A healthy natural environment is key to the healthier, fairer, more prosperous and resilient Scotland that the Government wants to create. A firm commitment to investing in nature is therefore fundamental to this vision.
Our publication 50 For the Future outlines 50 things that need to happen over the next 50 years if we are to protect and restore Scotland’s natural environment for future generations.
We advocate these ideas because, in combination, they are not only the best way to boost Scotland’s wildlife and restore ecosystems but will also create a better Scotland for everyone.
Four priorities for the Scottish Government
The Trust has identified four key priorities that we want the Government and Parliament to pursue in this session to ensure that our natural capital is protected. These will help Scotland get back on track with its ambitious and internationally binding targets for biodiversity and climate change.
1. Take steps to fully implement the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals are a universal set of targets that UN member states have adopted to help frame their agendas and policies over the next 15 years. Scotland was one of the first countries in the world to sign up. The goals – particularly numbers 8, 11, 13, 14 and 15 – must form the framework for action on natural capital.
“Sustainability is a political choice, not a technical one. It's not a question of whether we can be sustainable, but whether we choose to be.”
Gary Lawrence, former director of planning for Seattle
Implementing these goals would ensure that:
- Economic growth is 'decoupled' from natural resource use and environmental impacts.
- Communities are provided with safe, inclusive and accessible green space.
- Ecosystem and biodiversity values are integrated into national and local planning.
- Strong commitments are made which protect our ecosystems both on land and at sea.
The Trust’s Living Seas and Living Landscape programmes give us the expertise to be a delivery partner on these goals.
2. Deliver climate change mitigation and adaptation including a National Ecological Network.
Climate change is one of the greatest environmental challenges we have ever faced, and unless the world radically reduces its annual carbon emissions, global warming is inevitable. The Trust would like to see an ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation programme including:
Applying nature-based solutions such as installing green roofs for better insulation and improved flood protection, and restoring peatlands to sequester more carbon.
Including a National Ecological Network in the next National Planning Framework, aligned with the Land Use Strategy, which would improve ecosystem health and resilience in the face of climate change.
3. A national policy on green infrastructure aimed at delivering physical and mental health and wellbeing, tackling inequality and providing savings over the long term within NHS budgets.
The environment we live in shapes our lives and our health. Being in high-quality greenspace is good for you and being able to access it from your doorstep encourages physical activity and is a stress buster.
“Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children’s health (and also, by the way, in our own).”
Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods
The Trust believes Scotland needs a step change in how it tackles the underlying causes of ill health and social inequalities to move toward a healthier and environmentally just society. And nature has a role to play.
We would like to see the Government commit to a national green infrastructure policy, with an associated investment budget, that has the goal of increasing the quality and accessibility of urban green spaces for all to enjoy. To realise this we recommend:
Strengthened planning policy on green infrastructure.
Increased links between Directorates relating to health and wellbeing, communities and the environment so that ‘green prescriptions’ become the norm.
New build schools required to include nature-rich places within the school grounds or within walking distance.
4. Ensuring the principles in the land use strategy are embedded in the land rights and responsibilities statement
Land managers are among the most important stewards of Scotland’s natural capital. Land management can enhance natural capital, but it also has the potential to significantly degrade it.
The forthcoming Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement will be key to the continued evolution of land reform and shape how land is used.
There are increasing signs of strain directly associated with the management of natural capital, such as flood impacts and siltation associated with changes in tree and scrub cover and straightening of watercourses, fish death from eutrophication from the use of fertilisers on degraded soils and water discoloration, and sediment load from peatland erosion leading to higher water management costs. These are not only an environmental liability, but also a social and economic one.
Therefore it is important that land users act responsibly to manage Scotland’s land to maximise public benefits, through enhancing biodiversity, improving water, soil and air quality, or helping communities be more resilient to climate change.
The Government has already set out the principles governing land use choices in the Land Use Strategy (LUS) and the Trust believes a strong connection between the LUS and the LRRS is needed so that all of those who have land rights contribute to:
“A Scotland where we fully recognise, understand and value the importance of our land resources, and where our plans and decisions about land use deliver improved and enduring benefits, enhancing the wellbeing of our nation.”
Natural capital is key
Over the next five years, the Trust will work with Scotland’s politicians to ensure real progress is made towards protecting wildlife and ecosystems for the future. Ultimately, the Scottish Government should recognise the integral role of natural capital to society, and that we can’t separate people away from the natural world.
In the previous session, the Government acknowledged that natural capital was vital to Scotland’s economy in its Economy Strategy, published in 2015. This document states that:
“Protecting and enhancing natural capital, which includes our air, land, water, soil and biodiversity and geological resources is fundamental to a healthy and resilient economy. It also supports sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism and renewables.”
The Government should be commended for this statement. It now needs to back its vision with action over the next five years.
Dr Maggie Keegan is Head of Policy & Planning for the Scottish Wildlife Trust.