- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith):
Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-05320, in the name of Rob Gibson, on biodiversity. I call Rob Gibson to speak to and move the motion on the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s behalf.
- Rob Gibson (Caithness, Sutherland and Ross) (SNP):
I am grateful—[Interruption.]
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Could we have Mr Gibson’s microphone on, please? [Interruption.] Is your card in the console, Mr Gibson?
- Rob Gibson:
Okay—this is biodiversity, part 2. I am delighted to speak in the biodiversity debate on the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s behalf, because we wish to set up a discussion ahead of the Government’s response to the recent consultation.
The term “biodiversity” describes the variety of all life on earth and all the places where it is found. It was coined in 1985, but it became more widely used when the United Kingdom Government signed up to the Convention on Biological Diversity at the earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. That kick-started the biodiversity process that led to Scottish Government plans and local plans such as those from Highland Council, which covers the area that I represent and whose biodiversity action plan has been developed since 2002.
In its 2010 biodiversity check-up, Scottish Natural Heritage reported that biodiversity
“is the variety of life. The spectacular and varied wildlife within our iconic landscapes, coastal areas and seas is fundamental to the livelihood and quality of life of people in Scotland ... A resilient and diverse natural environment is the essential foundation for a greener, more robust, healthier, wealthier Scotland.”
The Scottish Government’s response to its consultation on the 2020 challenge for Scotland’s biodiversity is about to be published. It is set against a backdrop of worldwide failure to stem biodiversity decline. In 2010, SNH said:
“Scotland has played an active part in stemming biodiversity loss, both with the rest of the UK and in its own right. A 25-year framework for action commenced in 2004 with the publication of Scotland’s Biodiversity Strategy. It recognises both the urgency of the task”
and many other issues.
What do we say to those who claim that we are failing to meet our targets? Are we worse or better than our neighbours? Is Scotland doing the best that it can? Do we have examples that we can offer other nations in our response? Can a small nation make a big difference?
Reviews show that, between 2005 and 2008, the percentage of priority habitats that were declining was unchanged at 34 per cent, while the percentage of habitats that were stable or increasing rose from 36 to 45 per cent. That means that we have a balance of problems to discuss.
Between 1998 and 2007, in lowland agricultural systems, which cover 28 per cent of Scotland, the amount of arable and horticultural land declined by 13 per cent, improved grass areas expanded by 9 per cent and the length of hedges, walls and fences decreased by 8 per cent. In our uplands and moors, which cover 55 per cent of Scotland, acid grassland expanded by 8 per cent.
The European Union—and us as part of it—undertook to stem the decline in biodiversity by 2010 but has failed to do that because of far worse figures than some of those that I have given. A more realistic target for 2020 has now been set.
I will discuss large-scale approaches to link land managers and local bodies in strengthening biodiversity. The Coigach and Assynt living landscape project, which was launched in 2011, is setting out to measure and improve biodiversity and human involvement to make that area far more sustainable in this climate change era. Twenty years ago, local ecologist Bernard Planterose recognised that reafforestation, beyond conservation, embraced wildlife conservation and the various present-day land uses, as well as future resettlement of the land and expansion of the productive natural resource base. As such, he said that it would exhibit ecological, economic and political strands.
As I said when the Coigach and Assynt living landscape project was launched:
“Today, we value trees and people, jobs and peatland rewetting, local energy production and biodiversity even more”
than we did 20 years ago. I continued:
“I am delighted that a measurable project with a 50-year time span has been set up in Coigach and Assynt”,
which are in my constituency,
“so as to set an example across the country. It fits the thrust of Scottish Government policy and is a practical way to link the environment and the people who live there ... to plan a brighter future.—[Official Report, 22 June 2011; c 916.]
Biological outcomes will be measured, clearly defined roles and objectives will be developed, and responsibilities will be taken.
A similar approach is in hand for our peatlands, which are of huge importance. Scotland is the world stronghold for the Atlantic blanket bogs, and our lowland raised bogs are a European priority. From the flows in Caithness and Sutherland right down to Galloway and the central belt, we have a wealth of peatland habitats, and Scotland has several showcase peatland restoration projects, such as those at Forsinard in Sutherland. Conservation management involves wildlife charities such as RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, the University of the Highlands and Islands’s Thurso-based environmental research institute, as well as the Forestry Commission and the wind farm industry.
Scotland’s deepest peats store around 10 times the amount of carbon that is stored in the whole of the UK’s forest biomass—they are that important. A loss of only 1 per cent of Scotland’s peat would equal the annual greenhouse gas emissions of around 57 megatonnes of CO2 equivalent. Conversely, restoring damaged peatlands has great potential to help to reduce emissions and contribute to reaching Scotland’s climate change targets. We can already see various Government and non-governmental organisation partners working together on such projects.
To highlight the importance of that work, I have applied to be a wildlife champion for rusty bog-moss, or Sphagnum fuscum, which is found in the north-west Highlands. The loss of habitat there is due to the drainage of peat bogs. The Scottish Wildlife Trust is encouraging all members to become wildlife champions, and the national parks have a major role in that action. Other members will talk about that.
The common agricultural policy elements of high nature value farming have been under close scrutiny. In 2011, Scotland became the first country in the United Kingdom to assess the extent and broad distribution of high nature value farming, as required by the European Commission for its rural development programmes. According to the Scottish Agricultural College—which is now Scotland’s Rural University College—in 2009, 40 per cent of Scotland’s utilised agricultural area was estimated to be under high nature value farming systems and, in 2010, 41 per cent of woodland areas in Scotland were considered to be under high nature value forestry systems. Any decline that has taken place since that period is likely to be associated with the retreat of livestock farming from Scotland’s hills. A more detailed commitment to high nature value farming and crofting must be built into the new common agricultural policy.
To turn to the sea, Marine Scotland’s efforts are an important new step. The Europe-authored marine protection areas initiatives, such as the marine protected area network, can be considered as positives for biodiversity in Scotland, but they fall short of being effective mechanisms for biodiversity conservation. In a recent debate on new designations, a headline in the Press and Journal said that scientific data could be used to restrict catches in conservation areas. Science is indeed attempting to ensure that there are sustainable fish stocks and habitats around Scotland. We must go with good science.
A frustrated constituent of mine has suggested much more draconian measures for fishing practices in our inshore waters, such as allowing zero discards—we agree with that; closing off inshore waters to dredging or trawling; fallowing fishing grounds in the same way as farmers fallow their fields; introducing compulsory square-top panels prior to the cod end in order to allow smaller species to escape; introducing 24/7 monitoring by global positioning systems and closed-circuit television for all vessels; and implementing severe penalties, including the destruction of vessels for persistent offenders.
The suggestions deserve serious consideration, but they are just one person’s ideas. When we make public policy, we must find a way to improve biodiversity in our seas and look at the issues seriously.
The removal of alien species, which is an on-going exercise, needs measurement and targeting. Do SNH and the Government have measures for the removal of the likes of Himalayan balsam? The Scottish Government, and the Executive before it, have been proactive.
With regard to bees, we have to look at the science, as I said earlier. The Green Party asked the committee to carry out an inquiry into neonicotinoids. We expect to deal with that issue in the biodiversity questioning that will follow the Government’s announcement of its conclusions. We will definitely have to consider the link between the loss of pollinators and the chemical treatment of crops. Just this week, European Food Safety Authority scientists identified a number of risks that are posed to bees by three neonicotinoid insecticides. The Scottish Government has to adopt the precautionary principle on the issue. It must study the transcripts of what the scientists have said; ensure that the industry’s risk assessment processes are more transparent; move towards the smarter use of insecticides; and look for ways to increase the number of insect pollinators and predators of pests across the agricultural landscape.
Everyone is trying in different ways to do good by the environment. I mentioned the Highland biodiversity strategy. A recent discussion in Highland Council identified that, although stopping cutting the grass close to the verges of some Highland roads is a way of increasing wildlife, it encourages birds to nest closer to roads, with the unintended consequence that their young are squashed. The council has had to rethink that. That is the kind of issue that crops up.
In the history of biodiversity, there are champions throughout this country and in many other countries. I went back to Frank Fraser Darling, who in 1946 wrote the book “Natural History in the Highlands and Islands”, which identified some of the things that we are trying to do today. For example, he said:
“We are apt to view with pleasure a rugged Highland landscape and think that we are here away from the works of the mind and hand of man, that here is wild nature. But more often than not we are looking at a man-made desert”.
He sees man as
“an indigenous animal in the countryside”,
along with the rest of nature. He goes on to say:
“Forestry, national parks and crofting agriculture have been mentioned as important factors in the existence of wild life in the Highlands. Hydro-electric power schemes might well be added. At the moment all these interests are separate, going their own way in their own way”.
“National parks alone will not preserve wild life, nor even the plain establishment of special nature reserves for particular species and habitats. Some co-ordination is needed as well.”
Those words from 1946 are absolutely pertinent today.
The lessons for us are that, to achieve biodiversity targets, we need a quantified, detailed and joined-up biodiversity strategy and not just the existing work of NGOs, but work that is led by Government. Especially in this year of natural Scotland, it is vital that everyone in Scotland, particularly the younger generation—such as the children who are in the public gallery—are made aware of and experience at first hand the outstanding natural wealth of the country and its value in a climate change era.
That the Parliament notes that the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee will be examining the analysis of the responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the 2020 Challenge for Scotland’s Biodiversity as the government looks to update its current biodiversity strategy against a backdrop of a global failure to meet biodiversity targets set for 2010, the revised target to halt biodiversity loss by 2020 and the related Aichi targets.
- The Minister for Environment and Climate Change (Paul Wheelhouse):
I apologise for my late arrival for the debate, Presiding Officer. I mean no disrespect to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee.
I am particularly grateful to the committee for the opportunity to debate our progress on the Scottish biodiversity strategy. If the committee had not called the debate, I would have been strongly tempted to do so. My first official duty after being appointed as Minister for Environment and Climate Change was to chair the British-Irish Council environment ministers meeting on biodiversity and to take part in a bioblitz at Vogrie country park.
Scotland is blessed with a rich and diverse natural environment, and the people of Scotland treasure our native animal and plant species and enjoy our stunning and varied landscapes, diverse geology and many special places and sites of interest, all of which have their own complex webs of life. Biodiversity sustains our lives. Our natural environment helps to define not only our national identity but our quality of life.
The Scottish biodiversity strategy, which was set out in the 2004 document, “Scotland’s Biodiversity: It’s in Your Hands”, remains a strong document, which is why we decided to supplement and reinforce it rather than replace it.
As it says in the motion, international biodiversity targets for 2010 were missed around the globe. In Scotland, SNH made a detailed assessment and we can be proud that we have made good progress towards the United Nations target to significantly slow biodiversity loss. However, everyone agrees that there is much more to be done. In particular, there is agreement across the EU and at UN level on two key points. First, we need to address the pressures on biodiversity, rather than simply try to reverse damage. Secondly, we need to be more explicit about the need to protect nature, so that it can continue to support and enrich our lives and underpin our economy.
We have always known that we are part of the natural world, for obvious reasons, and that we need to protect nature if we are to secure a healthy and prosperous future for our country. Now we have increased understanding of how nature sustains us and the connection between biodiversity, healthy functioning of the natural environment and benefits to individuals and society. The 2011 national ecosystem assessment represents a key challenge to ensure that we sustain nature in a condition that, in turn, can sustain our lives.
New international targets at UN and EU levels accord equal status to the prevention of the loss of species and the preservation of the benefits from nature, which are referred to as “ecosystem services”. Consideration of ecosystem services must be part of how we plan all policies that impact on the natural environment. The natural environment is a treasure in its own right, with tremendous intrinsic value, and it underpins our welfare and our economy.
Biodiversity plays an essential role in achieving the Government’s vision of a smart, sustainable Scotland and lies at the heart of our economic strategy. Our natural environment plays a vital role in Scotland’s prosperity and national identity. It supports our tourism, distilling, farming, forestry and fishing industries. It adds variety to our urban green spaces and contributes hugely to our health and wellbeing.
I know how important the environment is to the region in which I live. Few people have expressed the relationship better than John Muir, who was in many ways the founder of the modern conservation movement. He said:
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike”.
John Muir was a Scot, who left these shores and whose influence is spread across the world.
Protecting nature has always been a global issue. In response to new international targets and our increased understanding of the links between the natural environment and prosperity, the Scottish Government published a consultation paper last summer, to provide renewed focus and impetus for the Scottish biodiversity strategy up to 2020. The paper covered a lot of ground, but six main chapters presented proposals, which I will broadly describe.
First, we must ensure joined-up prioritisation and co-ordination of action at catchment level, protect biodiversity and enhance services to communities, such as flood prevention. Communities and land managers should be fully involved in the planning process and planning exercises. Secondly, we must ensure that the value of our natural capital is sustained and enhanced, by recognising that value across the Scottish Government and its agencies. Thirdly, we must build on the existing good work in the health and education sectors and make greater use of the natural environment to achieve effective outcomes. Fourthly, we must continue to make progress on protected areas and priority habitats and species. Fifthly, we must reflect on continued progress in the freshwater environment and the land use strategy and promote integrated land and water use, planning across whole catchments. Sixthly, we must reflect on the substantial progress in the marine environment as a result of the marine conservation strategy for Scotland and consider particular issues of coastal and island ecosystems.
There were 76 responses to the consultation paper and I am grateful to the organisations and the smaller number of individuals who responded. Overall, there was a positive response to the broad direction of the strategy. I am sure that members will pick up on points that respondents made. I will quickly mention two common areas of concern.
First, many respondents thought that the consultation paper had gone too far in the direction of a functional view of nature. I think that that partly reflects the nature of the paper, which is, in the main, a guide to decision makers at various levels of government and is not a work of poetry. However, we should state more clearly the intrinsic value of biodiversity.
Secondly, many respondents were concerned that there was not enough detail about specific delivery targets and actions. It is the nature of the biodiversity strategy that delivery relies on a huge range of actions, decisions, policies and strategies that have an impact on species, diversity and natural capital. The plans, decisions and actions are carried out by many delivery partners, and the strategy is designed to be reasonably high level, thus it cannot and should not reflect all that complexity.
I agree, however, that we need to say more about delivery alongside the publication of the strategy. We shall develop a delivery agreement whereby delivery partners will sign up to their roles and responsibilities for delivering the strategy. We need a broad range of actors to achieve progress in the delivery of the strategy, so we shall also create a biodiversity monitoring committee that will sit under the established Scottish biodiversity committee, which I chair. It will be the responsibility of the monitoring group to agree a set of key targets and performance indicators, building on such initiatives as the natural capital index, and to discuss how to ensure that progress is made. We need to drive forward action to deliver the strategy and protect our precious diversity.
I recognise, however, that there is much that the Scottish Government can still do to improve Scotland’s response to the biodiversity challenge. We need to move further in aligning policy in a wide range of areas to the biodiversity agenda and in ensuring adequate protection. We must take opportunities to achieve other goals in an effective and low-cost way through improvements to the natural environment. Much can also be achieved by local government agencies and other public bodies. I urge those bodies to look for improved ways in which to work together and to step up their response to the biodiversity duty.
As with other policy areas, however, the Government cannot and should not be expected to achieve alone the desired outcomes for biodiversity. We look forward to continued valuable contributions from the wildlife and nature charities through their campaigning work and their many actions on their own land, because many have significant landholdings, much of which helps innovation and land-management practices in respect of biodiversity. We want local biodiversity action partnerships to provide a model for effective encouragement and co-ordination of local action. We urge local communities to seize opportunities to manage and improve their local environment. Businesses are rising to the challenge, but they could do more as part of their wider civic responsibilities. We need landowners and managers to work with us in the knowledge that protecting nature is part of their role and their future, and they need to appreciate the many ways in which conservation can aid economic development.
It will take a huge effort jointly to achieve our 2020 challenge, and I am keen to hear in the debate from members across the chamber about the points that they want to see addressed in our biodiversity strategy.
- Claire Baker (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab):
I am pleased to open the debate for Labour. First, I thank the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee for securing the debate and using its time to bring this important issue to the chamber. The debate gives us the opportunity to reflect on the submissions that have been received for the Scottish Government’s consultation on the 2020 challenge for Scotland’s biodiversity and to add to them. However, we will have to wait for the opportunity to debate the Government’s response, although I welcome the minister’s announcement on the delivery agreement and the monitoring committee.
The consultation is welcome. Biodiversity has been on the political and global agenda since the Rio earth summit in 1992. A commitment was made in April 2002
“to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth.”
In addition, the Aichi targets set by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity called for a step change in efforts to halt the loss of biodiversity and to restore the essential services that a healthy, natural environment provides.
Scotland’s response to that was the 2004 “Scotland’s Biodiversity: It’s in Your Hands” strategy. It is hugely disappointing that Scotland failed to meet the 2010 target but, as Rob Gibson explained, it was a global failure. The call to action in 1992 has not resulted in a halt to the loss of biodiversity. There is a need to redouble efforts at home and abroad if we are to meet the important 2020 targets.
We should take the time to consider why the targets are important. Biodiversity can seem removed from people’s everyday lives and irrelevant in a modern and technological age. It may be seen as something to enjoy recreationally rather than something that impacts on our lives. However, the problems that we faced in 1992 are as relevant today as they were then. The “Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 and the Aichi Targets” recognises that a functioning ecosystem is essential to human wellbeing because it
“provides for food security, human health, the provision of clean air and water; it contributes to local livelihoods, and economic development, and is essential for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, including poverty reduction.”
Biodiversity is about human wellbeing as much as it is about anything else. If we consider the challenges that communities in Scotland face today, such as flooding, healthy ecosystems can mitigate the impact and be part of the solution.
In the rest of the short time that I have available this afternoon, I will comment on some of the key issues that arise from the consultation and the briefings for the debate. Although there is widespread disappointment about our failure, there are positive developments in some areas. It is important that we recognise where we have had successes as well as where we have had failures in order to learn lessons as we go forward with the new strategy.
RSPB Scotland’s briefing makes the important point that, by missing targets, along with other European partners, Scotland is now playing catch-up in efforts to meet the 2020 targets. It recognises the importance of continuing initiatives but makes it clear that, if we are to make the necessary progress, the biodiversity strategy must provide additional effort and add significant new value over and above what is already delivered by existing initiatives.
The consultation highlighted the interesting debate about how to resolve conflicts of interest. As the minister who has inherited the decision on whether to designate the Sound of Barra, Paul Wheelhouse will be aware of the difficulties that are involved in balancing competing interests. The consultation also raised the debate about the economic importance of biodiversity. Even respondents who support an approach that integrates the economic contribution raised concerns about having a solely economic valuation of biodiversity, as that would diminish the intrinsic value of biodiversity, could be accused of being short-sighted and would risk marginalising important but perhaps less economically valuable biodiversity.
- Paul Wheelhouse:
I recognise the concern that was raised in the consultation. I emphasise that, in the discussions that have taken place at the biodiversity committee, we have tried to explain why it was necessary to use that terminology. In many areas, we are reliant on behavioural changes by businesses and individuals, as they affect climate change as well. By having a message that resonates with all audiences regardless of whether they see the intrinsic and altruistic value of biodiversity, and by appealing to people in terms of the bottom line, we can encourage businesses and individuals to change their behaviours.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I will compensate Claire Baker for the intervention.
- Claire Baker:
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I welcome the minister’s comments on that. I thought that it was important to highlight the debate about how we measure the importance of biodiversity.
Plantlife talks about prioritising actions and makes the case for plants and fungi, which underpin the majority of ecosystems. It might be easier for us to sell the importance of saving the red squirrel or the capercaillie, but without robust ecosystems, habitats and food sources, we will fail in our efforts.
The Scottish Wildlife Trust highlights the importance of marine biodiversity, which is suffering from declines in habitat and species. We all recognise the importance of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, but also the frustration about the lack of a network of marine protected areas and the delay to publication of a marine plan. That is particularly frustrating, as we all accept the need for a plan but, as we wait for one, marine developments are moving ahead and pre-empting it. As a result, the plan will have to fit around developments rather than setting the strategic direction.
The consultation also highlighted the need for sufficient funding. There was some concern about the statement that
“relatively little investment is needed to restore ... natural systems back to full capacity.”
There must be investment. It can be a combination of public, private and social sector investment, but it needs to be attractive and accessible and have outcomes that are relevant and meaningful.
Scottish Environment LINK makes the good point that efforts to conserve and enhance biodiversity outside mainstream conservation action are weak and underresourced despite the fact that, in the long run, it is easier and cheaper to achieve biodiversity conservation through, for example, improved agriculture, flood management, planning and forestry policy. Scottish Environment LINK emphasises the need for a champion in Government to promote the broader gains to all Government departments and agencies. Although outside groups have been consulted, there is perhaps a need for greater promotion within Government. That is a challenge for the minister.
When we talk about funding in this context, the Scotland rural development programme is always highlighted. With the review continuing, there are certainly opportunities there, but we also need to recognise the limitations of the SRDP, which is constantly proposed as the possible future funding mechanism for many demands.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I must ask you to begin to conclude.
- Claire Baker:
I am sure that members will highlight many other areas in their speeches. I look forward to the rest of the debate.
- Alex Fergusson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con):
Of the many definitions of biodiversity that I have come across, the most accurate is this:
“the degree of variation of life forms within a given species, ecosystem or planet.”
In other words, I think it is what used to be called quite simply the balance of nature. Scottish Environment LINK put it rather more dramatically, though, in a manner that certainly focuses the mind on the importance of this debate on this subject, when it termed biodiversity as
“the foundation of all life on earth”.
Until very recently in our planet’s evolution, nature made a pretty good job of balancing herself. Since time immemorial, species have become extinct through natural evolutionary processes, but the overall balance of nature has generally been maintained and the sustainability of the planet was never in doubt.
However, evolutionary development and the demands of one species in particular—mankind—have now accelerated that natural process to such a degree that, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, by 2010 60 per cent of the world’s ecosystems were either degraded or being used unsustainably; 75 per cent of fish stocks were being overexploited or significantly depleted; and 75 per cent—three quarters—of the world’s genetic diversity of agricultural crops had been lost, worldwide, in only 20 years. More than 100,000km2 of the world’s tropical forests are still cleared every year.
When one puts all those figures together and looks at others—many of which have been mentioned today—one would be entirely forgiven for echoing the words of Private Frazer in “Dad’s Army” in forecasting that “We’re a’ doomed.”
Among all that potential doom and gloom there is, however, surely positive news. It has to be positive that there is broad agreement across the world that we simply cannot go on like this and that something has to be done. Indeed, in this decade of biodiversity and through the Aichi targets, there is now broad agreement not only that something has to be done, but on what has to be done.
The question is how we in Scotland play our part in reversing the worldwide trend of biodiversity loss. We can do so only by focusing on our own efforts. To do that we must begin by recognising that those efforts have, to date, failed to meet the targets that we have set. As has been pointed out, we are by no means alone in that failure, and it would have been entirely wrong to have set unambitious targets in order to avoid possible failure—that would have been the wrong way to look at the situation. However, it is important to start with a recognition that our 2010 targets were not met, as we turn our attention to meeting new targets for 2020, which is now only 7 years away.
If we are to meet the latest targets, we must first understand why we did not meet the previous ones. I was struck by the number of representations that were made to us prior to the debate that called for the biodiversity strategy to be rolled out across all Government departments—as Claire Baker mentioned—and for all Government policy to conform to it. That has to make sense if there is to be any degree of joined-up thinking on how we tackle the issue. I found the minister’s opening remarks to be encouraging in that regard.
Sadly, there are too many current examples of absence of joined-up thinking. I looked at the Government’s proposals on marine protected areas with some interest, and specifically on what might be done to protect our seabird population—a population for which Scotland is widely renowned, despite many species being in steep decline. Although I happily acknowledge that within the Scottish Government’s proposals protection is given to seabird breeding areas, that seems to be virtually meaningless unless protection is also given to the feeding areas that those species rely on to sustain them. What is the point of protecting the area where a species breeds if you do not simultaneously protect the areas in which it feeds?
- Paul Wheelhouse:
I appreciate the points that Alex Fergusson makes about feeding grounds for birds and I highlight that we propose to protect the sand eel population, which is obviously a main food source for seabirds.
- Alex Fergusson:
I am happy to acknowledge that, but there are wider issues on which we will be able to focus as discussions proceed. I accept what the minister says.
I find that some of the lack of joined-up thinking tends to fly in the face of the Scottish Government’s correctly stated intention in its biodiversity consultation on the 2020 challenge to
“support healthy, well-functioning ecosystems.”
That is an antisocial behavioursolutely correct aim that we must all work towards.
One of the EU’s six targets is to ensure tighter controls on invasive alien species—which Rob Gibson mentioned—and we have a lot of ground to make up on that front. I look out on to Loch Ken in Galloway from my home. That is a loch whose biodiversity has been almost completely destroyed by the frighteningly rapid and completely uncontrolled expansion of North American signal crayfish. Ironically, an ecosystem has been virtually wiped out in the Galloway and southern Ayrshire biosphere, which is now recognised by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization as a
“new way to demonstrate good nature conservation”.
I have to say that that is a slightly odd way of demonstrating it.
Of course, the problem is not just about crayfish; grey squirrels, Japanese knotweed and the imported trees and shrubs from which so many diseases come—the latest being ash dieback—have all impacted on our biodiversity. All those examples and many more suggest that our record is not terribly impressive and can be only improved—as it must be. I greatly look forward to the committee’s work on a huge issue that goes far beyond party politics and which is, in fact, about the future of our country and our planet, and the sort of country that we will bequeath to our children, our grandchildren and future generations.
I am very struck by a quotation from the Senegalese conservationist, Baba Dioum, who said:
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught”.
I suggest that we still have quite a lot of teaching to do. So far, we have made a bit of a mess of things. Let us hope that we do much better this time around.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
We move to open debate. We have very little time in hand to compensate for interventions. Speeches should be of six minutes.
- Angus MacDonald (Falkirk East) (SNP):
I am very pleased to contribute to the debate. Biodiversity should be at the top of the agenda for each and every one of us.
Hailing from a farming background in the Hebrides, I began to have an interest in this major issue when at an early age I became aware of the plight of the humble corncrake. However, as the member for Falkirk East, I have had my attention drawn to the biodiversity in my constituency from bacteria to bluebells, and from badgers to bats. To many people, Falkirk is just an inconvenient train station stop between Glasgow and Edinburgh—
Members: No it’s not!
- Angus MacDonald:
It is definitely not that.
People also think of the area as the glow-in-the-dark place where they make petrol. However, there is a lot more to Falkirk district than meets the eye, particularly when it comes to biodiversity.
My constituency is varied and ranges from prime agricultural land next to the River Forth to hill farms and moors in the south. We have a wide range of habitats, from saline lagoons, mudflats and salt marsh to lowland raised and intermediate bog, fen, marsh and swamp, canals, rivers and streams and heath—not to mention coal bings.
The local biodiversity action plan that has been developed by Falkirk Council and its partners has identified 20 priority habitats and 112 priority species that are of particular national and local ecological value and as such should be conserved locally. As far as mammals are concerned, we have the European otter, badgers, the brown hare and pipistrelle bats to name just four, and there is a myriad of bird species, invertebrates, flowering plants, ferns and lower plants. Of course, we should not forget the great crested newts, which have caused planners in Falkirk such a headache that on more than one occasion the animals have had to be rehomed in areas away from proposed developments.
Clearly biodiversity should be at the heart of our aim of having a more sustainable future. After all, a healthy and diverse natural environment is vital to our economic, social and spiritual wellbeing, both now and in the future. Sadly, with human activity placing ever-increasing demands on our natural resources, there has been a considerable decline in the numbers and health of many of our wild plants, animals and habitats over the past 100 years, so we have a shared responsibility to conserve and enhance our local biodiversity for the good of current and future generations.
Much work has been done in Falkirk district for that very reason. Indeed, a hidden gem in Grangemouth is the Jupiter urban wildlife centre, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. I thank members who signed my motion welcoming that milestone. The centre has come a long way since it opened and has, through the hard work and dedication of volunteers and staff, been transformed from a disused industrial wasteland into a green wildlife oasis with a great variety of wild flowers, woodland birds, fungi, insects and amphibians around the specially created ponds.
The reserve is a valuable educational and community resource and an inspirational place for children and adults from the local community to visit. It is also one of Scotland’s finest examples of the reclamation of disused industrial land for wildlife and people, and it attracts visitors from far and wide. That is no mean feat when we consider that its boundary fence is just yards from Grangemouth’s agrichemical industry. With that in mind, I invite the minister to visit that tremendous community resource at some point in the spring or summer, when the weather will, I hope, have improved.
In addition to the good work that is going on at Jupiter, significant grants have been awarded by Falkirk Environment Trust to local organisations in Falkirk district for projects to protect the environment, which are being delivered in partnership with a range of local agencies and communities. The projects have been particularly successful in securing funding from the landfill communities fund, which was discussed at an event that I sponsored in Parliament on Tuesday evening on making the most of the landfill tax. I thank MSPs who attended, including the minister. Their attendance was appreciated by the organisers, which were Scottish Environment LINK and the Scottish landfill communities fund forum.
Since 1998, Falkirk Environment Trust has secured and allocated about £3.5 million for local environmental projects. In the past year, grants have been awarded to various initiatives, including for the Dunmore Pineapple’s great crested newts, Westquarter glen environmental improvements, the River Avon restoration, River Carron invasive species action and the River Carron clean-up, to name but a few. I hope that those will continue. However, as the landfill tax does its job and reduces the amount of waste that is going to landfill, payments arising via the landfill tax will reduce considerably.
The good work In my constituency also includes the inner Forth landscape initiative, which has secured significant funding through the Heritage Lottery Fund’s landscape partnership programme. The programme is the result of the hard work and dedication of the partnership of RSPB Scotland, SNH, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Historic Scotland, the three Forth valley local authorities, Central Scotland Forest Trust, TCV—The Conservation Volunteers Scotland—and Sustrans. It is an excellent example of joint working and the joined-up thinking to which Alex Fergusson referred earlier. The intention of the partnership is to reveal the hidden cultural, historical and natural wealth of the upper reaches of the Firth of Forth, to restore and conserve important features, to open up access and, ultimately, to leave a legacy of a richer landscape and new facilities for all.
As members have heard, a great deal is going on in Falkirk district, when it comes to biodiversity.
I acknowledge that the 2010 targets were not met at EU, global and—of course—Scotland levels. It is clear that more must be done to stop the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services from Scotland and the EU by 2020. I am sure that we are all up for the challenge, so let us work together to ensure that we meet the 2020 targets.
- Jayne Baxter (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab):
As a very new member of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. Maintaining the biodiversity of the environment around us is important not only from an ecological perspective; it also plays a key role in economic, health and cultural outcomes. The Scottish Government’s aspiration to be a biodiversity leader presents a challenge, which is why I am pleased that the Scottish Government is seeking to update its biodiversity strategy.
Last night, I attended the Nordic horizons event in Parliament and heard about work that is being done at community level in Denmark and Shetland to achieve carbon-neutral economies. It was suggested that culture, legislation and approach are all major influences on the progress that is being made—or not made. However, whether and how local people are connected to the work also make a difference. The concept of local ownership and involvement is seen as changing local attitudes to what can otherwise seem to be rather remote and academic concepts. The idea that we derive benefit at local level can increase the engagement of local communities.
The key steps in the response analysis to the consultation on the 2020 challenge refer to providing opportunities for everyone in Scotland to engage with nature. Without that engagement, the legacy of achieving the targets may be short-lived. I wish to highlight three projects that show the opportunities and challenges of such an ambition.
Lochore Meadows country park is located in what was once called the central Fife coalfield, and is encircled by former mining towns and villages. The park was created as a result of an ambitious industrial landscape restoration project in the 1960s and 1970s, which transformed the Mary pit and its pit bings into a place where today we can fish, play, get active or just enjoy the tranquillity. Lochore Meadows is a thriving success story, drawing in more than half a million visitors a year, yet its reputation is little known to many people in the east of Scotland. Given that Lochore Meadows is located near Blairadam forest and Loch Leven, it offers obvious potential for economic development and regeneration in an area where those are much needed.
I mention the park because it is a brilliant example of partnership and community involvement. In the context of today’s debate, the diversity of the area is astounding. Members will be pleased to hear that I am not going to list the 982 species, many of which are protected, that have been recorded in the park over the past year. Pleasingly, the diversity of the area continues to grow, and the first badger sett in the area for 40 years has been reported in the park. Such success does not happen on its own, so I pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of the park’s staff and volunteers.
Educational projects are central to the work of the park, as are the partnerships between outdoor education staff and high schools in the area. Local people, too, are crucial to the park’s management, and volunteers undertake a range of biological monitoring, including bird counts and bumblebee surveys, as well as doing some hard toil in the park’s woodlands, where they have planted and maintain an entire orchard of traditional fruit varieties. It has been estimated that the park’s volunteers put in around 419 days’ work last year, which is a huge amount when we consider that a member of staff’s working year is estimated to amount to about 223 days.
The Ecology Centre in Kinghorn is another excellent place where local people come together. Through the efforts of some 60 volunteers, supported by 10 staff, the centre attracts an estimated 30,000 visitors a year. Some 6,000 people participate in the centre’s education programme each year, and it offers training opportunities for young people, through community jobs Scotland and ProjectScotland.
The centre is managed for local people and for wildlife. Its staff use the direct experience of the natural environment to improve people’s quality of life. An evaluation of the benefits to volunteers indicates that they include improved physical and mental health, increased social interaction and a better understanding of other generations. The centre has created and manages a wide range of habitats including marsh, woodlands, wildflower meadows and a pond. There are even a number of beehives on the site.
In the Scottish Government’s consultation document, the minister notes that he
“would like to see local communities seizing opportunities to manage and improve their local environment.”
That is a laudable aim, but although we have some great examples of that, we clearly need to do more to encourage communities to develop their own diversity projects and to empower them to identify biodiversity projects and translate them into funded schemes.
The Fife Environment Trust exists to distribute to environmental and community projects funds that are generated locally from landfill taxes. The grants that are available to community groups under the biodiversity category are widely advertised, but the majority of applications are for smaller capital expenditure projects, such as play parks or improvements to buildings. Those are great projects to support, but it is slightly disappointing that communities do not seem to have the knowledge or the confidence to take forward biodiversity projects on their own, despite a willingness on the part of the trust to fund such work. I hope that we will see a change in that regard.
I am pleased that the committee is taking the opportunity to consider the analysis of the responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation, and I welcome any steps that the country can take to meet the global challenge of meeting biodiversity targets.
- Aileen McLeod (South Scotland) (SNP):
I, too, congratulate the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee for its motion on biodiversity. It is particularly appropriate that we are discussing biodiversity at the start of this year of natural Scotland.
As other members have said, biodiversity is crucial. We face a challenge—not just internationally and nationally, but locally—in protecting biodiversity and reversing the continuing degradation of our ecosystems. Scotland has led from the front on climate change legislation and we have, too—in my opinion—an opportunity to take a lead in halting biodiversity loss.
Globally, the UN is making renewed efforts to protect and restore biodiversity by 2020 through a 10-year plan, at the centre of which sit the so-called Aichi targets. The EU’s commitment in that regard is underlined by the EU 2020 biodiversity strategy, which sets six very clear targets and a framework for concrete action that is designed to reduce greatly by 2020 the threats to biodiversity in the EU.
Of course, the work on an international scale will only be as good as the work on the local level, where more needs to be done. I would like to highlight just two things from the richly biodiverse region of Dumfries and Galloway in South Scotland, with which I am most familiar. I want to focus, in particular, on the Galloway and southern Ayrshire biosphere, which is now a UNESCO site and part of its man and the biosphere programme. It is the first in Scotland; it is the only site of its kind. As well as being huge—covering an area of 52,000km, or 7 per cent of the total land area of Scotland—it has a population of 95,000 people, an estimated 30,000 jobs within its area and more than 1 million visitors every year.
In my view, the strength of the biosphere approach is in how it brings together all sorts of organisations—27 at the moment—to work collaboratively, and how it is laid out and designated. The biosphere has three zones: its central core, which is the area of prime conservation interest; a wider buffer zone, much of which falls within the Galloway forest park; and the outer transition zone, where most of the population live and work. That is crucial: it is not one big exclusion zone but a place where people co-exist with their environment and where people and nature both benefit from integrated land use.
That is not just a concept. It is backed up with the meaningful involvement of a wide range of stakeholders, from local fisheries trusts and SNH to the University of Glasgow and the Crichton carbon centre in Dumfries, with a vigorous emphasis on the importance of engagement and activity coming from the ground up rather than from the top down.
The biosphere also connects with the apparently distant international drives towards protecting our biodiversity and relates them to work at local level—whether it be investigating carbon offsetting through woodland creation with the Crichton carbon centre or looking at sustainable approaches to drinking-water catchment management with Scottish Water.
Although the biosphere received UNESCO recognition only a few months ago, its holistic approach to biodiversity is worthy of further consideration by the Government, particularly in terms of its potential to facilitate and encourage community-led, local sustainable development and conservation. I am also aware that the biosphere is seeking inclusion in national planning framework 3 as a national project. I ask the Government to look favourably upon its proposal.
In addition to our red squirrels, which I am always keen to champion, Dumfries and Galloway has another great natural asset in the Solway Firth area, which is home to two European marine sites and a wide variety of diverse habitats, landscape and conservation designations. More than 130 fish species have been recorded in the Solway. There are commercially important king and queen scallop fisheries, and about 10 species of marine mammals, including bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises, have also been recorded.
The Solway Firth Partnership works with fishing and conservation interests and in this, as with the biosphere, balance is everything. In keeping with the spirit of the biosphere is the view that the Solway Firth Partnership accepts the importance of biodiversity. That view is best expressed, in my opinion, by the partnership’s Pam Taylor, who said that to address biodiversity conservation successfully requires an understanding that everyone has something to gain from adequately protecting the environment. That statement gets to the heart of the matter.
I have had time to highlight only two initiatives from a region that is packed full of energy and interest in protecting the natural environment—enough, indeed, for a debate in its own right. However, I hope that I have highlighted two approaches that I believe have great potential; that work should happen from the bottom up and come from as broad a base as possible; and that everyone has something to gain from protecting the environment.
I welcome the committee’s focus on the issue and I look forward to the Government updating its current biodiversity strategy, which will help this country to play its part in halting biodiversity loss by 2020, working together with our European and international partners.
- Claudia Beamish (South Scotland) (Lab):
I thank Rob Gibson, as convener of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, for his wide-ranging remarks at the start of the debate.
The continued loss of biodiversity has been called Europe’s “silent crisis”. However, members will be all too aware of the importance of sustaining a viable level of biodiversity—not only in Scottish ecosystems but globally. Ensuring that our ecosystems remain as diverse as possible is essential, not only for environmental reasons but to sustain the Scottish economy, a great deal of which is built on the foundations of our natural environment.
As the minister stressed, there is also the intrinsic value of biodiversity. This morning, I heard a nightingale singing on my way to the bus and anyone standing among bluebells in the RSPB reserve at Creetown or beside the Falls of Clyde, near Lanark, or picking fruit from a tree that they have planted, knows that feeling—the pleasure that the natural landscape can bring. In all those contexts, I welcome the publication of the Scottish Government’s consultation on biodiversity, in which respondents raised a number of very important points.
As Rob Gibson highlighted, the formation of the Convention on Biological Diversity was based on scientific research that produced “unequivocal evidence” that a fall in species numbers has a profoundly negative effect on ecosystem efficiency. The most striking conclusion found in that body of evidence is:
“The impacts of diversity loss on ecological processes might be sufficiently large to rival the impacts of many other global drivers of environmental change.”
Climate change caused by unsustainable levels of carbon emission is not the only man-made impact on the environment that we must address. Scottish Environment LINK has urged the Scottish Government to prioritise biodiversity conservation, and I add my voice to that call, as other members have done today. Indeed, the scientific evidence suggests that a high level of biodiversity may help to offset the effects of climate change. In 2010, Parliament took the decision to commit to ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions. I recognise that biodiversity does not attract the same level of public attention as climate change might, but I argue that a similar commitment must be shown if we are to meet our targets, as other members have also stressed.
Ecosystem services also have a great importance to the Scottish economy. According to statistics provided by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, the natural environment contributes roughly £21 billion per annum to Scottish economic output and supports 242,000 jobs. That is by no means a paltry amount, and its significance should not be disregarded.
Like Jayne Baxter and Angus MacDonald, I want to encourage more individual and community engagement on biodiversity, which could yield results that are perhaps more immediately recognisable than efforts to reduce climate change. To give a personal example, our Lawson cypress hedge did not survive the bitter cold of two winters past. It was a challenge to dig it out and prepare the ground for the native species hedge—mostly done by my partner, I have to admit—but last weekend we planted blackthorn, hawthorn, wild rose and holly. We look forward, in winters ahead, to seeing birds feasting on the range of colourful berries, not to mention a quick sip of sloe gin.
I believe that individual action, when put together, has a major significance, but for that to happen widely we need a national awareness-raising campaign on how we can do that. Biodiversity is one of the 10 topics in the eco-schools programme. In my own school at Braehead, where I worked previously, we investigated the raised peat bog of Braehead Moss that was behind the school. With the input of a local artist, the children made a large tapestry, claiming an animal or plant as their own to depict. Through that, they understood the urgency of protecting the moss.
Such experiences feed into collective action, and there are already many community-based projects, as other members have highlighted. I want to highlight a Scottish Wildlife Trust project that has been very proactive in this area in the Nethan Gorge reserve in South Lanarkshire, where the trust works predominantly with unemployed people to give them practical training in conservation work.
Access to land for community biodiversity projects, which no member has mentioned specifically so far, is certainly an issue for local communities. However, lateral thinking can often prove its worth. On Monday, I saw that on a visit to Fintry, where the development trust showed me its community orchard, which is planted on a strip of land between the rugby pitch and the road.
As highlighted in the consultation, the need for funding is a frequently recurring and utterly vital theme. Members may recall my interest—shared by other members—in preserving bee populations, my motion on which received cross-party support. As Rob Gibson highlighted, as part of our committee’s deliberations we will look at the concerns about neonicotinoids that have been highlighted by the European Union this week.
Scottish Environment LINK states:
“in order to protect, and where appropriate enhance, the health of the Scottish Marine environment (a Ministerial duty under the Marine Act) we highlight the need for a three pillared approach to marine nature conservation: species conservation, site conservation and wider seas policies and measures”.
I am, indeed, a sea trout champion—I must admit shamefacedly that that is not my first choice, but it is an important role for species support that I am pleased to do, and I encourage other members to do the same.
It is essential that we develop the theme from the debate and the committee’s inquiry. As the consultation states, we need to define the
“roles and responsibilities and timescales for key steps and actions”,
so that our EU targets can be met in the future.
- Nigel Don (Angus North and Mearns) (SNP):
I must confess that, when I first heard that I would be speaking in the debate, I thought that I would get close to discussing life, the universe and at least half of everything. On reflection, it occurred to me, as the MSP for Angus North and Mearns, that I could talk about the Montrose Basin, the North and South Esk , the Glen Esk estates and, of course, the prime farming land of the Mearns, but I am not going to, because I want to pick up on some general principles that we might otherwise miss.
The consultation sets out the three overarching aims, which are to
“increase the general level of biodiversity on land and in our seas, and support healthy, well-functioning ecosystems; ... engage people with the natural world, for the health and well-being benefits that this brings, and empower them to have a say in decisions about their environment;”
“maximise the benefits for Scotland of a diverse natural environment and the services it provides, contributing to sustainable economic growth.”
My problem is that, although I think that members know what the biodiversity debate is about, most of our fellow citizens do not. To quote Douglas Adams in “Life, the Universe and Everything”:
“The Somebody Else’s Problem field is much simpler and more effective, and what’s more can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery. This is because it relies on people’s natural disposition not to see anything they don’t want to, weren’t expecting, or can’t explain.”
There is a warning to us in there. Somewhere in the various pieces of paper that members have been given, I think that it has been suggested that there are 90,000 species in this country. Most of those are not big. We cannot conceivably do enough research to get past the grouse, the deer, the sheep and the red squirrel; we are simply never going to understand in any significant detail the bugs, the beetles and the algae. We must therefore recognise that there is one thing above all other that we must do: preserve the diversity of habitats, because we will never know quite what is in them. If we take habitats away, we will lose the things that specifically belong to them.
We must involve people, because it is the people whom we represent who empower us to do the work that needs to be done. If members will forgive me, I have picked an example that has nothing to do with Scotland. It comes from a blog and it relates to England—there is no political purpose in that, but it is convenient that it does not say anything about the relevant local authority in Scotland. If refers—probably for the second time in the debate—to nightingales.
In his blog, George Monbiot—I hope that I have pronounced his name properly—refers to a place called Lodge Hill, in Gillingham, in Kent, where the local council is proposing to take over an area, remove a wood and build 5,000 houses. It just so happens that there are a significant number of nightingales in that wood. It would appear that the UK Government believes in a thing called biodiversity offsetting, which means that it is allowable to build such a housing estate as long as one generates what is, apparently, a similar environment close by where the same quantity of nightingales could, perhaps, be established. The blog states:
“‘Offsetting could work in principle for nightingales in Kent—it is technically feasible but it is neither straightforward nor guaranteed.
If a site of around 500 hectares were found ... a similar number of nightingales might be established itself there.”
Do we feel that that is a good way to go? Lots of people do not. How on earth are they getting themselves into that mess? The blog has, helpfully, had a contribution from a planner. He is not, I think, from the local authority concerned but, nonetheless, he makes the following points, which I make to show the problems that we might get into. He says:
“The local authority is required to allocate a certain number of housing sites, and they have to pick the least worst option in a crowded part of England … Despite giving priority to the allocation of housing sites within the urban area, it is also necessary to identify greenfield sites outside the urban boundary in order to meet the housing requirements in Policy H1 of the Kent Structure Plan.”
There follows a substantial paragraph that includes terms such as “Green Belt”, “Natural Beauty” and “Strategic Gaps”, as well as all kinds of policy decisions.
Unless the people we represent recognise the priorities of the environment, there is a serious risk that we and the councils will come up with strategies that look wonderful on paper but enable us to make the kind of horrific mistake that that council in England might be prepared to make in saying that a wood can be taken away for houses because we believe that we can put a similar wood somewhere else. It is obvious nonsense when we describe it like that.
That takes me straight back to my central point: we must, above all else, protect the diversity of habitats because, by and large, we do not know much about what is going on in them.
- Jim Hume (South Scotland) (LD):
It is not possible to separate Scotland’s economy and environment. Scotland’s biodiversity is what sells the country, and not only for the obvious industries, such as tourism and golf. It is the most important marketing tool for promoting our successful whisky industry and fine textiles, which rightly sell at a premium throughout the world.
It is therefore of concern that Scotland failed to meet the 2010 biodiversity targets. It is more concerning that Scotland is not alone in failing to meet those targets, but the Parliament is about holding the Scottish Government to account, so we are concerned about how seriously the Government takes the situation, especially as there have been year-on-year reductions in projects such as agri-environment schemes, which are a useful tool to aid biodiversity.
Although we have missed the 2010 target, new targets for 2020 are on the horizon. There is little doubt that a step change is needed for those to be achieved.
One of my concerns is that we have a minister who is responsible for the environment but—I mean no criticism of him—biodiversity and climate change should be the responsibility not of a single minister but of all Government departments and, for that matter, broader society.
Scottish Environment LINK noted in its briefing paper that we should reverse decline in the quality of heathland. I am sure that we all agree with that. However, there are threats on the horizon. Heathland and its wide biodiversity exist due to careful grazing of the land. We are a farmed nation and have been for centuries—I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests—but there are recent cases in which a cessation of farming has led to a loss of biodiversity.
In a rush to aid biodiversity, and with the impending changes to, and greening of, the common agricultural policy, we must be careful to remember that heathland needs grazing to prevent vigorous plant life from overtaking some of our precious indigenous plants. Without grazing, Darwinism would come into play: the strong would survive and outgrow our precious smaller plants such as butterwort, grass of Parnassus and sundew.
In the committee, we discussed the fact that ash dieback, which Alex Fergusson has briefly mentioned today, is now a reality in Scotland. I mentioned that the full extent of the disease’s spread may be unknown until next June or July due to the lateness of ash coming into leaf. The lateness of leaf and the light shade provide an ideal situation for many of our woodland ground plants to flourish underneath the ash canopy, and it would be difficult to replicate that with another arboreal plant.
Ash is one of our most common trees. It is a vigorous grower in wet or dry soils. Because of its extensive and fast-growing roots, it is often used for flood prevention—it is used to naturally bind riverbanks, preventing erosion. That is important, given the ever-increasing flooding that we are experiencing, and the fact that we have just had the wettest year on record.
Ash is also a tree of historic and spiritual significance, as many in the chamber will know. It was held in respect by the Norse religion, which held it to be the tree of life, or Yggdrasil. The Norse believed that the first humans sprang from that tree. Now, of course, that tree of life faces death, as 90 per cent of ash trees in Denmark have died from dieback. It is a real threat.
Ash is not only of historic and spiritual significance, it is also one of the few hardwoods that are of any commercial use. It is used in the production of the classic British car, the Morgan; bows, hurleys and traditional shinty sticks; and even some Fender Stratocaster guitars, believe it or not. Further, as anyone who uses firewood knows, ash is the best wood for burning, whether freshly cut or stored for some time—in fact, there is an old saying that goes, “Green or old, ash should be bought and never sold.”
There is a looming threat to our biodiversity. Recently, there have been a plethora of outbreaks of tree diseases, such as sudden oak death and Dutch elm disease. Of course, the danger comes not only from tree diseases but from developments such as the arrival of the New Zealand flatworm. We therefore have to ask whether policy has in any way been responsible. I think that, unfortunately, it perhaps has. We can all trace the pest introductions to imports and, with the surge in planting due to the schemes that have been introduced by various Governments, much of our plant stock is coming in from the continent. Have we tried to expand forest cover too quickly? Has the full potential of this opportunity been realised in Scotland? Have we encouraged the supply industry to get to a situation in which it does not have to import planting stock? There is an issue of simple biosecurity.
I support calls from the likes of the Scottish Wildlife Trust for an action plan for tree health. From that, there could be an opportunity for a larger home-grown tree nursery industry.
- Paul Wheelhouse:
Will the member give way?
- Jim Hume:
- The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott):
The member is in his last minute, so I ask you to be brief.
- Paul Wheelhouse:
I support the member’s call for action on ash dieback, and I will refer to that later. However, could he remind me who has responsibility for import controls in this country?
- Jim Hume:
I was not criticising any Government. I am trying to say that, if Scotland could build up its home-grown tree nursery industry, we would not have to import so many trees. The oil industry grew to the point at which we could not produce our own steel pipes, so we had to import them from Japan. We are perhaps in a similar situation with our tree industry. If we could build up our home-grown tree industry, we could perhaps address the biodiversity problem.
- Fiona McLeod (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP):
I would like to concentrate on peatlands. The minister and Rob Gibson, the convener of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, have already spoken about the importance of peatlands and biodiversity. The convener gave us a lot of figures on peatlands, and members should expect me to add to them, because the importance of peatlands must be recognised.
It is said that a third of the world’s entire terrestrial carbon deposits are held in peat bogs. Each peat bog can contain 5,000 tonnes of carbon per hectare, and each peat bog absorbs 0.7 tonnes of carbon per hectare per year. That shows just how important peatlands and peat bogs are in our fight against global climate change.
Of course, Scotland has a globally unique and important position in that regard. Four per cent of Europe’s total peat carbon is in Scotland, along with 15 per cent of the world’s blanket peat bogs. Of the 175 peatland nations across the world, Scotland is 12th. Those figures and facts further demonstrate how important our peatlands are to the world, not only to Scotland.
Of course, I cannot mention the subject without talking about my constituency—Strathkelvin and Bearsden. Across East Dunbartonshire, we have seven lowland peat bogs, and Strathkelvin and Bearsden has four of them. We have Lenzie Moss, which is a site of importance for nature conservation, or SINC—someone might have to help me on whether that is the correct term. In Bishopbriggs, we have Low Moss, High Moss and the smaller Cadder Yard.
I spend a lot of time walking on the mosses. People start to get affectionately close to their local peat bog, and then they learn about the threats to it. In the past, the threats included the extraction of peat for commercial use in our gardens. I learned about that 20 years ago and, as a keen gardener, I gave up using peat and used alternatives.
I have been involved in dealing with the encroachment of birch trees on Lenzie Moss. Our peatlands are not just natural and to be left to get on with it; we must manage them to ensure that they can do their job. Birch trees encroach incredibly rapidly on peat. I have been there and done that—I have tried hacking down birch trees and digging them up. That is a terrible job, but it must be done.
The threat in my constituency increasingly involves building on our peatlands, about which we have heard from others. We must ask why we are doing that. The issue in my area involves building housing. Nigel Don gave an example from down in England, but my problem is that somebody wants to build houses on Lenzie Moss.
When we look at such threats and problems, I always look at our priorities. What is the worth of the peatland or bog? Does it have worth for commercial profit or as part of global health? Increasingly, we should not look at commercial profit from such pieces of land, because they are worth more than they can ever make for housing. Their worth is in what they can deliver to help us to combat climate change across the planet. I recognise Scotland’s significant position in that regard.
To realise the worth of peatlands as carbon sinks, I have a suggestion, which I must tell the minister comes from my love of the bogs rather than my knowledge of how any such proposal would work. I will take the opportunity to make the suggestion and see whether it is possible.
Nigel Don gave an example of offsetting that sounded ludicrous, but I wonder about using our peat bogs for carbon offsetting and giving them a financial worth, so that they can become part of carbon trading. Those who wanted to preserve, say, Lenzie Moss could say to the folk who want to sell it for house building, “Okay—you’d make £X million from selling the land for housing, but you could use it to allow the house builder to offset carbon emissions, which could make money to preserve the bog.” I do not know whether that idea is possible, but it sounds like a win-win situation.
I would like to make our aims happen, because peatlands and peat bogs are important for the planet and are good for local flood defences. They are a living natural archive of everything that has gone on for hundreds of thousands of years in our areas. I cannot finish without reminding us all that peat gives whisky its distinctive taste, and we do not want to lose that, do we?
- Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Lab):
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s debate on biodiversity. Biodiversity measures the health of ecosystems, which are in effect the foundations for all life on earth. It is therefore extremely important to maintain and vary our biodiversity to promote growth in ecosystems and maintain stability.
According to Scottish Environment LINK’s briefing, the
“has been called ‘Europe’s silent crisis’”,
and it certainly is a crisis. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, for example, has estimated that one out of eight bird species could face extinction, as could one out of four mammals; that 75 per cent of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops has been lost; and that more than 350 million people suffer from severe water scarcity. Those effects are not, of course, all the effects of losing biodiversity; they are just a few varied examples to highlight the type of problems that we will face if we allow the situation to continue.
The Scottish biodiversity list, which was published in October 2012, lists 160 species that are at risk of extinction. Those species range from plants, mammals, insects and fish to birds. Further, the progress report for the period 2008 to 2010 on “Scotland’s Biodiversity: It’s in Your Hands” identified 15 targets in respect of which there is room for improvement or which have been missed, out a total of 37 targets that are based on the European biodiversity action plan framework. The report also notes that, although progress has been made on certain key indicators,
“progress towards meeting Scotland’s biodiversity targets demonstrate that biodiversity loss has not yet been halted and will require renewed and sustained effort over a longer period.”
That said, the United Kingdom Government is also failing to meet its biodiversity targets. Therefore, we all need to do more to ensure that we protect and promote our natural environment both on land and in the sea. That is one reason why we need to ensure that the marine station at Millport stays open.
I welcome the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s examination of the analysis of the responses to the Scottish Government’s consultation on the 2020 challenge for Scotland’s biodiversity and its consideration of how we will ensure that we meet the Aichi biodiversity targets and highlight the issue of biodiversity while providing practical initiatives so that people at home can play their part and work towards a more sustainable Scotland. However, we need to lead from the front and ensure that protecting, maintaining and raising the awareness of biodiversity get the policy platform that they deserve. I hope that the Government can rise to that challenge against a backdrop of global inaction.
It has already been said that we need to promote partnership to protect biodiversity. North Ayrshire Council, South Ayrshire Council and East Ayrshire Council, for example, have developed an Ayrshire local biodiversity action plan, which serves to ensure that those three local authorities will work towards the same goals while tackling issues that would be impossible for any one local authority to deal with.
There is no quick fix, but through education, partnership and strong leadership, we can start to reverse the destruction of our ecosystems. North Ayrshire Council and many other local authorities now have eco-schools, and have incorporated into the curriculum teaching about the importance of the environment. I hope that, in time, that will provide the necessary step change that is needed to raise awareness of the issue.
Eglinton park in North Ayrshire is an invaluable resource to have on our doorstep. A number of biodiversity projects operate in the park area, and the rangers and the countryside liaison officer also have considerable input into the eco-schools, grounds for learning and John Muir awards projects. That educational remit is also carried into the local community. There is work with youth and community groups, and guided walks and illustrated talks are used to strengthen the message.
Such practical examples reveal that work is being done to protect and show the importance of biodiversity. They also get local communities involved, which gives them the sense of responsibility that we need to instil in the public. Where possible, the same approach should be adopted in other areas, and there should be work with those responsible for local parks and green areas so that they engage with the local community and help to increase awareness.
It seems that no one is fully pulling their weight on biodiversity issues so far. I would like to see stronger leadership from the Government on the issue. Crucially, we also need to work with local authorities to develop programmes at the grass-roots level so that people do not feel disconnected from the issue. Our environment is all around us, and we all have a part to play in protecting and maintaining it.
- Richard Lyle (Central Scotland) (SNP):
As has been noted in the debate, Scotland missed its biodiversity target for 2010, although we were not alone, as the target was missed at global and EU levels. However, that does not mean that we cannot go on to be a world leader by 2020, as is our stated goal.
- Hanzala Malik (Glasgow) (Lab):
I thank the member for taking an intervention so early in his speech. Does he agree that, rather than have an annual check to monitor progress, we should perhaps have six-monthly checks, which would focus us and, I hope, help us to regain lost ground?
- Richard Lyle:
I am sure that the minister will cover that in his summing-up speech, but I do not disagree with the point.
The missed target of 2010 should act as the motivation for the Government and the country as a whole to reach our goals for 2020. As always, our goals are ambitious and will not be easy to achieve but, with Government departments and public bodies working together with renewed vigour, the targets should be met, and Scotland will be a world leader in biodiversity.
Biodiversity is particularly important to Scotland. As has been said, about 90,000 species live within our borders. Just as important as the sheer number of species are the habitats and scenery that help to make up our world-renowned landscape. Let us be clear that our unique landscape is an asset that we must maintain. The European habitats directive lists 160 conservation priority habitats, of which Scotland is home to 65. Because of Scotland’s climate and landform, many species are at the extreme of their range or are living in atypical habitats, which in turn has led to many of them adapting and becoming local varieties.
As a member of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, I welcome the debate. I have seen for myself the wide range of environments that Scotland offers, ranging from its heather moorland, upland blanket bog and lowland raised bog to its freshwater and seawater lochs. All those must be protected, as I am led to believe that the natural environment is worth £21 billion to £23 billion per year to the Scottish economy. That figure might seem high to some people, but the loss of any significant part of our biodiversity is incalculable and would have a devastating knock-on effect on a number of industries that rely on our biodiversity to survive, such as our booming tourist industry, which employs more than 9 per cent of the workforce in Scotland. Further, the figure does not take into account the advantages that contact with outdoor places has for our physical and mental wellbeing.
Because of past failings, some of our biodiversity has been lost; unfortunately, biodiversity continues to be lost, although thankfully at a slower rate because of better management of the various threats. It is important that we find a balance between our social, economic and environmental needs to protect Scotland’s biodiversity. It is important that we conserve what we have and do what we can to stop the continual erosion of our biodiversity, because it is far cheaper to maintain nature’s capacity to provide vital services that contribute to our economy than it would be to have to replace that at some point in future.
To improve on our current biodiversity, we cannot focus only on one aspect of our diverse wildlife or an individual habitat, as most wildlife depends on a complex environment. Therefore, we need to look at the bigger picture and to enhance our entire biodiversity, which in turn will enhance our economic and social wellbeing. As has been said, that will require Government departments to work closely with outside organisations such as the RSPB, Plantlife and Scottish Land & Estates.
To reach our targets for 2020, we will need to engage more people with biodiversity, so that they can enjoy—and encourage others to enjoy—Scotland’s unique environment and reap the economic benefits that it provides, and so that that can continue for generations to come.
Biodiversity must be brought into the mainstream of public interest; it must no longer be regarded as a specialist issue that the majority of people cannot enjoy or influence. It is important that we do everything possible to maintain and enhance Scotland’s biodiversity, so that we can not only meet the targets for 2020 but ensure that one of Scotland’s most important resources is not wasted, depriving Scotland’s future generations of the economic and health advantages of our rich biodiversity.
In the early 1970s I saw a film that brought home to me what could happen in the next 100 years. I recommend that members purchase the film—I do not know whether Blockbuster will sell it before it closes. The futuristic film, “Soylent Green”, shows what will happen to the world if we do not preserve our environment. I recommend it, and I support the motion.
- Elaine Murray (Dumfriesshire) (Lab):
I am pleased to take part in a debate that gives me the opportunity to be parochial, because Dumfries and Galloway is fortunate in having rich and, in some cases, unique biodiversity, which brings benefits to environmental services, leisure and tourism, landscape, health and wellbeing, and business and agriculture.
I am aware that the Scottish Government has undertaken a consultation in light of the national and international failure to meet biodiversity targets and that many organisations have made recommendations. However, preservation of species diversity is not solely the responsibility of national Governments; actions at local authority and individual level play an important part. That was recognised in Dumfries and Galloway back in 1999, when Dumfries and Galloway Council, with partners, published its first local biodiversity action plan. It was one of the first such plans to be published in Scotland and it went on to win a couple of prestigious awards. Since then, more than 80 organisations have joined the biodiversity partnership, and a revised and updated biodiversity action plan was published in 2009.
The native red squirrel is perhaps one of the most iconic rare species in my constituency. It is a great privilege to see the animals in their natural environment and this is a particularly good time of year for spotting them, as the foliage is less dense and the animals are more inclined to venture near human populations to look for food. I was therefore disturbed to receive a letter this week from my former colleague John Home Robertson, advising that the population of red squirrels round his home, Paxton, has succumbed to squirrel pox. Members who knew John when he was a member of the Parliament will recall how passionate he is about the red squirrels who regularly come into his garden to feed.
Squirrel pox virus appears to be spreading quickly through the south of Scotland and has already been detected in parts of Dumfriesshire. I am worried that the delightful spectacle of a Dumfriesshire red squirrel dashing up the side of a pine tree will become a mere recollection. John Home Robertson is asking us to consider a vaccination programme. He points out that the Moredun Research Institute has undertaken research on a vaccine but requires further funding to make a vaccine a possibility. I hope that the minister, who is a member for South Scotland, will be able to take the suggestion forward. I would be happy to meet him, John Home Robertson and interested members to discuss the matter.
Scottish Environment LINK recently asked MSPs to sign its wildlife proclamation and, as Rob Gibson said, SWT asked us to volunteer as species champions. The debate gives me the opportunity to champion my chosen species, the natterjack toad, which I chose because the inner Solway is an important habitat for it. Although as a child I was keen on all the animals that little girls were expected to like, I was also very attracted to animals that had a bad press. Wee girls were not expected to like snakes, rats, frogs and toads. My mum did not fancy having snakes or rats as pets—she did not share my enthusiasm for them—and my frog and toad tadpoles that made it to maturity always hopped off to find another pool once their hind legs had developed. Perhaps in championing the natterjack toad I can do something to help.
The natterjack toad, bufo calamita, requires a high density of pools in which to mature and breed. It has a long breeding season but it requires unshaded, shallow pools, which dry out easily. It also requires low vegetation on surrounding land, so that it can hunt, because it runs rather than hops. It needs sand to burrow into, to avoid predators and extreme temperatures—not that extreme temperatures are a problem in the inner Solway.
The merse—or upper saltmarsh—pools of the inner Solway provide a habitat in which the natterjack toad can thrive. The salt water is sufficiently dilute to enable the tadpoles to survive and the area is grazed by agricultural animals and the flocks of barnacle geese that overwinter on the Solway. However, a variety of conservation measures must be taken to preserve the correct habitat for the natterjack, including creating new pools, maintaining existing breeding sites, encouraging the maintenance of traditional grazing and, where feasible, introducing spawn to new sites in suitable locations. Those conservation actions are undertaken by a variety of individuals and organisations, including the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, SNH, RSPB and local landowners.
Natterjacks, in common with other amphibians, are particularly prone to mortality on roads. Warm roads are attractive to cold-blooded creatures on cold nights; also, natterjacks attempt to access pools on the other side of a road. The natterjack knows why it crossed the road, and it was not just to get to the other side. Road mortality can be addressed, however, by the creation of new pools on the same side of a road, by deploying temporary fences or traps to collect the animals and by creating wildlife tunnels under roads. Volunteer toad patrols can be deployed during mass migrations in spring and autumn to assist the animals to reach their breeding pools safely. The measures that can be deployed to conserve that one species illustrate how complex conservation measures can be and how reliant they are on partnership working and shared understanding and education.
It is, of course, disappointing that targets for halting the loss of biodiversity have not been met. We all need to redouble our efforts nationally, locally and individually to stem the decline. We need to understand and address how the loss of habitat and man-made obstacles stand in the way of the survival of so many precious land and marine-based species.
- Annabelle Ewing (Mid Scotland and Fife) (SNP):
I, too, am pleased to have been called to speak in this debate on biodiversity. As we have heard, it is indeed a most timely debate in light of the fact that the Scottish Government is in the process of updating the biodiversity strategy, further to the recent consultation that it engaged in, to which members have referred. I am also pleased that the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee will play a key role in examining the updated biodiversity policy. I believe that that is entirely appropriate and, having until recently had the pleasure of being the deputy convener of the committee, I know that the committee members will discharge their duties impeccably.
The debate is also timely because, as a few speakers in the debate have said, we have already seen the launch in 2013 of the year of natural Scotland. It is a Scottish Government initiative, with SNH as lead partner working with VisitScotland, EventScotland and various partner organisations on the ground; its aim is of course to promote Scotland’s stunning natural beauty and biodiversity and to promote opportunities for visitors to enjoy Scotland’s fantastic landscapes, wildlife and heritage. It is therefore entirely fitting that we are exploring issues of biodiversity, focusing on how we can seek to meet the various challenges ahead, which speakers in the debate have discussed in some detail.
I stress that, as much as the natural world is, as we have heard, a significant contributor to Scotland’s economic growth, it is in and of itself a key part of life and it adds to our quality of life. The importance of the natural world has long been recognised in Scotland. For example, we have heard the words of the naturalist Frank Fraser Darling, as quoted by Rob Gibson, the convener of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee; we have heard the words of John Muir, the conservation pioneer, as quoted by the minister; and, to give an international outlook, we have heard the words of a famous Senegalese conservationist, as quoted by Alex Fergusson. As we are coming into the Burns season, it might be appropriate to quote the bard himself, who wrote in his world famous poem “To a Mouse”:
“I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken Nature’s social union”.
Robert Burns revered nature. I suppose it is debatable whether he revered nature as much as he revered the lassies, but perhaps that is a debate for another day.
However, the need that Robert Burns expressed so well for living in harmony with the natural world is one that I believe is shared by most people. It is important to say that it is certainly the case that, down through the centuries, our farmers and crofters have acted as stewards of the land and that they continue to do so. They have always sought to secure a balance between our ecological systems and land management. Indeed, if it had not been for their stewardship, we would not see today the wide diversity of our natural world, which is there for all to enjoy. Jim Hume mentioned the discussions on greening the CAP, and it is important to stress that, as far as Scotland is concerned, the measures are unworkable. Surely that flags up the dangers to biodiversity that the implementation of the greening measures as they stand would cause for our landscape in Scotland and the promotion of greater biodiversity. I believe that we should resist them forcibly.
It has been recognised this afternoon that we have not met targets—along with just about everybody else in the world, but that does not make it right—so we have to strive to do better. Many speakers have recognised that that is an issue for each of us as well as for our local authorities and our Governments. That means that we need to listen carefully to the views that are expressed by all those who have knowledge and experience and therefore have something to contribute to the debate on how we can do more to preserve and maintain Scotland’s biodiversity.
An example of good practice can be seen in the biodiversity work that is undertaken by the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park Authority, which launched its first biodiversity action plan for 2008 to 2011 and refreshed the plan more recently in its “National Park Partnership Plan 2012-2017”. In that work, there is recognition that the valued biodiversity of the park has been greatly shaped by the traditional land uses of food production and, indeed, field sports. With that underlying recognition, the stated goal is—I quote from the foreword to the 2008 to 2011 plan by the chief executive of the park authority—
“to combine the benefits from that long history of land management with the more recent concept of biodiversity.”
The chief executive went on to state:
“If we get it right, we can maintain a living, working landscape while also producing more robust and more self-sustaining ecosystems on a large scale that have a greater capacity to remain viable in the long-term in the face of climate change and other pressures.”
That is the goal that we should all be striving for.
I end with a point that most members have mentioned in their speeches. More education is needed for us all—for our children in schools, but also through less traditional channels in order to reach as wide an audience as possible—on the crucial need to change behaviour to promote and secure greater biodiversity.
- Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green):
In 2009, a team of 29 distinguished environmental and earth systems scientists sat down to work out how far human activity is stretching our planet’s ability to sustain life. They identified nine ways in which human activity has stressed and undermined what they call the “planetary life-support systems” that are vital to the healthy functioning of the planet and central to supporting the stable environment that has allowed humanity to flourish. For two of the stressors that were identified—chemical pollution and atmospheric aerosols—there is not enough data or understanding to assess how serious they are. For the rest, estimates could be made.
Our use of fresh water and land is approaching the planetary limit. In some oceans, acidification is already too high. On climate change, scientists estimate that we have pushed ourselves just over the limit. Until a few years ago, the same was true of ozone, but we have successfully turned the tide on that problem and the ozone layer is slowly recovering. However, the news on biodiversity is not good, with the estimates being off the scale on the group’s graph.
It is in that context that our aims for biodiversity mention halting the decline. The Government’s national performance framework uses the abundance of terrestrial breeding birds as an indicator of biodiversity. Unfortunately, progress has not been good, with abundance in 2010 being 4 per cent lower than in 2009 and 2 per cent lower than in 2006. As others have noted, as with the recent climate change target, we and others did not achieve the 2010 biodiversity target, so I welcome the opportunity to debate the refresh of the strategy and the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee’s planned work on the topic.
What needs to change to help to halt the loss of Scottish species and maintain our reputation for beautiful wild places, plants and animals? As Rob Gibson noted, 2013 is the year of natural Scotland. What better way to mark it than with a step change in our efforts?
It is important that people can feel a connection with the natural environment—if that is lost there will be no public desire to protect our biodiversity. TV programmes such as David Attenborough’s “Africa” are stunning, but they are not sufficient to create that connection. Children need to experience outdoor play in wild environments and outdoor education through our schools. Not everyone will love the outdoors and not everyone will wear through a pair of hiking boots in their lifetime, but that is not the point. Understanding what biodiversity actually feels like, as a young person, is important. Initiatives such as forest schools, which offer children the chance to learn in a natural environment, should be well supported and embedded in the curriculum with eco-schools.
I have become a Scottish Environment LINK species champion and I know that many others have, too. My species is the rare brown hare and a few of them can be found on Arthur’s Seat, just outside the Parliament. I encourage MSPs to sign up soon, to get the species that they want, although rusty bog moss has already been taken. Rusty bog moss is vital to healthy peatland, although it may not be very photogenic—but perhaps Rob Gibson would disagree with that.
On a serious note, the restoration of at least 100,000 hectares of peatland and the phasing out of its use by public bodies completely by 2015 must form part of our all-Government biodiversity strategy, as called for by LINK members.
Pesticides and insecticides are another threat to biodiversity, on which the Scottish Government can and must be bolder. Pollination is an ecosystem service that is estimated by the national ecosystem assessment to be worth £43 million to the Scottish economy in cash terms. However, increasing evidence shows that neonicotinoid insecticides are harmful to honey bees and bumblebees, whereas the impact on wild pollinators is as yet completely unknown. France and other countries have banned the chemicals and I urge the Government to listen to the evidence from Scottish universities that neonicotinoids are a threat to biodiversity. I support the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s call for a moratorium and I welcome the fact that the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee will focus attention on the issue in the near future.
The way in which we develop our land and the importance that we place on biodiversity in our land-use planning system must also change. I have recently responded to an application for housing on Craighouse campus, which is a green city space in my region. It is designated as a local nature conservation site and a local nature reserve because it is so important to biodiversity. I believe that local people do understand and care. I have been informed that there may be more than 1,000 objections to the proposal to build on the site. If we are serious about halting biodiversity loss, green pockets in urban areas must be preserved for nature and for people to learn about and appreciate nature. Allotments, too, have multiple benefits and local gardens in our streets are all-important islands of urban biodiversity that we cannot afford to continue to lose to new driveways.
Finally, I will mention food and its connections with biodiversity. Food security relies in part on diversity: interbreeding and pollination of species give an ecosystem resilience against shocks such as disease or climate change. There are hundreds of apple species in Scotland, but only four or five of them are available in shops. Our farms tend to grow monoculture crops. We are missing out on wonderful diversity and we are increasing the risk that one disease will wipe out a whole part of the food chain. Biodiversity in our food production gives us the genetic diversity and resilience that are essential to a secure food supply.
As Claire Baker and others mentioned, in our politics we increasingly try to put a financial price on everything, which is tempting because it makes things easy to compare, but tends to miss out the intrinsic value of things. That was one of the most common concerns from respondents to the strategy and one that I share, and I welcome the minister’s response to those concerns. Ecosystem valuation helps us grasp its importance and hammers home the message that many economists have ignored for too long: that our economy is based within our ecosystem.
We must also make sure that we place emphasis on promoting biodiversity as an end in itself. We need no more justification than the intrinsic value of the natural world.
- Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):
Let me add my congratulations to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee on securing time for this timely debate.
Among the briefings that are available to us as MSPs is the “UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework”, published for the four countries biodiversity group—a group that represents Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The introduction to the framework talks about moving
“away from a piecemeal approach dealing with different aspects of biodiversity and the environment separately, towards a new focus on managing the environment as a whole, with the true economic and societal value of nature properly acknowledged and taken into account in decision-making”.
That is a pretty good starting place.
We also have probably the most comprehensive land use strategy anywhere in the world. It was published in 2011 and is called “Getting the best from our land”—which is what it is about.
Of course, strategies are all very well, but they are not worth a great deal until they move into becoming plans, which are lists of actions to take place, and plans in their own way are of no value until they devolve into actual work on the ground.
National plans are important—they set the context—but at the end of the day it is individuals and local groups that can pick up and respond to the challenges right now. They do not need to wait. Such groups do not need to try to solve every problem. Perhaps at national level we can look at the gaps that local activity is leaving and seek to fill them, but we should encourage individuals and local groups to take action.
We can look around and see need, and we can see opportunity and advantage in addressing the issues on a micro scale. The macro-scale strategy is something else altogether, but it will succeed if a sufficient amount of local, micro action takes place.
A range of members have spoken about specific opportunities and challenges. In particular, Jayne Baxter spoke of the importance of local ownership of action, and I absolutely agree.
When I get up in the morning, I do so in a rural area. There are probably about seven houses within a mile. The weather can travel seasonally from the -21°C that it was in winter 2009 to the nearly 40°C that it was in high summer last year. That is a range of nearly 60°C, which is quite unexpected in Scotland, which is generally thought of as having a relatively mild climate.
Where I stay, I am surrounded on three sides by a monoculture of poorly and densely planted firs—I am not an arborist, but I think that I can say that without much challenge. That forest has a significant negative influence on local biodiversity. We have roe deer, badgers, foxes and weasels that live in and off the environment that is created, but if we look at the ground beneath the trees we see that the forest canopy has left it all but sterile. Nothing grows there, not even an effective mulch that returns what comes off the trees to the ground.
With that forest perhaps overdue for felling and therefore likely soon to leave us open to the elements in our hilltop location, over the past 10 years my wife and I have looked at a mitigation plan that is relevant to us. We have planted a hedge and about 50 trees, and in doing that we have focused on supporting biodiversity and bug life in particular.
I am absolutely delighted that the diversity in our new hedge, the blossom on our trees and our garden plants have clearly increased local insect biodiversity. I am especially pleased to see and hear a substantial increase in bumblebees in particular. I am not very good at identifying different species—I have managed to track down a decent book that has photographs, although I still find it very difficult—but I am quite certain that I have two species and may have three. There is nothing better than going out to look at the bees feeding on the flowers, covered in pollen and moving to other plants.
We are fortunate that we are not in an area where there is a great degree of agriculture; it is mostly beasts and sheep near us, so we are not particularly exposed to the adverse effects of neonicotinoids and other things that might be used.
Insects are at the bottom of the food chain, but they therefore make a very important contribution to a wide range of other species. I do not know whether the appearance in the past four years, for the first time since we have been there, of golden eagles for a few weeks each year is part of that evolving local ecosystem, but I very much welcome and enjoy it. The next thing that I am going to have a look at is the Reidside Moss that is visibly drying out, which is 1,000m away.
I had a wildlife camera given to me as my Christmas present. My wife is getting a bit peed off that I have not yet managed to get it working or to try it out in the forest. I very much look forward to doing that. If we all get engaged with the wildlife around us, we can all identify ways in which we can help.
There was an engineer in the 1930s who said that if we had to measure an improvement, we probably had not made one. We are now in a position in which incremental change ain’t gonna be good enough. We need step change that we can see, which we do not have to measure.
- Jamie McGrigor (Highlands and Islands) (Con):
I am pleased to close for the Scottish Conservatives, and I thank all those organisations that provided briefings for the debate.
There are a number of issues that I want to pick up on. Many members have rightly highlighted the importance of Scotland’s biodiversity to tourism and, in particular, wildlife tourism. As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I strongly concur with them. Scotland’s landscape and history are key attractions for visitors from within the UK and abroad, but our biodiversity enriches the visitor experience in numerous leisure activities and attracts additional income from bird watching—my colleague Alex Fergusson mentioned seabirds—and natural history study. I add that the sustainable management of our biodiversity maintains the many jobs in remote rural areas that are associated with sea fisheries, freshwater fishing, sea trout, sea angling and country sports, all of which are very important to my region.
That is the theme on which developed nations such as Scotland and the UK must lead. They must lead by example in setting and meeting biodiversity targets. That thread has run through the debate, as has concern that the 2010 targets have not been met internationally and that renewed policy effort across the globe will be required to meet the revised 2020 targets and the Aichi targets. As with tackling climate change, if developed nations such as ours are to persuade less developed nations of the necessity of preventing the loss of biodiversity in their countries, we must be seen to be meeting our own targets and protecting our own biodiversity. As Scottish Environment LINK suggests in its briefing,
“Continuing to lose biodiversity is not an option in a sustainable Scotland.”
We must ensure that our habitats, particularly those in our protected sites, are in a good condition. Biodiversity means making the most of what is around us without spoiling it for future generations, but it is worth bearing in mind that much of the biodiversity, especially in my area of the Highlands and Islands, exists because of the people who have made their livings there for centuries. They have produced it, and they must be allowed to continue to use the same crofting, fishing and farming methods that they have employed for centuries; if those methods are not working properly, they must be allowed to change them.
Crofting, fishing and farming have delivered biodiversity in many areas. The trick is to use measures that improve that biodiversity at the same time as improving the lot of the people who live around it, and we should strive for sensible use to be made of European and Government funding to promote agri-environmental schemes that work in favour of biodiversity and the farmer or crofter. A prosperous rural economy will deliver far greater biodiversity than one that is hanging on by its fingernails.
I totally agree with Stewart Stevenson’s encouragement of the use of land management options that are relevant. For example, planting crops such as oats can do wonders in sustaining wild bird populations.
Rob Gibson talked about fisheries and the debate is all the more pertinent for me because I have just left committee room 5, where the chairman of the Clyde Fishermen’s Association, Kenny McNab, gave a fascinating and formidable presentation on the Firth of Clyde fisheries history for the past 50 years. I am glad that the fisheries minister, cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead, was there to hear that presentation, as well as many of the chief officers of Marine Scotland. The presentation gave an enormous insight into the practical reasons for rises and declines, which do not entirely concur with scientific reports or explanations.
As a layman, I say only that those who write the reports on fisheries or on biodiversity should, by all means, use the best science available, but they should also talk to those who have gained practical knowledge during their working lives, because what becomes evident is the need for adaptability and flexibility—moving, for example, from harvesting one fish stock species to harvesting another. However, it seems that the present quota system inhibits that. We want any regulations to help, rather than inhibit, biodiversity. If the rules are not working, let us change them. I applaud Claudia Beamish for highlighting the sea trout in her speech. A revival of sea trout on Scotland’s west coast would indeed be welcome to a great many people.
As a Highlands and Islands MSP, I was encouraged that Scotland’s peatlands were given more emphasis by Fiona McLeod and in chapter 2 of the Scottish Government’s consultation. As I have argued many times, Scotland’s peatlands are a world-class resource that act as a significant carbon sink. They store 10 times more carbon than all the trees in the UK. We are positive about moves that would enable peatland restoration to be promoted within carbon markets and we will continue to encourage ministers to look at all options that can assist farmers, crofters and other land managers to preserve the peatlands that are in their charge—possibly as an agri-environmental option.
Some years ago, I raised concerns in this Parliament about the possible spread in Scotland of sudden oak death, which kills a range of trees—strangely, not the oak tree—as well as shrubs. I urge ministers to remain aware of the threat. Since then, we have faced additional new threats to our forestry resource, such as ash dieback and other diseases, and parasites such as the green spruce aphid, which can cause much damage to Sitka spruce plantations.
Tackling the scourge of non-native invasive species is extremely important, as is the debate about raptors, including reintroduced species that may in fact impact on key species of songbirds and ground-nesting birds as well as livestock. It is important that such issues should be taken into consideration and impact studies should be done before reintroductions are made.
I agree with other members’ comments about efforts to preserve some of Scotland’s iconic native species such as the Scottish wildcat, which I am lucky enough to have seen two or three times in my life, and the red squirrel, which I am happy to say is on the increase in my part of Argyll. However, the disappearance of the green plover from many areas should be investigated and it is a shame that in many places, we have lost the magic sound of the peewit—in some cases, the curlew and the golden plover as well. Scientists should be able to tell us what has gone wrong so that it can be put right.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I would be grateful if the member could come to a conclusion.
- Jamie McGrigor:
I was just going to say that Alison Johnstone mentioned brown hares and I like mountain hares as well as brown hares.
The Scottish Conservatives are supportive of practical measures that will protect Scotland’s biodiversity.
- Claire Baker:
The debate has been wide ranging and interesting, full of good examples of local projects, reflecting the breadth of activity—from Falkirk district to Dumfries and Galloway, and from Loch Lomond and the Trossachs even as far as Kent. We have heard about bats, badgers and bluebells and the other 982 species that reside at Lochore Meadows. Aileen McLeod spoke well about the biosphere site in her region, which was an excellent example of partnership working. A lot of its strength lies in the fact that it is community led.
We heard about the contribution of Stewart Stevenson’s hedge and it is good to see his continuing interest in this policy area. Alison Johnstone made an important point about green pockets in urban areas. Although many members focused on more rural environments, it is important that there was recognition that there is also a role for our cities to play in achieving a greater biodiversity.
Jim Hume spoke about ash dieback and the interconnectedness of our environment. He raised important questions about biosecurity and tree health and how we can work to secure a healthier future.
Members talked about their roles as wildlife champions of various species—from sea trout to natterjack toads and from rare brown hares to rusty bog moss—with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I hope that other members will take the time to sign up to the campaign.
The importance of public support and community involvement was highlighted. Alison Johnstone talked about the need to engage young people, and a few members referred to the role that eco-schools can play in increasing the interest and commitment of future generations.
Claudia Beamish highlighted marine issues. We need to get on the front foot with marine planning. We all recognise the importance of the marine environment, so we must make swift progress on bringing in the necessary protections. There will be developments—there is great potential in our seas—but it is crucial that we have in place the proper framework to accommodate fisheries, renewables and aquaculture without further eroding our marine biodiversity.
On marine issues, I want to raise the proposed closure of the Millport marine station. I understand that the closure has been proposed by the University of London in response to capital demands and a cut to its teaching grant, but the facility is used by Scottish universities and students working in marine and biodiversity fields. The marine station is in a unique location and makes a big contribution to marine science in Scotland. Therefore, I was disappointed to hear that, after receiving a petition of 9,000 names of people who
“ask the Scottish Government to work with others in education, industry and statutory bodies to ensure that the Millport Marine Station remains open”,
the cabinet secretary promptly passed the petition to the University of London. I hope that that does not indicate a lack of interest from the Government about working to retain the facility.
The consultation responses, and many members, talked about funding and the importance of recognising economic as well as societal benefit—a point that was made by Stewart Stevenson. In a seminar in the Parliament last year on thinking about the environment differently, Scotland’s Futures Forum highlighted how putting an economic value on nature may diminish its importance in the eyes of the public. That may be something to consider when we think about how we might increase public engagement and support, if that is part of how we are to achieve our targets.
There has been a strong focus on local authorities and their role as partners in delivering on the targets. Jayne Baxter talked about projects in Fife, which I am happy to re-emphasise. One of my first experiences of representing Fifers was as the Kelty community council representative on the liaison committee of the Lochore Meadows country park, which is a great facility that provides a good example of what can be achieved from reclaimed land and rescued from our industrial heritage. That theme was also reflected in the speech by Angus MacDonald, who spoke about the Jupiter wildlife centre. Jayne Baxter also talked about Kinghorn’s Ecology Centre, which is a fantastic project that, as well as supporting a diverse ecosystem, is a great educational facility showcasing renewable energy and employability projects and providing lots of family events.
I am pleased that Angus MacDonald raised the issue of biodiversity grant funding for communities. I was at the “Making the Most of Landfill Tax” event in Parliament this week. From memory, I think that 5 per cent of the fund will go to biodiversity projects and almost half of the fund will go to community assets. There is a need to capacity build and to improve community understanding of the opportunities that exist for people to take part in biodiversity projects, which could play a greater role in helping Scotland to achieve its targets.
Fiona McLeod and Rob Gibson talked about the crucial importance of peatlands. Peatland restoration offers multiple benefits—including wildlife, water services, carbon sequestration and forestry—but there is a need for buy-in from a greater number of partners. As Fiona McLeod highlighted, representation has been made for the use of a range of funding mechanisms, including from the water sector and from business carbon payments where appropriate. The minister may want to respond to those points in his closing speech.
Margaret McDougall talked about local authorities working together in her region to share resources and expertise. Public bodies have a biodiversity duty under the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. Although members were able to point to examples of local projects, there may be a need to reflect on where and how those plans could be more mainstreamed and strategic. A couple of years ago, the Scottish Wildlife Trust published “Guidance for planning authorities on implementing the Biodiversity Duty”, which suggests five first steps that authorities might take in trying to think about how they can fulfil their duty properly. There may be a need to better monitor the delivery of that duty, at both local and national level.
Perhaps the refreshed strategy needs to be a bit more responsive. If we introduce a strategy, it needs to be monitored regularly to see whether we are making progress and, if progress is not being made in areas, the strategy must be flexible enough to respond to that.
Biodiversity needs championing. We can make gains from across all sectors, from the simplest approach that adapts the immediate environment of, for example, a workplace or a public place—I know that the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body is engaged in increasing the biodiversity surroundings of the Parliament—to more complex drivers that offer incentives to support biodiversity activity. We all have a role to play, from MSPs promoting the importance of our environment to the important role that the minister must play in Government. I look forward to the publication of the refreshed strategy, which will provide a clear path to success.
- Paul Wheelhouse:
First, I am grateful to members for their speeches, which I and my officials will consider in great detail when we respond to the committee inquiry. A general observation is that it has been inspiring to hear the wide range of projects that members have described, of which I will pick out a number.
This is the first time that I have heard Jayne Baxter make a speech. I want to pay her a compliment—if that is the standard that we can expect from her, she will be a valuable addition to the chamber. I thank her for a considered speech.
We heard great examples from Aileen McLeod about Dumfries and Galloway’s biosphere approach. Angus MacDonald made a particularly interesting speech in which he highlighted that biodiversity is extremely important in urban areas or, at least, in authorities with rural areas that we would not normally identify with having an important role in relation to a national approach to protecting our biodiversity. There is clearly a richness of activity that points to the enthusiasm of so many people for our nature; it also points to the complexity of delivery and, indeed, the need for and importance of localism in order to deliver.
I will take time to respond to some members’ detailed points before I make my concluding remarks. A number of members, including Rob Gibson, Alison Johnstone and Claudia Beamish—I apologise if I have missed anyone out—made various references to bee health and the presence of neonicotinoids in our environment. We are awaiting advice from the UK Advisory Committee on Pesticides, and we will look at its report and its advice to ministers to see what approach we will take in Scotland. I recognise the seriousness of the issue, and I hope to report back once we have formed a view about how to proceed.
I am more than happy to visit Angus MacDonald’s constituency to see the Jupiter project. Unfortunately, I missed the start of the project presentation at his event, so I would be glad to find out more about it—it certainly sounds interesting.
Claire Baker’s point about the landfill communities fund is fair. I heard reference to the fact that there are difficulties in capacity building among communities in order to make them aware not only of what is available but of how to go about applying for funds and to give them support in that process. With the climate challenge fund, we are trying to help spread the range of projects to more deprived communities and to give them support, and we will perhaps need to take a similar approach in other areas.
Nigel Don made reference to the approach taken in Kent. We would not want to shut down the options for developers to make contributions in the form of additional enhancement to local biodiversity, but we certainly would not be looking at the mechanistic approach that seemed to be taken in the case that he referred to—I would be concerned about that if we did.
It is sad that Elaine Murray has had to leave, but I am happy to meet her and Mr Home Robertson to hear their concerns about the health of the red squirrel population and to discuss the issues she raised on vaccination.
I may have appeared prickly about Jim Hume’s point about nursery capacity, but it was fair and I identify with it. I hope that we will progress that in the on-going work of the stakeholder group that we are forming to look at tree and plant health issues, and I would welcome his views on that.
Annabelle Ewing, Alison Johnstone, Claudia Beamish and others made references to education, which is an important aspect. Forest schools were specifically mentioned, which I know are successful—that is an example of the progress being made through bilateral meetings. I am considering how we can promote biodiversity and climate action through education and the curriculum for excellence, and I am happy to keep Parliament informed about that.
Alison Johnstone made a point about intrinsic value versus the ecosystem services approach. That was a common theme in the responses to the consultation. We strongly believe that there is a balance to be struck. I agree that we have a responsibility to protect biodiversity for its intrinsic value, but we must also recognise and highlight the benefits that it brings to wider society, as I said in my opening remarks and in response to a point that Claudia Beamish made.
As a number of members, including Richard Lyle, mentioned, the natural environment is worth more than £20 billion to the Scottish economy annually. It is easy to see how that figure can be arrived at when we consider the fact that we had £4.2 billion-worth of whisky exports in 2011. That is only one example of a product that is dependent on the quality of our environment and the value of our ecosystem to generate wealth for the country. We will try to do what we can in the strategy to identify the intrinsic value of biodiversity, but it is important to take a twin-track approach.
Fiona McLeod made a valuable comment. I welcome her and other members’ comments about the value of peatlands. We are making a decisive investment in peatlands to evaluate the impact that they can have on our carbon emissions.
Scottish Natural Heritage and other public and private bodies will develop and implement a plan for the management of peatlands, which will include restoration. We recognise the importance of restoring peatlands in ways that will give value for money. That reflects the multiple benefits that peatlands in good condition can provide. They relate to flood management, CO2 emissions and, critically in the context of the debate, biodiversity. The Scottish Government is providing a total of £1.7 million of initial funding for that. [Interruption.] Excuse me, I am struggling with my throat.
- Alex Fergusson:
Will the minister give way?
- Paul Wheelhouse:
- Alex Fergusson:
I thought that he might be grateful.
I referred to seabirds in my speech. I hope that I did not mislead the chamber by saying that they were given some measure of protection in the Government’s proposals on marine protected areas because, of course, they will largely be covered by special protection areas rather than MPAs. However, my understanding is that, even when the special protection areas are designated, it is unlikely that we will fulfil the obligations under the birds directive to protect the feeding hotspots on which those species rely. Do the Government’s proposals to protect seabirds go far enough?
- Paul Wheelhouse:
We are consulting on our proposals. Alex Fergusson will also be aware that we have been encouraged to consider mobile species. That is another area in which we have to take account of the science to understand exactly what is required. We must bear in mind the fact that, if areas are designated, the designation may have to be defended based on the science. Therefore, it is critical that we get the decision right rather than rush it. Alex Fergusson raises important matters. We are taking them into account, but the consultation will be a useful vehicle for people to raise them.
I am conscious of time, so I will rush on.
On specific targets for particular habitats or features, I set out in my opening comments the role that the biodiversity monitoring committee will play in specifying performance indicators and targets. We are considering a natural capital index as one possible measurement.
- Hanzala Malik:
Will the minister give way?
- Paul Wheelhouse:
I am sorry, Mr Malik, but I am in my last minute.
The monitoring committee’s role will ensure that, following the publication of the strategy, there is momentum to drive delivery.
I turn to international targets. They are absolute targets that demand the halting of loss of biodiversity and that we ensure that no ecosystem service is lost. That is the only way in which those targets could be framed: no one would be willing to give up any part of biodiversity. However, they are stretching targets, particularly as some pressures—such as climate change—are outwith the control of any one country.
I will give a sense of where we currently sit. About 15.45 per cent of Scotland’s land area is designated as a Natura 2000 site. I would like to improve that figure, but it compares favourably with other areas within the UK and many other countries throughout Europe that we would normally identify as exemplars of best practice, so we should not be too negative.
We should all be more positive about the successes and the progress that we have made and not return too often to the question of the failure, by some measures, to meet the 2010 targets. Looking ahead, we should see the 2020 targets as an inspiration to positive partnership and action. I invite people to join me in ensuring that our collective efforts go as far as possible towards meeting that target.
- Graeme Dey (Angus South) (SNP):
There is a challenge facing anyone who sums up a committee debate that does not emanate from an inquiry or a report that has been produced by that committee. As the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee has not held face-to-face meetings with stakeholders or had a full opportunity to question the minister, no collective conclusions have been drawn on this extremely important issue. However, the past two and a half hours have, with the consultation responses, given us a flavour of the themes that are likely to emerge when the committee examines the 2020 challenge consultation results and considers how it will reinforce the Scottish biodiversity strategy. The debate has certainly whetted my appetite for that process. It has also left me feeling guilty for not yet being a species champion.
I would like to consider some of the themes that have emerged, starting with the need to learn from the past. As the RSPB says,
“Failure to meet 2010 target should be viewed as a ‘wake-up’ call”.
However, when considering how and why we have failed, we should, as Claire Baker said, also examine what successes have been achieved. There is an obvious need to consider the degree of conflict that exists between economic growth and the maintenance of environmental integrity and biodiversity, and to determine how we should address that. Joined-up thinking and working between Government departments and bodies are required.
There are concerns—particularly among local authorities and third sector organisations—about how we will resource the strategy. The Scottish rural development programme has been highlighted as an obvious source of funding, but a number of respondents have pointed to the well-known problems with the programme and have appealed for it to be reformed. I know that that comes as no news to members of the committee or to the minister.
Biodiversity offsetting was raised in the consultation, and has been raised again today. It may well have potential in the eyes of some people, but should it be anything other than a last resort? Nigel Don answered that question in his speech.
Awareness of the importance of biodiversity and of the need to improve public understanding of biodiversity if we are to hit our targets and to educate our children on the subject from a young age is absolutely paramount. Teaching five-year-olds about biodiversity when we have only seven years in which to hit our targets will not pay the kind of immediate dividends that we need.
However, we need to consider the long term as well as the short term. As we have seen in facing up to climate change, kids have a powerful influence over parents and we very much need to improve adult understanding of the subject. It is claimed that nearly 75 per cent of people are unaware of biodiversity or what it means. Perhaps we need to send them to Lochore Meadows country park, with its community involvement programmes and 982 species, as was highlighted by Jayne Baxter. We should certainly unleash Alex Fergusson on them. His definition of biodiversity as “the balance of nature” certainly lifts the veil of ignorance surrounding the subject.
Peatlands is a favourite subject of the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee—rightly so, given the carbon storage potential of peatland restoration. However, rightly or wrongly, some landowners are concerned that the scientific knowledge about rewetting and the effects of burning grouse moors is limited and insufficiently Scotland-focused. We will need to take those landowners with us on the climate change and biodiversity journey that we are undertaking.
I am as excited as anyone—except, perhaps, Rob Gibson and Fiona McLeod—by the carbon capture potential of peatlands. However, those who express concerns might have a point, for it seems that only one meaningful study that has produced a full carbon budget of a burned, managed upland area has been done in these islands, and it suggested that the overall impact of managed burning on biodiversity is mixed. To muddy the waters more, that study was carried out in the north Pennines, and doubts were raised subsequently about the transferability of the findings to other parts of the UK.
There is a view that shallow peat soils, primarily in areas such as Angus, might benefit from sensitive management to maintain existing stocks, rather than an active rewetting programme, with the above-ground biodiversity gains being greater than the limited carbon storage capabilities of those shallow peat soils. I am not a scientist, but it strikes me as being a valid point that a one-size-fits-all policy on peatlands, rather than a balanced approach based on sound science, would potentially run contrary to the delivery of multiple ecosystem services.
Concerns have been raised, particularly by local authorities, over the anticipated leaning of the strategy and the suggestion that it might not adequately address land management for biodiversity in urban settings, and the suggestion that there is an imbalance in focus in favour of rural areas when there are also unique circumstances in and around our cities.
I will address other points that members raised. Alex Fergusson and Rob Gibson highlighted invasive alien and non-native species. Rob Gibson talked about unintended consequences and gave us a vivid—perhaps too vivid—illustration of them.
Elaine Murray, Aileen McLeod, Margaret McDougall and Angus MacDonald reminded us of the good work that is being done locally. Nigel Don was right to stress the importance of habitat protection, and Claudia Beamish revealed an apparent love of nightingales.
Jim Hume made the link between our threatened ash trees, Morgan cars and the Stratocaster guitar, which reminds us just how far biodiversity reaches out. Alison Johnstone raised the important issue of the impact of neonicotinoids and reminded us of the role of allotments. Stewart Stevenson talked about the need for local action on a micro scale and revealed that he is walking the walk and not just talking the talk by planting a hedge and 50 trees. The debate has reminded us how diverse biodiversity is.
One part of the overall discussion of biodiversity that has attracted widespread agreement is the importance of having in place effective measuring processes that allow us to quantify progress towards targets.
- Hanzala Malik:
Will the member take an intervention?
- Graeme Dey:
If Hanzala Malik does not mind, I want to get on with making a point that has not been made. I am sorry.
SNH developed a set of 17 indicators that related to the 2010 targets. The most recent assessment was conducted in 2009 and showed that, of the 197 species that were covered, only 5 per cent had increased or probably increased, 33 per cent had been stable or probably stable and 22 per cent had decreased or been lost since 1994, while no trend could be determined for 39 per cent. Of 39 priority habitats, 15 per cent increased and 28 per cent were stable, but 33 per cent decreased.
Those indicators will continue to be used up to 2020, along with the new indicators that are being developed to measure progress against the targets, as the minister said. We certainly need means of determining the progress that we make, which will need to be as accurate as possible if the monitoring committee that the minister announced is to have the information that it requires.
I will make a plea for plants. Shortly before Christmas, a rather attractive-looking publication landed on my desk in Parliament. Sadly, the content did not match the façade. It was a report from the charity Plantlife that painted a concerning picture about the state of wildflowers across the UK. It identified that, in the past 60 years, Scotland has lost 97 species, including 28 mosses and liverworts. [Interruption.]
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
- Graeme Dey:
That has happened in a country whose Atlantic and Western Isles coasts are reckoned to be a European stronghold for some mosses and liverworts.
As members will have realised, I never miss an opportunity to extol in Parliament the virtues of the area that I represent, but biodiversity is one sphere about which Angus has nothing to boast. Plantlife’s report highlights that
“25 archaeophytes haven’t been seen in Angus since 1980.”
That situation is concerning from aesthetic and biodiversity standpoints.
A depressing paragraph in the report says:
“We are witnessing a gradient of decline in which widespread species become scarce and scarce ones become rare, while some rare ones eventually tip over the brink into the abyss of extinction.”
The report poses the question:
“What might our flora look like in 2050 ... Will we ... defy the seemingly inevitable and hang on to today’s flora and its diversity?”
I suggest that we need to take the issue very seriously in Scotland and that we need wherever possible to
“conserve plants in their place: in the spaces that nature has chosen”,
as Plantlife says.
The debate has been very good and has been graced by some tremendous speeches. At the risk of offending people, I will highlight the speeches by Alex Fergusson, Angus MacDonald, Annabelle Ewing and especially Jayne Baxter who is, as we all know, a new member but who made a very good speech.
Given the people who are involved, I know that the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee will do further justice to the subject when it comes before us for deliberation in a couple of months. I am sure that the committee will play its part in ensuring that challenge 2020 provides not just a vision but the guidance and leadership that are required to alter the present trajectory, which involves a reduced rate of decline. I hope that that will get Scotland on course to reach the 20 Aichi targets.