David Stewart

Speech : State of Nature 2016

I congratulate Angus MacDonald on securing today’s debate.

The “State of Nature 2016” report is significant for Scotland. It is a comprehensive piece of research from 50 leading wildlife organisations.

The UK 2013 report was groundbreaking, and it has been followed up in 2016 with a more in-depth look, including a breakdown across the home nations that means that we can begin to understand even more about the current state of our nature.

However, as substantial as the document is, what it has to say is a great wake-up call.

More than half of Scottish species have declined since the 1970s, 520 species are at risk of extinction in Scotland and another 6,000 remain on the red list of at-risk species.

Climate change has already had a severely damaging effect on our native species and biodiversity.

Changing climates have disrupted mating patterns, hibernation and adaptation, leading to decline in populations.

Changing and intensifying land management and land use have also led to much decline in and damage to our biodiversity.

As the species champion for the great yellow bumblebee, I spoke last week about 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 UK is now found on a few of the Scottish islands, with a tiny population on the north Highland mainland.

However, it is not just about declining species.

As we have heard, Scotland is broadly ranked in the lowest fifth of countries for our biodiversity intactness index.

Our ecosystems have fallen below the point at which they can reliably meet society’s needs, and the maintenance and the restoration of our ecosystems are vital to halting the decline—to supporting our flora, fauna and human population and to balancing our carbon budget and enabling us to reach our greenhouse gas reduction targets.

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.

The creation of a national ecology network would go a long way towards improving the condition of our natural environment.

Small-scale changes could be urban green roofs, more treelined streets and more grass left for wildflowers; big changes would include the incredibly vital restoration of peatlands—which we have heard about—and an increase in protected areas.

We need to put the same amount of effort into our green planning as we put into our grey planning.

Green corridors would mean that increasingly isolated semi-natural landscapes and the species that live in them would be connected, cultivating a highway along which wildlife could travel and increasing resilience to climate change.

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

We also know what the main threats are.

We now 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.

The “State of Nature 2016” report focuses mainly on the recent and on-going issues, but the sad truth is that the damage has been going on for years—indeed, decades—and our nation is much poorer in nature.

As many have said, we do not own the environment; we keep it in trust for our children.

The report starts at a baseline that shows how much damage has already been done, and the Scottish Government has an international commitment to halt the decline of our environment under the convention on biological diversity.

The report “Scotland’s Biodiversity—a route map to 2020” runs out in three years’ time and we need to look at the bigger picture.

The problem will not be resolved overnight.

In the words of Barack Obama, “Our generation may not even live to see the full realization of what we do here.

But the knowledge that the next generation will be better off for what we do here—can we imagine a more worthy reward than that?”

It is odd that, despite knowing how important care for our environment is, as a society we seem to be reluctant to implement and take that forward.

We have the knowledge and the tools; we need the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament to deliver.


Text of speech in the Scottish Parliament 16 November 2016