We are at pivotal moment for people and planet with a ‘code red’ on climate - Lottie van Grieken

Living somewhere as beautiful as Scotland, it’s easy to take for granted the nature around us and forget that Scotland is home to unique habitats and rare wildlife. This autumn, Scotland is in the international spotlight as hundreds of world leaders, scientists, policy makers and activists are in Glasgow for the UN climate change conference, COP26.

Lottie van Grieken, Project Manager – COP26, RSPB
Lottie van Grieken, Project Manager – COP26, RSPB

Leaders are coming together to decide how to increase ambition to tackle the climate crisis. We are at a pivotal moment for people and planet. The world has been given a ‘code red’ on climate by the recent IPCC report. Simultaneously, nature is in decline. The Biodiversity Intactness Index (a global analysis of human impacts on nature) found that Scotland is 28th from the bottom of 240 countries and territories worldwide, highlighting the extent of nature loss on our doorstep. Internationally we’re losing loved species and the unique places that help them to thrive.

In Scotland, our rainforest is one such threatened place. While the word ‘rainforest’ might spark images of towering tropical trees in Asia or the Amazon, few people realise that we have a rainforest on our doorstep. Scotland’s Celtic rainforest on the west coast is a coastal temperate habitat made up of gorge woodlands, hazel, oak, and pine woods, and some of the world’s rarest lichens and mosses. It’s home to amazing species, like red squirrels, pine martins, otters, insects, and rare migrating birds.

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Scotland’s rainforests are not only extremely beautiful; they are also of international importance for biodiversity and are vital places for wellbeing, education, and livelihoods. However, our rainforests are highly degraded and fragmented due to past human impacts - and now face more intense pressure than ever, from over grazing by unnaturally high densities of deer and invasion of non-native rhododendron, which chokes out the habitat and destroys the native vegetation.

The ‘Rainforest Zone’, where naturally a significant proportion of the land was once rainforest, extends across much of the western seaboard of Scotland. The restoration of Scotland’s rainforest will require a whole-ecosystem approach; to achieve restoration at scale needs more than a single project, at one location. It will need long-term endeavour, with significant investment. A group of environmental NGOs – Plantlife Scotland, Woodland Trust Scotland and RSPB Scotland – estimates this at £500 million over at least ten-years, a significant proportion of which would need to come from government – likely around half.

But this could be a world-leading initiative, now, at the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. It would not only help nature and long-term carbon storage but would also provide lasting, high-quality jobs, benefit communities and the wellbeing of residents and visitors, and form a key strand of Scotland’s just transition to a net zero carbon economy. If we consider the comparative value of our rainforests, and other green areas, as places we treasure for ‘escaping’ the bustle of day-to-day life, for our mental and physical wellbeing, as part of Scottish heritage, as vital for jobs, as homes for the animals we adore and as precious natural carbon stores; we must see the value of investing in nature.

As world leaders come together in Glasgow and discuss the international response to climate change, we need them to recognise that we face a twin crisis - a nature and climate emergency. We cannot solve one without the other, and, when the dust settles on COP26, we must see a positive legacy for Scotland in places like the Scottish rainforest. We must see local action linked to global ambition and recognise the significance of local habitats as part of our global ecosystem.

While you wander through the falling leaves this autumn, think about the crucial role nature plays in both your life and as part of our world’s unique environment. Then help us to shout loud for nature and ask our leaders for urgent action for nature and climate at COP26 and beyond.

Lottie van Grieken, Project Manager – COP26, RSPB

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