David Stewart




Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate

9 March 2017

I thank all members who have taken part in an interesting and well-informed debate.

This is an opportunity to produce a report card on biodiversity, to assess whether we are making the grade.

 As the great environmental thinker Wendell Berry said, “the world is not given by his fathers but borrowed from

 his children.”

The UK ranks 189th out of 218 countries on the biological intactness index.

Members know that that is the index that is used under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to assess progress towards the convention targets.

Of course, it is not too late to change our ranking, but we must act now.

We all know that climate change has already had a severe and damaging effect on our native species and biodiversity.

The changing climate has disrupted mating patterns, hibernation and adaptation, leading to decline in populations.

Changes and intensification in land management and land use have also caused great decline in and damage to biodiversity.

As the species champion for the great yellow bumblebee, I am very aware of how the intensification of farming and grazing and the decline in traditional crofting practices have meant that a species that used to be found across the whole of the UK is now found on just a few of the Scottish islands, with a tiny population on the north Highland mainland.

However, it is not just about declining species.

 Scotland is ranked in the lowest fifth of countries on the biodiversity intactness index, as I said, and our ecosystems have fallen below the point at which they can reliably meet society’s needs.

The maintenance and restoration of our ecosystems are vital to halting the decline, supporting our flora and fauna and our human population, and balancing our carbon budget and ensuring that we reach our greenhouse gas reduction targets.

If we are to do that, we need to support the recovery of species populations, improve habitat quality and develop green corridors between fragmented areas of natural land. I think that all speakers made those points.

 The cabinet secretary made three good points when she talked about the marine environment, peatland restoration and the reintroduction of beavers—I was pleased that she mentioned the reintroduction of beavers, which is dear to my heart.

A key issue is what will happen after Brexit.

I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary say that, in discussions with the UK Government, she is pushing for European protections to continue post-Brexit.

Maurice Golden made excellent points about the importance of biodiversity in the context of ecotourism, flood prevention and mental and physical health.

Claudia Beamish made an important point about embedding biodiversity, and I know that the point that she was going to make—before she was cut off so unkindly, Presiding Officer—was that we are pleased that every Labour member is a species champion.

I am sure that other parties are looking to achieve that, too. Mark Ruskell made an important point about putting nature first, and I support what he said about the ecological networks.

I have very little time left, so I will not be able to mention the other members who spoke in the debate.

The truth is that we already know how to restore and support our biodiversity and ecosystems.

We know what the main threats are. We need to ensure that the policy and regulation are in place and that firm, decisive action is taken to prioritise the health of our natural environment.

This is urgent and the sad truth is that the damage has been going on for years—indeed, decades— and our nation is much poorer in nature.

The debate is about much more than biodiversity. It is about the sort of Scotland that we want in the future—a Scotland that is clean, green and sustainable, and a Scotland that is recognised around the globe for the quality of its natural environment, its stunning hills, glens and lochs, and its multicultural workforce.

We need to focus on our route map from 2020 to 2030.

We need to build up ambition and investment in our environment to protect Scotland’s habitats and wildlife for generations yet unborn.

As Barack Obama said, “Our generation may not even live to see the full realisation of what we do here.”