Scotland may be small, but our natural environment is mighty and of global importance.
From the iconic Scots pine of the Caledonian forest, home to rare species such as the capercaillie, the red squirrel, the pine marten and Scottish wildcat, to the stunning wild flowers of the machair, Scotland’s nature is amazing and something we should be rightly proud of.
Scotland’s breathtaking landscapes contain internationally important habitats. For example, Scotland has 5 per cent of the world’s peatlands and the highest percentage of peatland cover anywhere in Europe, storing 25 times more carbon than all the UK’s vegetation.
Often overlooked, peatlands are also a vital resource for native and migrating birds who depend on them to rest and feed – a reminder of the importance of ensuring well cared for natural areas.
It’s not just on land we can see the abundance of life – our marine area accounts for a staggering 60 per cent of the UK’s seas and 10 per cent of Europe’s coastline.
We are home to one third of all of Europe’s breeding seabirds and 29 per cent of Europe’s seals. Our coral reefs, thought to be around 4,000 years old, support an incredible array of life, including fish, sharks and invertebrates. Our health and wellbeing relies on a thriving environment that provides us with food and clean water and air. It also delivers economic benefits, with 14 per cent of jobs in Scotland supported by nature.
Sadly, this life supporting system with all its beauty and diversity is in trouble. Historical land use change has led to habitat loss and species declines, making Scottish nature less resilient to the unprecedented environmental pressures we see today.
Every day brings new evidence of the global ecological crisis that is underway. The effects of climate change and ecosystem collapse are on our doorstep even here in Scotland – just think back to the Beast from the East in the winter, all the severe storms we have witnessed and the summer droughts.
With around 80 per cent of all our environmental laws in Scotland coming from the EU, it is clear how indispensable this legislation is for the protection of our environment. The legal framework of protections and associated funding that we currently receive from the EU has been pivotal in holding back the tide of further biodiversity declines.
The combination of strong legislation and support for effective implementation has made these environmental laws among the most effective on Earth. Brexit threatens to unravel this set of critically important backing at a time when 1 in 11 species in Scotland is at risk of extinction.
This is why 35 of Scotland’s leading environmental charities have launched an urgent campaign, Fight for Scotland’s Nature, for Scotland to have its own environment act, fit for purpose and able to cater to Scotland’s unique environmental needs.
Scotland needs to continue to develop environmental protections on the basis of the internationally recognised EU environmental principles and have an independent and well-resourced watchdog to ensure environmental legislation is upheld.
Clear targets for environmental ambitions supported by long-term actions and funding to mitigate climate change, create robust ecosystems and push for sustainable use of our natural resources that is good for us and our land and seas are also required. Strong legislation, in the form of a Scottish Environment Act that builds on existing Scottish Government commitments to retain EU protections would achieve this.
It would send a clear message to our EU partners and the world of our unwavering commitment to protecting and enhancing our natural environment. Such a statement would be all the more potent as we approach 2020, a year critical for the culmination of global efforts to halt and reverse biodiversity loss.
Echoing the words of leading French philosopher Michel Serre, in Scotland too we must reconsider our relationship with nature and “sign our natural contract” with the planet to bring harmony and mutual respect to the very thing that sustains life.
The trick is to do this before it’s too late. It’s time for us all to fight for Scotland’s nature.
Charles Dundas, chair of Scottish Environment LINK.