Natural decline

With one in nine species at threat of extinction in Scotland, the decline of our natural world shows no sign of slowing says Alison Johnstone.

It’s why Scotland’s nature and environment charities such as the RSPB are calling for robust legally-binding nature recovery targets to halt the loss of nature by 2030 and ensure it can recover by 2045.

This catastrophic decline in biodiversity is worldwide, of course, posing a serious risk to our future. That’s why last week we gave the Scottish Parliament an opportunity to declare a nature emergency. Scotland would have become the first country to formally recognise the urgency of this decline as an emergency. It could be the first step in trying to halt and ultimately reverse it.

Central to delivering this ambition is creating a national ecological network including well-managed, protected sites in good condition that make up at least 30% of Scotland’s sea and land by 2030. A third of this should be fully protected, so that, for example, no fishing would be allowed in these most special of places.

Such a move would create jobs and boost the economy.

In good faith, the Scottish Greens thought this was something all parties could get behind. Astonishingly, though, the SNP blocked the vote with an amendment congratulating the Scottish Government’s work and removing the words ‘nature emergency’ altogether.
As is often the case, this move by the SNP was propped up by the Conservatives.

Parliament therefore voted against calling a halt to practices which are environmentally damaging such as driven grouse shooting, large-scale peat extraction and damaging fishing practices such as dredging.
It was bitterly disappointing to all those campaigners who have seen just how damaging poor planning decisions, unsustainable large-scale farming, pollution, climate change and invasive species have been, which has led to a decline in half of all Scotland’s species of animals, plants and insects.

In the three days ahead of the debate, over 7,000 people signed our petition backing the declaration of a nature emergency, so it was truly shocking to see SNP ministers instead congratulating themselves when their own data shows that the alarming decline in species and a shocking loss of biodiversity has not slowed during the 13 years they have been in power.

As perplexing as the decision was to block our call was, it isn’t hard to find the reasons behind it. Ahead of the debate there were noisy objections from the shooting lobby, who see attempts to protect the natural world as a threat to those who enjoy shooting animals for recreation.

As I said in the debate though, many more people come to Scotland to shoot wildlife with a camera than with a gun, but this powerful lobby clearly has the ear of government and that is the challenge we face.
In fact, when you look across all the amendments to our motion put forward by political parties, only the Scottish Greens were committed to actions such as ending the scourge of Scotland’s grouse moors, where around a fifth of Scotland’s land mass is kept barren to maximise populations of grouse to be killed for sport.

These moors could be used to create well paid employment through forestry, rewilding, eco-tourism, renewables and so much more. They could play an important and necessary role in reducing our CO2 emissions. In the face of the climate emergency and the mass extinction of species, these are the policies we need.

Scotland can restore our nature, but we will need to take on vested interests to do so.