Last week, the Scottish Parliament was asked to vote on a motion, tabled by Mark Ruskell MSP, to declare a nature emergency. Disappointingly, the opportunity was missed to take this bold step, with SNP and Conservative MSPs voting instead for an amendment removing the words ‘nature emergency’ altogether and congratulating current efforts. Scotland would have become the first country to formally recognise the urgency of this decline as an emergency.
Yet, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared a climate emergency in April 2019, and in the following May addressed the related biodiversity crisis, stating that “The challenges facing biodiversity are as important as the challenge of climate change, and I want Scotland to be leading the way in our response.” The Scottish Government may be a leading voice on climate change but an increase in ambition and investment in policies and projects to increase biodiversity is vital to nature’s recovery.
2021 will be a key year for making progress on reversing biodiversity declines. An international deal for nature will be agreed at the Convention on Biological Diversity conference in the autumn. This must be matched by domestic ambition. For over a decade, Scotland has striven to meet bold climate change targets, the same must now be put in place to address the nature crisis. In 2019, the State of Nature report found that 49% of UK species have declined as well as 1 in 9 species at risk of national extinction. Nature is in crisis, both in Scotland and around the world.
It is great to see growing recognition of this amongst MSP Species Champions. At the beginning of November, 30 Species Champions signed a letter to the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform calling on the Scottish Government to deliver an ambitious, legally binding set of targets and milestones to secure nature recovery. At a time when environmental issues are increasingly brought to the fore, the need to have informed, passionate and supportive MSPs in Parliament ensuring our wildlife has a voice has never been more critical.
We were delighted to see Species Champions standing up for nature at the debate last week. Mark Ruskell MSP, Species Champion for white-tailed eagle, stated “Just as our legally binding climate targets have brought focus and scrutiny, so, too, are nature recovery targets needed in law to commit to halting the decline within a decade and fully restoring nature soon after.” For over a decade, Scotland has embarked on an ambitious programme to address climate change, with legally binding targets, and specific milestones and timeframes, which are stretching but achievable, and which are monitored and reported upon. The same must now be put in place to halt the loss of nature by 2030. Claudia Beamish MSP, Species Champion for forester moth, highlighted that Scotland has missed many of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets set in 2010. She stated that “Scottish Labour wants targets for nature recovery to be set into legislation”.
Alongside calling on the Scottish Government to set legally binding nature targets, MSP Species Champions highlighted the importance of delivering a Scottish Nature Network in order to increase connectivity of habitats and establish important links for wildlife. Claudia Beamish MSP stated: “We need to enhance, connect and expand all habitats and look to build a nature network”. A Nature Network across Scotland represents an investment in a wide-reaching natural solution with benefits for today’s climate emergency and nature crisis, as well as a thriving and resilient country. A Nature Network is a strategic, long term approach to manage, restore and enhance Scotland’s habitats and landscapes. Its approach builds a nature friendly landscape, which is pervious to nature and provides life affirming wildlife and nature encounters to all people. Sarah Boyack MSP, Species Champion for small skipper, supported Claudia’s Beamish’s statement by highlighting “We need to link biodiversity and tackling the nature emergency as part of the key policy framework in the upcoming national planning framework… we need a joined-up approach to land use management that brings wider benefits.”
In order to address the nature crisis, Scottish Environment LINK’s Holyrood 2021 manifesto calls on the next Scottish Government to set new, legally-binding targets for nature recovery to increase the abundance of wildlife species in Scotland and the restoration of their habitats. An ambitious set of targets is needed to clean up our air, soils, seas and rivers, by driving the development of policies that deliver the recovery of Scotland’s natural habitats and increase biodiversity. Nature is declining at an alarming rate and the climate emergency is intensified by the emerging global biodiversity crisis. Tackling the emergency that threatens the very existence of many species in Scotland needs to start right now. Restoring the obstacles humans have put in nature’s path so nature can move freely is more important than ever.
Nature Advocacy Officer at Scottish Environment LINK
© Mae Mackay