoring it. Targets also help us understand better how much we completely rely on the natural world and the enormous risks to our future if we do not act. On 30 August we published our report on what the nature targets should look like and what they should aim to achieve. We have been clear that the targets must have a clear end date and milestones to measure progress towards that date, be focused on reversing current negative trends and on effective restoration of biodiversity  to ecological health. They need to be measurable, achievable and realistic. What they will do, if they are all of those things, is help to focus our efforts and resources on effective action.  

These targets also provide a helpful measure to sit alongside Scotland’s climate targets. Without them, we teeter on the edge of supporting action that meets climate targets but trashes biodiversity. Having both sets of targets lays this risk clear. Planting, for example, sitka across vast areas, does not meet biodiversity targets and in the wrong place, without nature networks, hinders it. Creating native woodland however, meets both climate and biodiversity targets.   

The actions required to meet these targets is embedded in the Biodiversity Strategy and its delivery plans. These plans are also out for consultation and aim to provide the framework for focussed, effective action. They aim to accelerate the pace and scale of actions to halt the loss of biodiversity. Produced every 5 years, these plans will evolve as species and habitats move and recover so that by 2045, we are able to show what we’ve achieved and how nature has benefitted. Some examples that we will be looking for in this consultation include: 

A national programme for ecosystem restoration: we warmly welcomed the commitment in the draft biodiversity strategy to a national programme of ecosystem restoration. Coordinated and delivered at ecosystem level, not land use level, will, we believe, enable Scotland to deliver effective action at scale. 

A national programme for species recovery: we believe this is needed to sit alongside the programme for ecosystem recovery. It is not necessarily true that action at ecosystem level will automatically benefit all threatened species. Using NatureScot’s Species at Risk initiative to underpin this programme will be helpful.  

For effectiveness, all proposed actions must be specific, measurable, achievable, relevent and have  clear timescales.  

Scotland’s Protected Areas are important and require specific action to help them deliver for threatened species and habitats. Our 30×30 report describes how to conserve nature in our wider land and seas. We are also looking for commitments in the delivery plans to improve Scotland’s protected areas on land and at sea so they are able to protect and restore species and habitats.  

The marine environment is crucial for climate and nature action. We will be looking for marine actions to be effectively embedded alongside actions on land and at the coast. They need to be effective at scale and tackle the key pressures and drivers of change in Scotland’s marine habitats: the impact of climate change, fisheries and pollution.  

We have high hopes for the targets and plans outlined in this consultation. LINK and our members are fully committed to continuing to do everything we can to restore Scotland’s environment for future generations. We will be playing our part fully, with conviction and encouraging and enabling others to do their bit too.  

This is part of our work towards our vision that: 

Scotland’s environment is connected | restored | resilient | 

Our society and well being have nature at their heart, benefiting people, communities and the planet 

Image: Sandra Graham

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