Sustainable Scotland: Why it’s important – and urgent – that we halt loss of biodiversity

The time is now to act on biodiversity loss, according to scientist Dr Kenneth Loades.

There is nothing better than waking up early on a warm summer morning to hear a variety of birdsong.

What might be a little alarming, however, is that estimates from the Natural History Museum suggest that 600 million birds have been lost across Europe since 1980 – with the house sparrow population declining by some 247 million.

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But is not just birds. We are currently in a biodiversity crisis, with a staggering decline in a number of UK species.

A shocking 26 per cent of mammals are at risk of extinction globally.

We rely on a healthy, biodiverse environment for a variety of services, including the production of food and timber, air purification, soil formation and pollination. These critical services are under increasing threat if we do nothing to stop biodiversity losses now.

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One of the key needs is to understand the problem, so we stop these losses and start to increase biodiversity. No small feat, considering the change has increased in pace since the 1970s.

The world relies on a healthy, biodiverse environment for everything from production of food and timber to air purification, soil formation and pollination, but these crucial ecosystem services are at risk if dramatic losses of species are not urgently halted. Picture: Scott Newey/James Hutton Institute

Governments are now acting to find answers and solutions to the crisis.

The Scottish Government, NatureScot, Sepa and other stakeholders are working together with researchers at the James Hutton Institute and the wider Scottish Environment Food and Agricultural Research Institutes to fully explore – and understand – our options in tackling this biodiversity crisis.

With the UN’s Biodiversity Conference (COP15) planned for October in China, it is becoming clearer that action is needed now in better understanding the problems we are facing. Without understanding the cause, it makes managing and restoring our environment a bigger challenge.

Over the next five years, the Scottish Government has committed to fund research in understanding the causes of change and also the impact of invasive, non-native species, on our ecosystems.

Dr Kenneth Loades, a research leader at the James Hutton Institute’s ecological sciences department, highlights the importance of tackling loss of biodiversity in Scotland and across the globe

Technology in science has moved on considerably since biodiversity declines were first observed, and offers the potential to help in monitoring change.

New technologies will be applied to everything from plant diversity, using new molecular techniques, to the harder-to-see life in the soils beneath our feet. Embracing such technologies will provide valuable tools in quantifying changes – both the good and the bad.

We can ill afford to sit back and watch the biodiversity decline continue. We need to understand, manage and action positive changes to safeguard our environment.

There is still plenty of opportunity and we can all do something to help. Investment is needed in restoration, but this must be done within a low-risk setting while ensuring multiple benefits to society.

The UK is committed to protecting 30 per cent of its land and seas by 2030, but we need to know how to establish protected areas in the face of a changing climate to ensure both species and genetic diversity are conserved.

Only through understanding the wider systems will we be able to fully understand, explore and protect our critical biodiversity, both within Scotland and globally.

Answering the questions around how, what and why will help in the journey towards halting biodiversity losses by 2030 and enhancing biodiversity by 2050.

Utilising the international expertise and knowledge within the various Scottish research institutes will help us in the fight against biodiversity loss, and assist in the restoration of our ecosystem which is critical for the health and well-being of the wider environment and humanity.

Dr Kenneth Loades is a research leader at the James Hutton Institute’s Ecological Sciences department. He wrote this article with fellow ecologists Rob Brooker, Ruth Mitchell and Robin Pakeman.

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