Testing times, testing biodiversity

Last week, there was a debate in the Scottish Parliament on biodiversity. It started with the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform saying:
Given that the natural environment is worth more than £20 billion per annum to our economy and supports more than 60,000 direct jobs, I welcome the opportunity to lead this brief parliamentary debate on something that we too often take for granted. We should celebrate our biodiversity, but we should also be alert and we should be acting to address challenges and issues.
This is exactly the sort of leadership that I’ve been hoping to see from the Cabinet Secretary. I was delighted.
How did we get here?
In November 2016, the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee wrote to the Cabinet Secretary following their roundtable discussion on biodiversity. They raised the question of the lack of clarity in action which is frustrating the step change we all need to see in conserving Scotland’s nature. Since then, there was a detailed written response from the Cabinet Secretary, the debate last Thursday and what looked suspiciously like cross party commitment to deliver for biodiversity.
So where are we going?
Over the last 6 years, the NGOs, specialist societies and academic institutions have worked with volunteers and staff to assess what is happening with biodiversity in Scotland and throughout the UK. This work has been published in the series of report on the State of Nature. Two reports later, this system is now identifying trends:
• One in 10 bird species faces extinction
• 13% of plant species face extinction
• Seabird numbers over the last 30 years have declined by 40%
• 14% of our ancient woodland has been lost over the past four decades.
• More than 30 per cent of native woodland is in poor condition.

Now is the time, as we heard in Thursday’s parliamentary debate: The time for talking up targets is over. It is time for action from all of us. Maurice Golden, MSP (Conservative) 9 March 2017.
With 9% of Scotland’s species at risk of extinction, the State of Nature report shows us all is not well. We are all witnesses to the decline in species diversity across Scotland: you need to know where to go to see a woodland full of native bluebells, or where to experience that wonderful scent of fragrant orchids, or where to watch otters fishing.
But it is not just about declining species. The State of Nature also measures our Biodiversity Intactness Index. Scotland is ranked in the lowest fifth of countries on the biodiversity intactness index: our ecosystems have fallen below the point at which they can reliably meet society’s needs.
So – it’s about biodiversity at all scales…. Let me introduce a biodiversity metaphor:


In April 2015, scientists sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth from frozen samples released from the tundra.
If you are building a woolly mammoth do you start with making something big and grey? Is that how you rebuild a woolly mammoth? No, you need to start from its DNA and work upwards. It’s the same with conserving and rebuilding ecosystems: start with the small stuff and build them into something much bigger. We need to conserve species and join habitats into ecologically functional networks. Networks that live and breathe and are not just big.
To coin a phrase, we need More, bigger, better, joined (The Lawton report 2010).

worth more than a penny…

Let’s put it another way: how do you conserve the Scottish primrose: build a fence around each tiny individual? Or work together to conserve its habitat. Work with land managers to conserve its habitat of course. We need to work at multiple scale and in partnership. To achieve success, we need to work together. We need to draw on effort, expertise and focus from the NGOs and academic institutes and on funding, collaboration and control (on destructive activities) from government. By control, I mean of course, we need government to control the destructive land management practices that are leading to habitat loss and fragmentation and to hand control to land managers over how they manage the land to achieve healthy ecosystems and healthy land for future generations.
That’s how we will conserve biodiversity: our species and our habitats.
And how do we do that?
The only way to save a rhinoceros is to save the environment in which it lives, because there is a mutual dependency between it and millions of other species of both animals and plants… Sir David Attenborough
I have to say that going on the speeches in last week’s debate, our politicians are in front. The debate clearly showed that the Scottish Parliament is up for action. They have asked Scottish Natural Heritage to lead on delivering Scotland’s biodiversity targets. The Cabinet Secretary says they have increased resources towards meeting that leadership role. And she has asked the NGOs for a collective view on what a National Ecological networks should comprise.

We need to build up ambition and investment in our environment to protect Scotland’s habitats and wildlife for generations yet unborn. David Stewart, MSP (Labour). 9 March 2017
I believe we should all shoulder responsibility for improving and maintaining Scotland’s biodiversity. That means getting together and finding practical and workable solutions to problems, being willing to work in partnership…and ….putting aside sectoral differences. Roseanna Cunningham MSP (SNP), Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform. 9 March 2017

If we are serious about saving the rhinoceros, restoring a woolly mammoth or even just conserving the Scottish primrose, now is the time to act.

North coast grassland with Mountain avens
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