Agenda: A critical year for nature and climate change

WE all know that nature is fundamental to human life – from the air we breathe to the water we drink, to healthy soils and seas and the food we eat. But investing in nature also brings many benefits to the climate and the environment, to the economy, rural communities, and the wellbeing of society.

Scotland’s natural environment is already heavily degraded, and wildlife is in decline here just as it is across the world. Since 1994 we have seen a 24% decline in species abundance and 11% of our species are facing extinction, such as the Scottish wildcat and the flapper skate.

In the face of this crisis, this Government is taking action. We are redoubling our efforts to protect species and restore nature across Scotland, and working with nations across the world to accelerate global action.

At COP26 in Glasgow last year, we announced a new Nature Restoration Fund of at least £65 million over five years to support projects that help put Scotland’s wildlife, woodlands, rivers and seas back on the road to recovery. These projects represent an investment into the rural economy too. Rural communities benefit directly from the expenditure and from the many economic opportunities that an improved natural environment generates. Just look, for example, at the incredible natural asset that is being created by the community-led restoration of oyster beds and seagrass meadows in Loch Craignish.

The Nature Restoration Fund is just one part of our broader commitment to invest at least half a billion pounds into Scotland’s natural economy. This is allowing us to accelerate the restoration of our peatlands and native woodlands, for example, benefiting our climate and wildlife. And our recent announcement that we will support the expansion of beavers across Scotland will mean more wetlands created by these extraordinary “ecosystem engineers” that were once hunted to extinction in Scotland.

To better protect nature, we have committed to protect at least 30 per cent of our land and seas and highly protect 10%. We will also create at least one new national park – something that hasn’t happened in Scotland for 20 years.

As well as taking action at home, Scotland is contributing much to the growing global effort to tackle the nature crisis. We initiated what has become known as the Edinburgh Declaration, which calls for greater global ambition in halting biodiversity loss and has now been supported by more than 220 governments, cities and local authorities worldwide. This will feed into the global biodiversity summit in China in Spring, where a new framework for protecting and restoring nature will be agreed.

It’s easy to be disheartened by increasingly alarming news about extinctions and the state of the natural environment, but there is so much we can do to restore and protect the fantastic wildlife and ecosystems we have here in Scotland. I’m hugely excited by this vibrant and positive programme that we have embarked on, and am looking forward to seeing the positive impact it will have for so many over the coming years.

Lorna Slater is the Scottish Government’s Biodiversity Minister

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