Views sought on how to bring about ‘transformative change’ to Scotland’s natural environment

VIEWS are being sought on how best to bring about “transformative change” to Scotland’s natural environment.

The appeal forms the basis of a Scottish Government consultation exercise, which is “seeking views on its ambitious new strategy to halt nature loss by 2030 and reverse it by 2045”.

Says a Scottish Government announcement, here: “A consultation on Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy sets out the government’s long-term vision of what our natural environment needs to look like in 2045 in order to reverse biodiversity decline and protect our environment for the future. It contains a series of proposed outcomes setting out what needs to be done, and the conditions that must be in place, in order to achieve success.”

The consultation document, to which comments are required by September 8, paints a bleak picture.

Among several pieces of evidence, here:

* 17.6 per cent of Scotland is protected specifically for nature either as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Areas of Conservation, Special Protection Areas or Areas designated under the international Ramsar Convention for the Protection of Wetlands sites;

* 37 per cent of our seas now form part of the Scottish Marine Protected Area network;

* There has been a 24 per cent decline in average abundance of 352 terrestrial and freshwater species since 1994 – noting that 1994 was not, itself, a high point;

* There has been a 14 per cent decline in range for 2,970 terrestrial and freshwater species since 1970;

* Peatlands are in such poor condition that they are emitting, instead of storing, carbon and are responsible for 20 per cent of Scotland’s total emissions;

* Only around 64 per cent of Scotland’s protected woodlands are in a ‘favourable’ or ‘recovering’ condition;

* Out of 15 components in the UK Marine Strategy, 11 of them had not achieved ‘Good Environmental Status’ by 2020, with recognition that more action is required;

* There has been a 38 per cent decline in the Scottish breeding seabird indicator between 1986 and 2016. Abundance indicators for fish species show some signs of recovery from deep historic lows;

* Only 30,000 hectares of Scotland’s unique Atlantic rainforest remains and is highly fragmented;

* The past 50 years has seen an increased use of pesticides and fertilisers, continuous cropping, changed sowing seasons, a loss of non-cropped habitat and major loss and fragmentation of farmland habitats. There have been substantial long-term decreases in some key farmland bird populations: declines of more than 50 per cent for greenfinch, kestrel, and lapwing, and 25-50 per cent declines in oystercatcher and rook. There have been substantial long-term decreases in pollinators and species-rich grasslands, e.g. 39 per cent loss of lowland meadow;

* Scotland is the most-wooded of the UK countries (19 per cent woodland cover) but the UK remains one of the most heavily-deforested countries in Europe, with woodland cover well below the current European average of 37 per cent. Approximately a third, 442,611 hectares of Scotland’s woodland is considered native. This includes globally-important areas of Scottish rainforest, including oak and hazel woodland, and Caledonian pine forest – recognised as being of very high value to biodiversity, but currently fragmented and restricted in range;

* Woodland biodiversity faces a huge challenge from invasive non-native species, specifically rhododendron. Ever-increasing deer numbers restrict natural regeneration, habitat restoration and undermine replanting efforts;

* In the uplands of Scotland, essentially land above the limits of enclosed farmland, there are a range of habitats including moorland, rough grassland, blanket bog, woods, species- rich grasslands, etc. Much of this is managed for field sports, livestock, renewable energy, nature conservation and amenity interests. Large areas of the uplands are under agriculture management. Approximately a quarter of Scotland’s area is covered in peat, storing over three billion tonnes of carbon. However, it is estimated that around 70 per cent of Scotland’s peatlands (1.6 million hectares) are degraded. At least 25 per cent of wider uplands are also considered to be in poor condition;

* The greatest decline in birds has been in uplands, with 18 per cent decline since 1994 – 17 species contribute to this indicator with nine in long-term decline. A range of species and habitats are declining, especially waders, hen harriers, mountain willow and juniper;

* The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency’s (SEPA) monitoring shows that overall 64 per cent of our rivers and lochs are in good or better than good condition in 2020. This is an improvement of three percentage points in overall condition since 2015. It is based upon assessment of water quality, flows and levels, physical condition and barriers to fish migration;

* Despite the progress that’s been made, the remaining 36 per cent of rivers and lochs are not in good condition, including the status of Scotland’s iconic Wild salmon which can be impacted by a range of activity in both freshwater and marine environments;

* 29 per cent of freshwater features are categorised as ‘unfavourable’ or ‘unfavourable recovering’ due to management. Riparian woodlands have declined in coverage and condition. Poorly-vegetated upper catchments and canalised river systems make downstream flash flooding events worse. The extent of wetlands and land available for temporal wetlands and habitat available for dependent species has declined;

* Invasive Non-Native Species (INNS) have considerable impacts on freshwater ecosystems and these are intensifying; and

* Diffuse pollution has been reduced in Scotland, particularly since the 1990s, but still represents a significant risk to freshwaters.

Picture credit: Place Design Scotland