Scottish Government under fire over ‘meaningless’ biodiversity strategy for marine life

A new plan for restoring nature and reversing loss of species is “devoid of substance” and “unambitious”, environmentalists have said.

They say the Scottish Government’s draft biodiversity strategy, which is currently under public consultation, lacks measurable goals for the marine environment and is therefore “meaningless”.

Outcomes to be achieved by 2045 are: that “populations of marine mammals, marine birds and fish are healthy, have recovered and have increased resilience to the impacts of climate change”; and “the health of water-column and seabed habitats has been enhanced so that they are more resilient (including to climate change), supporting wider ecosystem function and providing increased benefits to society”.

To achieve this, it states these factors must be “improving” by 2030.

Members of Our Seas, an alliance of Scottish organisations, businesses, communities and individuals that support sustainable use of coastal waters, have accused leaders of “bureaucratic inertia” on solving the nature crisis.

“In its current form the strategy is disappointing and alarming,” a spokesperson for the coalition said.

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“There is a major blindspot on marine. Land-based issues receive significant attention, with concrete targets to progress biodiversity recovery, while there is a worrying lack of detail when it comes to our seas.

Scotland's proposed biodiversity strategy, which is intended to help safeguard wildlife and restore habitats, has been criticised for "vague" goals and a "lack of substance" for the marine environment. Picture: Chris Rickard/Open Seas

“If government is serious about restoring the degraded condition of our environment, it needs to establish targets that can actually be measured.

“The strategy is devoid of substance when it comes to setting meaningful targets for our marine environment.”

The criticism has been echoed by lawyers from not-for-profit group Fish Legal, which helps anglers battle polluters and others who damage or threaten the water.

In their response to the consultation, Scottish lawyer Robert Younger wrote: “There is the fear/suspicion that documents such as this are part of the problem rather than the solution.

Members of Our Seas, an alliance of Scottish organisations, businesses, communities and individuals that support sustainable use of coastal waters, have accused leaders of “bureaucratic inertia” on solving the nature crisis. Picture: Chris Rickard/Open Seas

“They appear to propose solutions that are either so temporally remote (2045) or so vaguely worded as to be largely meaningless.

“There is a concern that they appear to show that the government is dealing with the issue when in reality the can is being firmly kicked down the road.

“What is required is a sense of urgency, realistic targets that are measurable and transparent and a clear strategy for delivery rather than vague assertions of intent.”

He added: “Clearly this strategy also requires clear and robust goals and targets, and it does not.

“This is a critical weakness throughout the document. Without such clarity the document is quite literally a waste of everyone’s time.”

Mr Younger added: “It is very difficult for governments to demand change of industries where that change may impose economic costs on the electorate and thus risk unpopularity.

“This is why we observe the phenomenon of ‘greenwashing’ or the appearance of change when in fact nothing of substance is really happening.

“It allows governments to appear to be sensitive to the environmental concerns of the electorate and yet it allows powerful economic interests to carry on doing what they do substantially without interference.

“Unfortunately, the long-term results of this strategy is that none of the underlying environmental problems are solved, and that is what we are seeing in Scotland with marked continuing declines in biodiversity for example.”

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