Seabirds and marine wildlife need a future underpinned by strong environmental protection laws

13 Jun 2019

Bass Rock © Susan Davies

This blog is by Susan Davies, CEO of the Scottish Seabird Centre, and is adapted from Marine wildlife and habitats at risk.

The Scottish Seabird Centre is supporting 37 of Scotland’s leading environmental NGOs in calling for the principles of environmental governance to be spelt out in Scots law.

Without a doubt Scotland’s land, seas and iconic wildlife have benefited from the EU ‘Nature Directives’ – the Birds and Habitats Directive and other environmental pillars such as the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. The EU Bathing Water Directive has also encouraged countries to innovate and tackle pollution around our coastline. The protection, monitoring and management standards we have benefited from are, however, at risk of being rolled back years when we leave the EU. That’s why the Scottish Seabird Centre is supporting 37 environmental charities, all members of Scottish Environment Link, to call for the underlying principles of environmental protection to be explicitly set out in Scots law.

Scotland has over 18,000 kilometres of coastline, almost 6 times the area of sea to land (764,678 square kilometres to the 200 nautical mile limit), 61 percent of the UK’s seas and 13 percent of the EU seas. This supports important marine habitats such as cold-water coral, kelp forests and flame shell beds, and iconic species including dolphins, porpoises, seals and basking sharks. Our seas also support a third of Europe’s breeding seabirds and we are proud of the international importance of these breeding colonies.

Much progress to protect our seas and iconic marine wildlife has been made under EU legislation, but the recent IPBES Global Assessment on the state of biodiversity brings into sharp focus the threats that still need to be tackled – climate change, invasive non-native species, changes in the use of the seas, exploitation of our seas and pollution. The global assessment states that 66 percent of our global marine environment has been affected by human action. A stark reminder of this is the visible presence of plastics in our marine environment, which have increased tenfold over the last 20 years, and are impacting on 267 species, including 44 percent of seabirds.

Whilst we welcome the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform’s – Roseanna Cunningham MSP – stated ambition to ensure the important underlying principles of environmental protection (precaution, prevention, polluter pays and rectifying pollution at source) will continue after we leave the EU; there are no certainties this will be the case. Certainty will only be achieved by embedding these principles firmly in Scots law. Appropriate and effective mechanisms also need to be in place to monitor the health of our seas, to scrutinise performance against commitments and to hold the government of the day to account.

Collective cross-parliament support and action, rather than just words, are now required to demonstrate that the ambition is real. That’s why the Scottish Seabird Centre supports the Fight for Scotland’s Nature core recommendation that the environmental principles should be embedded in Scots law.

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