By Deborah Long, chief officer, Scottish Environment LINK
It’s been said often enough, but many of us have never before appreciated or even noticed our natural environment as much as we have since the pandemic. Like a long lost friend, nature has helped to soften the blow of a tough few months peppered with restrictions after restrictions.
For me highlights have been scuffing leaves along my regular woodland path in autumn, watching the early bumblebees investigate flowering hellebores in my garden in January and now the sparrows squabbling over dropped seed. There are many ways in which for me nature has brought me peace and the wider realisation that we are all part of something much bigger.
For pretty much the first time ever, life at home has meant I watched the imperceptible changes of the seasons, with insects and birds using different spaces in my garden and the village to eat, sleep and play. Seeing all this life close up reminded me every day to keep the bird feeders stocked, to break the ice on the tiny pond and to ensure we have a sequence of flowering plants on show and in use by the bees and butterflies.
Small but important steps to giving back to nature, which is providing me with mutual pleasure. And I know, I am far from alone in this.
The irony is that despite us benefitting immensely from nature and being wholly dependent on it for our survival, our actions tell another story and render our relationship very one sided. Our industries and the consumer choices we make are wreaking havoc on nature and the climate as we continue to take what we want, without much thought or recompense. This is tipping our planet’s balance with increasing signs of perils that spell out huge repercussions for nature and our own wellbeing.
Since 1970, in Scotland alone, almost half (49%) of species have decreased in numbers and one in nine species, including plants, animals, fish and insects are at risk of extinction.
Unless we wake up to the gravity of what we are doing and take concrete steps to halt the loss of nature, this will only get worse. Our lack of care and recognition means that adults today are in grave danger of seriously harming our precious planet to the point of no return and paring it back to a much-diminished version for future generations.
Things are changing though, and people across the globe are pushing decision makers to put in place the steps that will put our natural world on the path to recovery. As we head to the poll, a survey conducted by the National Trust for Scotland shows that almost three quarters of people in Scotland (74%) would support the Scottish government introducing legally binding targets to halt and reverse the rapid decline in nature.
At this critical stage in our planet’s history, whoever gets to lead Scotland from 6 May must put the health and wellbeing of its people and with it the health and wellbeing of our natural world at the heart of all decision making. They must continue to pursue and uphold high environmental standards, supported by long-term funding for Scotland’s environment agencies, and take steps to ensure everyone has access to nature-rich greenspace.
They must also recognise the immediate and long-term danger our natural environment is facing and ensure that Scotland is proactive in reversing biodiversity declines, setting legally binding targets by 2022 to make sure that by 2030 Scotland’s nature is on track to recovery. Having pushed our natural world to its limits means that measures to safeguard and rebuild the health of our environment can no longer be kicked into the long grass.
Scotland’s government will need to put words into action and show clear leadership in the fight for Scotland’s nature, and our planet.
A version of this article was first published in the Herald on 6 May 2021.